10 Day Book Challenge: Day 2
This is the 19th century building in which I live, a great stone dungeon that’s ice-cold even in summer (modern architects take note; if you build it properly nobody needs air conditioning).
I’m clearly being tested, as today is hot and sunny, skylarks soaring about in the blue. My flat is so dark you have to leave the lights on, and I’m planning a 12 hour working day. Plus it’s Cine Europe in Barcelona, which means that all my old film industry friends from the US are in town and want to go out. Oh, and it’s Sonar, the massive EDM festival that has an amazing lineup for its 10th anniversary, to which my local friends are going.
A bit part of being a writer is learning to say no. Samuel Beckett was once asked what he’d given up for his art and he said, ‘I have fairly often not gone to parties.’ I think I can manage that.
So, to the work itself. One advantage of running the days together is that you not only recall who everyone is and what they were doing, but you maintain the atmosphere of the book and make it consistent. One of the biggest problems at this point is finding an evenness of tone. Watch Hollywood blockbusters and you’ll always see the joins, where a committee decided on this scene, where that plot dialogue was lost, where all those last-minute additions were made.
One of the most depressing things I ever saw was Ivan Reitman, one of the Hollywood’s worst directors, gluing pages of jokes he’d been mailed from various commissioned script doctors into a screenplay in a desperate attempt to make it funnier. We don’t hit beats in books; we try to tell an emotionally truthful story. Nobody said to Edward St Aubyn, ‘Take out that whole surreal drug scene in Book Two of the Patrick Melrose cycle, it’s slowing down the beats.’
I have a detective who larks about mischievously, but I’m dealing with death and tragedy. I keep the two states separate by making sure that Arthur Bryant is never rude or mean to those directly involved in the case. However he will attack incompetents on the sidelines. He doesn’t suffer fools, and underneath it all he cares.
I wonder how much I should put in of the private man versus the public case. The Golden Age mysteries sketched in very little about their crimefighters. We find out almost nothing about Hercule Poirot and very little about Lord Peter Wimsey, but times have changed and personality is now more important than plot. John Dickson Carr’s Merrivale was a cypher – Carr was interested in the mechanics only.
I start today by adding a new chapter involving Bryant meeting one of his mad academics. I try to put these near the front because if a case has a ticking clock it’s hard to have the hero wandering off just when he should be pulling the case together. I have a habit of rushing the climactic scenes – I think the unit lockdown in ‘Wild Chamber’ could have yielded more if I’d slowed it, but you also want to maintain momentum.
Luckily with Bryant I created my own Get Out Of Jail card, because his mercurial character allows for swift changes of mood. Also in this draft I want to give John May more character, and I need a scene between Janice Longbright and another strong woman on the other side of the law. I respond to changing times by trying to reflect them in the novels, so I’m adding a third female to the team next book – I can’t do it in this one because I have to get rid of someone to make room.
I wonder if readers can only take in so many characters before tuning out. By the time you add up all of the speaking roles in a book, the number is quite high, so I have to keep a watch on that. The book needs to follow the same lines as before, yet be surprising.
The afternoon’s biggest challenge will be a murder. Do you show it or just reveal the aftermath? I know that showing it will be more exciting (although boring to write) and the latter creates more suspense because what just happened? It’s not Dostoyevski, just a crime novel, but it has to work within its own world.
I need to post this and get on (social media damages the day’s writing). I’ll report back in the morning.