Saturday, February 17, 2007

Lessons Learned

By Brian Mullen

Writing can be difficult. This, of course, goes without saying, which brings us to:

LESSONS LEARNED #1: You probably shouldn’t start a paragraph by saying something that goes without saying.

It is amateur mistakes like these…wait, ‘mistakes’ is plural. It are mistakes…no, they are mistakes…like…it is…

LESSONS LEARNED #2: Don’t be afraid to try and ‘distract’ the reader from previous sentences by tossing in a “lessons learned” quip when necessary.

So, today, I will try and help some of you so-called ‘novice’ writers by sharing some mistakes I have made in the course of learning the writing craft. For example, tell me, if you can, what is wrong with this opening mystery paragraph.

As the bullet lodged into his chest, just millimeters from his heart, Michael Johnson had two simultaneous thoughts: first, that he wouldn’t live to see his vow of vengeance fulfilled, and, second, that the author really should have picked a different character from whose point of view to tell this story.

Did you find the mistake? No, it wasn’t the use of the metric system measurement (that sort of thing goes over BIG in Europe and a few other countries). No other guesses? Well, then I’ll tell you. It was, in fact, that the main character died in the first sentence.

LESSONS LEARNED #3: Never kill your Point of View character in the beginning of your novel.

This places the author in an awkward position of logically not being able to continue the story. It’s okay, mind you, to kill off the main character at the END of the novel, but at the beginning might be a tad too early. Ditto with the middle of the story. Try and keep the character alive until the very, very end, if possible.

Let’s try again. What’s the fundamental flaw in this title?

How Michael Johnson was Killed by Frank Mahoney: A Whodunit

This one is subtle so don’t feel bad if you didn’t catch it.

LESSONS LEARNED #4: Don’t reveal the name of the murderer of a whodunit in the title of the book.

Apparently, it is customary in a whodunit NOT to reveal who the murderer is until way at the end of the book. This is so readers have a chance to solve the case themselves. Thus identifying the murder IN THE TITLE is frowned upon.

Well, I hope you all have learned a thing or two from my mistakes. I was please to share my experiences with all of you. Now, I must return to work on my manuscript. It’s a mystery with a surprising plot twist at the end. I can’t tell you too much about it yet except the working title which is, “The Murder Victim Who Faked His Own Death.” I suspect it’ll be a best seller!


Anonymous said...

Thanks for the laugh, Brian.

I agree that killing off the protagonist on the first page--especially a POV character--is not a good idea. In my experience, few authors have used it with success. I have an open mind and all, but some things are a bit much.

Anonymous said...

Unless you're doing a _Lovely Bones_ thing, and narrating it all from heaven.

But wait . . . that's been done!

Cathy said...

You had me howling at Lessons Learned #1. Thanks for the laughs, and now I, too, can hone my craft with these tidbits. I always wondered why "Mrs. Smith Squeezed some Lemons, Including Mr. Smith's Throat" never sold.

Anonymous said...

Good pointers, Brian, but I couldn't help thinking of the opening scene of Sunset Boulevard, in which the narrator identifies his own dead body floating in a swimming pool . . . [And the moral of the story is, all rules are made to be broken.]

Anonymous said...

Very funny! I hope you just made most of this up. I can't imagine someone killing off their main character and not noticing it!