Stillwater, Florida (AP) – The murder of Janice DeStoppalace put police detectives on high alert last week. Discovery of her body was worse than anyone expected, especially since the victim led such a quiet life. She was a receptionist at a downtown insurance agency. She was a loving mother and wife who wrote amateur detective novels in her spare time. Now she’s the face of a hate crime that is growing in intensity.
The fervor is raging across the country: at writer’s conferences, book fairs, local critique groups, even between couples who are both writers.
Friends and family are saying that Janice DeStoppalace, 34, lived openly about her beliefs.
“I like to pick out the villain when I get to the end of writing my mystery novels,” said DeStoppalace at an Amateur Mystery Writer’s Meet-Up Group she attended on the night of her murder. “I let the characters decide who did the dastardly dead and why.” Those were her last words. She was murdered in her home by a gang of Outliners who held a rally in a neighboring residence on the same evening.
“I’m not saying that the murder of Janice DeStoppalace was right,” said Andrea Ferngroves, 61, a representative of the D.O.R.I. organization (Detailed Outlines ‘R’ Imperative). “But I find it a little disturbing that people like her can just start writing a story without any clear direction where it’s headed. You must first outline, then start the initial draft. That’s just the way it’s done in a civilized society.”
News of DeStoppalace’s murder has had a profound impact on her friends and neighbors.
“This is definitely a problem that we’re struggling to get past,” said Angela Whiddle, 42, a wife and mother. “I’m just like that poor, innocent woman. I’m a wife, a mother and write in my spare time. And I too just start writing on the first page and let the story flow where it wants.”
“But it’s put a strain on our marriage,” said her husband, Barry Whiddle, 44, a novelist who is adamant that an outline must be written first. “How does your story have direction? How do you keep the characters from running off on tangents without an outline to follow?”
A fellow writer who knew DeStoppalace and frequently attended the same Amateur Mystery Writing group attempted to explain. “I find an outline too restrictive. It limits my creative muse.”
However, there are many who oppose that viewpoint.
“You know that big reveal at the end of my mystery novels? I planned that out 300 pages earlier,” said Barry Whiddle. “It’s hard to imagine all that falling in place on its own or developing within the natural flow of the story.”
“We will never agree on outlines, but we don’t want to end-up in a situation like that poor woman who was murdered,” his wife Angela added. “A mixed marriage is tough. I’m not saying it isn’t. So, we’re currently working through our issues with professional help.”
DeStoppalace’s mother, Alice, spoke publicly for the first time after her daughter’s tragic death.
“I’ve always heard that there are two kinds of novelists: those who free-flow and those who outline,” she said in a statement released through the family attorney.
According to the attorney, “Free-Flowing” is a street term that describes a process where writers begin a story without any type of prepared outline. The story reveals itself as it’s being written. “Outliners” determine the major plot points, the narrative structure, and the ending before they begin writing.
“Isn’t this world big enough for both free-flowing and outlines?” Alice DeStoppalace pleaded in her public statement. “Obviously, there is no right or wrong way to write. And, I’m going to guess that a lot of people fall somewhere in the middle; they start with an outline but tend to veer off it once they delve into the writing process.”
Memorial services are currently scheduled for Janice DeStoppalace, but per her final wishes, no initial preparation has been made.
All names are fictitious and no resemblance to real persons, living or dead, is intended. Photos are from canstockphoto.com and used with permission per the licensing agreement. Hopefully the members of my writers group don’t kill me for making fun of this week’s (and previous week’s) discussion.