Sunday, January 31, 2010

Where's a good plot when you need one?

DON'T YOU JUST want to slap the next person who blurts out the overused phrase, "Get a life!"?

I have a life. In fact, with writing and teaching and baby-sitting grandchildren, I have more than enough lives.

Truth is, what I need right now is a plot. Not a cemetery plot, a story plot. A plot is similar to a life, but it's fiction and has a deadline — although I suppose you could argue that life does, too.

I'm glad I have a life because writing a column every couple of weeks requires it. If I don't experience something interesting, then I have nothing to write about. But when writing fiction, that's — to use another overused phrase — "another story."

Making stuff up is much like being a good liar, only you have to lie for about 300 pages. And for that, you need a plot.

After writing two books in my new mystery series, I need a plot for my third. I've already poisoned a bride, drowned a socialite, bludgeoned a philanthropist, and creatively murdered several other fictional characters. I've got the murder stuff down. What I need now is a cleverly twisting story full of red herrings, misdirection, and cliffhangers.

And it has to sound like real life.

Therein lies the problem. While I have "a life," it doesn't include mayhem, malice or murder. Living here in the valley, while it has its ups and down like any valley, is mostly peaceful and pleasant.

If I want drama, I turn on the TV and watch shows like "The Mentalist," "Castle," and "Criminal Minds." Sometimes these shows give me ideas for my own plots. But I have to be careful I don't steal the stories outright. That could lead to courtroom drama of another kind.

At book signings, I'm often asked, "Where do you get your plots?" My fellow writers usually give a witty response, like "At the plot store" or "Walmart." But the truth is, plots are difficult to come by, especially when your amateur sleuth isn't a police officer or attorney or private detective. Plots just seem to fall into their laps.

In my new series, my protagonist is a party planner. Only problem is, so many people have been dropping dead at her parties, she's going to be out of business soon. That's called the "Jessica Fletcher Syndrome."Remember how Jessica Fletcher, in "Murder She Wrote," was always tripping over dead bodies in quaint little Cabot Cove? It's a wonder there was anyone left in the town. So who's going to hire Presley Parker to host a party when inevitably one or more of the guests will be found dead in the punchbowl? In real life, her "Killer Parties" business wouldn't last the party season.

But luckily, writing fiction isn't like real life. You can make up anything you want. That's called plotting. And now I'm right back where I started this lament.

Maybe I should take a break from the world of fiction and get back to real life by throwing a party, with finger foods (not literally) and chocolates (poison-free). And, what the heck, signed copies of "How to Host a Killer Party."

I just hope no one falls facedown in the punch bowl. I'd like to keep fiction and real life separate as much as possible.

Join me Monday, Feb. 8 from 7 to 9 p.m. for a book-release party at Peasant and the Pear restaurant, 267 Hartz Ave., Danville.


Blogger Unknown said...

are there any more Connor Westphal mystries in the works?

February 8, 2010 at 5:08 AM  
Blogger Penny said...

Hi Nitra,
Thanks for asking about Connor.
I hope to write another one soon, but will focus on my new mystery series for now.

February 8, 2010 at 7:20 AM  
Blogger Amber Polk said...

I might be late to this party, but she could have a murder that's not connected to her party planning such as family friend or something like that and her family pushes her to find the killer since she has before? She can use her job as a party planner to get her access in places. Just a thought.

March 9, 2010 at 10:36 AM  

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