Friday, July 27, 2012

Giving it away

I don't watch the evening news (too depressing), but I do love watching The Daily Show and The Colbert Report.

On June 26th, Stephen Colbert interviewed Richard Ford, whose new book is called 'Canada'.

Link to the episode is here, unfortunately, the feed is not available to Canadians, and I don't know about the rest of the world, although obviously if you have a VPN service running, you can watch it anywhere.

The book 'Canada' starts out:

"First, I’ll tell about the robbery our parents committed. Then the murders, which happened later."

...and Colbert's comment really hit me. He said (paraphrasing) "Why should I read the book now? You've given away the entire plot in the first two lines."

Ford's answer was something along the lines of, "Well, I hope you'll be anticipating those events and read on to find out what happens."

The reason this comment hit me is because 'Brake Fluid' is remarkably similar. On the first page you know Jackson's dead in the trunk and before the end of chapter one, you know there was a party six months earlier where Jackson hit Triss and she stabbed him with a butter knife. You also know that party is the reason Jackson's now dead, and that he died a couple of days before the story actually starts.

That means, in the first chapter, you know how the two past nights ended, and you can assume the ending of what's happening in the present... since the MC & Triss are trying to get rid of the body.

So... have I given it all away?

Well, I don't like to think so. This is my first time writing a murder-mystery-ish type story, but murder mysteries always start out with a dead body, and you read on to figure out who did it.

'Brake Fluid' is a little different in that all the characters involved know who did it, but the reader doesn't.

All three timelines (the party six month ago, the night Jackson died, and the present where they're trying to get rid of the corpse) play out in bite-sized chunks.

And I wonder, is that anticipation enough that someone will want to keep reading?

Let's just take one, small aspect of the story. Triss stabbing Jackson with the butter-knife.

I chose a butter-knife because it's a funny/memorable enough item that the reader won't forget the stabbing is coming*. Sure, it happens at the end of the party, so they have to wait for it, but they know it's coming even while everything else is going on, and they don't know the exact circumstances of when/why it happened.

The first time the reader actually sees the knife is midway through Chapter 13, but the actual stabbing doesn't happen until Chapter 16. The butter knife is mentioned several times in between, but that's it. It's there, hanging around, just waiting to be used.

As I'm working on my first editing run on this story, the question of anticipation is something that weighs heavily on my mind. Will it encourage the readers to eat up the story faster, or will it get annoying, like I'm deliberately dangling a carrot out of reach?

And I supposed I won't have any clear answers until I get comments back from my writing group/online CP's.

Have you ever written a story where the anticipation of the event is more important than the event itself? How do you know when 'enough is enough'?

* I've even seriously though of re-working the title to include 'butter knife'. The closest I've come to a substitute I like is, 'Butter Knives, Brake Fluid & Body Bags', but I think it's too much of a mouthful. The rhythm isn't as nice as 'Brake Fluid, Blood & Body Bags'. What do you guys think? Even in the title, I'm pretty much giving it all away ;)


  1. Murder mysteries are tough. I make it a point to make the event stronger than the anticipation, but keeping the anticipation strong all the same. Never let the carrot dangle too long, but you can always dangle something else. :)

    1. Hahahaha, very true :) I think there are several carrots in this story, and (hopefully) I've spaced them out enough so the reader doesn't starve until 4/5 of the way through the story... then they get their mouth overstuffed with carrots all at the same time.

      ...'cause packing in all the *reveals* all at once... that's really annoying. I know, 'cause I've done it before and it sucked.

  2. crazy! I think your way of putting the mysteyr together is intriguing and would keep me reading.

    1. long as it doesn't disappoint in the end ;)

  3. I don't read a lot of mysteries but I sure do want to read Canada.

    1. It did seem like an interesting book.

      I haven't read a mystery in years. Probably 15+ years. When I was a little kid, I read most of the Agatha Christie books during visits to my grandparents' house. After a couple summers of that... I never wanted to touch another mystery ;)

  4. I'd point out he's a) a comedian and b) plot isn't story.

    Plot is just what gets from A to B, story is t he driving force of the narrative: you might know, as the reader, what is going on, but how the characters find out and what they do with it is often motivation enough to keep reading a story.

    1. Hahahaha, yes, of course :) I know he's a comedian, but I think his point is still valid.

      In any story, I think we're reading to find out what/why happens/ed. There's anticipation to find out answers to the questions raised on the first page of every book.

      ...and the *what/why* is different in every story. The anticipation is different.

      It's true that I lean towards character driven/literary stories. There's never a big series of complicated events and I'm often more interested in the fallout of bad decisions than in big *save-the-world* events.

      ...the question is, is that enough?

    2. I honestly think it is: it's a question of degree, not one of kind. Even the big world-saving stories tend to have, at the core, some one wrong decision that spirals out of control to inform the entire story. Though I tend to share the sense of 'what happens *after* the Horrible Event (however major or minor) so I am biased :)

    3. Yes, of course, there's always a person driving the story, but you could never describe something I've written as *action-packed* ;) least we can be biased together ;)

  5. I love Stephen Colbert!

    I've never written a murder mystery, but it seems like you have to start out with the murder and work backwards. I think the fascinating part is getting in the head of the killer, finding out why they did what they did.

    There's an award for you on my blog today. :)

    1. Heh, I guess it is similar. Instead of starting with the murder and working backward, I started with the body in the truck and worked backward.

      Unfortunately, there isn't really a *murderer/killer* in this story. :)

      Thanks for the award! I'll come check it out :)

  6. The show: The Killing - does a really good job with anticipation as far as mysteries go. I think if you are looking to see if you are on track, but don't feel like reading a similar book to yours (I know how this can sometimes mess with me), I suggest that show.

    With that being said, your story has always interested me on numerous levels - because it feels like you have so much being poured into it. And that alone makes me curious to read it.

    But I can't speak for every reader :) Know that when you finally get published, I will anxiously await its release date.

    1. Haven't heard/seen it, I will definitely Goggle it :)

      Thank you :)

      I suppose, since I have the habit of throwing myself into new things, I love learning/challenging myself, but I also get eaten up (at times) with self-doubt since I don't have a background in competency upon which to build my choices.

      In other words, I may be re-inventing the wheel, but I'm not sure if it's going to end up round, or rectangular ;)


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