Monday, June 20, 2011

Her Touch

For years as a writer the only stories I had the ability the finish were short stories, and the longest one I had completed was only fifteen pages.  I had written story arcs that were much, much longer, but I had never brought any of the novels I attempted to a conclusion, and it was beginning to bother me.  I was in my early twenties and despite having consciously tried to write for ten years, I wasn't getting anything finished.

One of the problems was that I was writing novels which were insanely complex, with multiple story lines which were supposed to converge.  Somehow they never did, and I would hit a writer's block and that would be as far as I could write.  Finally I realized that finishing a novel was more important than writing whatever I wanted ... so I gave myself a task to write a SIMPLE novel which, even if it wasn't very good, I would at least be able to finish because it was two dimensional.  I believed it would help teach me how to organize my thoughts right to a novel's conclusion ... and as it happened, it worked exactly like I expected it to.

I did start to see how to wrap up a story arc, and finishing the novel gave me confidence that was useful in finishing other novels.  I confess, I have been thinking about it and I'm not sure which year I finished the novel in ... either '86 or '87.  I know it was before '88, because that's the year I wrote Somebody's Daughter, which is, of course, another post altogether.

The novel wasn't a novel at all, it was really only a novella, just 35,000 words.  I called it Her Touch.  Very few people ever read it, and I wouldn't go around posting excerpts of it because, well, the writing it pretty bad.  I wasn't a natural writer like some people manage to be.  I have had to work and teach myself how to write, and this was something I wrote before I began to take Latin in university.  Taking Latin was a huge leap forward for me ... but that's another post too.

Her Touch was a straight-up detective story.  Two police detectives, Spears and Androssi, are investigating a serial killer who is murdering people in the doorways of apartments or houses just as they are entering.  Usually the key is in the lock, the door is open and nothing has been stolen.  They have all be killed by having their throat slit.  There's no sign of any struggle.  The cops learn that the victims know one another obliquely in a string of associations.  A knows B who knows C who knows D, but in every case they are just loose acquaintances.  Because of this Spears goes to a funeral of the latest victim to speak with the family and with anyone who might know the deceased.  There he sees Ariana, a marvelously attractive woman who doesn't seem to know anyone.  He does not get an opportunity to speak to her.

A few weeks later someone Spears has met at the funeral is killed.  When Spears goes to that funeral, he sees Ariana again.  The funeral is followed by a wake, which Ariana attends, and Spears decides to watch from outside.  He sees Ariana leave with one of the family members and from that point on he and his partner begin to tail her.

There's no hard evidence against her, but Spears and Androssi are convinced that she is somehow involved.  There's the usual arguments with the police captain (cliche, cliche) and after that the two cops begin to follow her on their free time.  Because of the sporadic surveillance, the next victim dies and yes, it is the man Ariana picked up at the wake.

Now Spears and Androssi are convinced she is using the funerals to pick her next victims, intentionally choosing people who have little knowledge of the previous deceased.  Naturally Spears and Androssi attend the next funeral and yes, Ariana is there.  Only know she sees them, and she winks at Spears.

Both men start to ignore their other duties in order to catch her.  They tag-team the surveillance.  Androssi one night is following Ariana down a freeway when she starts to speed up.  Not wanting to lose her, he follows, and they both begin to play a game on the freeway.  She taunts him to go faster by slowing down and looking at him, and eventually this ends in a terrific wreck where Ariana is unharmed and Androssi is killed.  (cliche, cliche)

At this point Spears loses it (cliche, cliche).  He begins to put pressure on her, she plays games between him and her next victim - and Spears confronts the victim and the victim defends Ariana.  Spears gets into trouble with his superiors who then take away his badge (cliche) and order him away from the woman.  Spears ignores it, and follows Ariana as she takes her next victim into the country.  Spears in turn is being followed by two other detectives.

Ariana kills her victim in an old shed on the edge of a wildlife park just minutes before Spears can stop her.  He trails her through the park, surprises her, and they fight, rolling down a hill and into a stream.  At this point, Spears has lost his perspective and intends to kill Ariana.  He has his hands around her throat, strangling and drowning her, when he's shot and killed by the two detectives following him.  The murders get pinned on Spears (there's never any evidence) and Ariana gets away scott free.

There's not much that's wrong with the plot besides the cliches, and I could probably write the novel now in about three months (took me a year the first time).  I have it somewhere, but I wouldn't look at the original in writing it again.  I'd write out the cliches (probably arrange it so that Androssi is the one to shoot Spears), but I'd keep the conclusion.  No doubt, with more character build-up and at least another story line providing motivations for Spears' mental state, the book would probably come out at twice the length.  I'd probably also add another story line for Ariana so that she didn't come off so wooden and distant.  I don't think I'd give her a motive.

The point was that by forcing myself to write something very simple and two-dimensional, and ignoring the fact that I was writing cliches in order to get the novel to its conclusion, I did learn a lot about pacing, building to a climax, pulling the simple strands of the story together and ultimately writing a denoument.  These are things I could not have gotten into my head writing the beginning five or six chapters of novel after novel.  I began to see how the structure had to be circular, so that the problems the character has at the beginning must be involved and resolved by the end of the novel, to provide continuity throughout.

If you are finding yourself struggling to finish something, I suggest strongly that you set down your self-consciousness about the quality of your work and just concentrate on finishing the job at hand.  Later, if you still like the novel, when you've learned more about how to write, you can go back and do the job properly.

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