Guest Post by Mystery Author Vic DiGenti (aka Parker Francis)
Recently I’ve started looking at people differently. Perhaps it’s because I’ve watched one too many cable news programs spouting doom and gloom. Or maybe programs like Criminal Minds and CSI, with their growing body counts and graphic images of the deceased, have desensitized me. But as I look at people I imagine clever ways to send them on their way—permanently. That’s right, dead, gone, deceased, demised, passed on, expired, pushing up daisies, an ex-live body (with apologies to John Cleese in the hilarious “Dead Parrot” episode of The Monty Python Show)
Wait, before you rush to call the authorities, or send me your do-it-yourself home lobotomy kit, let me assure you I haven’t gone postal. Life is still good down here on the farm, and I’m enjoying my retirement even more since I won the lottery, but now that I’m writing mysteries, I have to find ways to dispatch my victims in surprising ways to satisfy my readers’ blood lust. So you see I have an excuse for my new perspective on people.
To be honest, my decision to write my award-winning Matanzas Bay mystery came because I’ve always been a reader of mysteries and thrillers. My wife might tell you it’s because I live in a fantasy world where I picture myself as the hero of my stories. There’s some truth to that, but unlike authors who tell you to write what you know, I believe in writing what you love to read. My bookshelves are crammed with the works of my favorite authors: John D. MacDonald, Michael Connelly, James Lee Burke, Lee Child, Robert Crais, Dennis Lehane, Robert B. Parker, and other masters of the craft.
Readers of cozies, which usually feature a female amateur sleuth solving crimes while baking cookies and working as a dog walker, are a bit squeamish about violence, so it usually takes place off stage, along with any sex. But readers of hard-boiled mysteries not only expect to see the violence unfold on the page, they’d be disappointed if it didn’t. Which is why I promise my readers at least three dead bodies or their money back.
Since my Quint Mitchell Mystery series is more hard-boiled than soft, I had to fit my sleuth and the story into the conventions of the mystery. For instance, many hard-boiled detective yarns are told in first person, putting us squarely into the head of the protagonist. We also know that bad things are going to happen—the more bad things, the better for the story. Typically, the sleuth will make it his mission to find the villain, chasing down clues, banging into dead ends and charging up blind alleys before justice prevails.
But we don’t want to make it easy for our hero, do we? One of the first bits of advice I heard was to chase your hero up a tree, then throw rocks at him. In other words, as writers we should make it supremely difficult for our protagonists to reach their goals by placing as many obstacles in their path as we can. Our job as writers, as SF author Ben Bova once said, is to be a troublemaker.
We can do this in a lot of ways, but I particularly like what Donald Maass wrote in his book, Writing the Breakout Novel.
“Ask yourself who is the one ally your protagonist cannot afford to lose. Kill that character. What is your protagonist’s greatest physical asset? Take it away. What is the one article of faith that for your protagonist is sacred? Undermine it. How much time does your protagonist have to solve the main problem? Shorten it.”
The reader will stay hooked to see how the protagonist is able to navigate all the roadblocks you’ve erected. The more conflict, the more drama, and you’ll get a lot more drama by making your protagonist as miserable as possible.
For example, In Matanzas Bay, poor Quint suffers a nasty beating and is nearly devoured by alligators. But he overcomes it because, well, because he’s the hero and he’s going to be in the next book and the alligators aren’t. And in Bring Down the Furies, I find even more devilish ways to hobble my hero.
When it’s time to dispatch another victim, it helps if you can visualize someone you wouldn’t mind taking the place of a dead parrot, figuratively speaking, of course. Perhaps an old boss or former spouse. Hmm, come a little closer. Let me have a good look at you.
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Florida writer Vic DiGenti began his writing career as the author of the award-winning WINDRUSHER series, three adventure/fantasy novels featuring a feline protagonist. Writing as Parker Francis, Vic leaped into the hard-boiled mystery genre with his first Quint Mitchell Mystery, MATANZAS BAY, which was selected as a Book of the Year in the Florida Writers Association’s Royal Palm Literary Awards competition. His second book, BRING DOWN THE FURIES, took the Gold Medal in the Mystery/Thriller category in last year’s President’s Award competition (Florida Authors & Publishers Association). Vic is now working on the third Quint Mitchell Mystery, HURRICANE ISLAND, which he hopes to publish before the end of 2014. He’ll present his workshop, “The Suspense is Killing Me,” at the 2014 FWA Conference in Lake Mary, FL, October 24-26, 2014.
Visit him at www.parkerfrancis.com.