My work

Wednesday, 10 September 2014

“The butler did it.” I’d kill for a simple dénouement.

My current WiP is a murder mystery of sorts, the result of deliberate restrictions I put on myself for last year’s NaNoWriMo: first-person, romantic suspense comedy. It’s almost done. It was almost done November 30, 2013, with the plot laid out clearly in an annotated detailed list in the MS so I wouldn’t forget who did what to whom when I returned to it.
I wrote the HEA ending last November, so, literally, that’s all I had left to do – get that list of details into a scene. Yesterday, I shot off a message to one of my betas, letting her know she’d see the MS in a couple of days, as I was just writing the dénouement. I immediately returned to work, determined to finish those few lines that would wrap up the mystery. That’s it. Easy-peasy, right?

Dénouement literally means “untying the knot”. It’s the unravelling of the plot of any story, not just in mysteries. Explanations made, he-said-she-said, I’ve always loved you, here’s the murderer, the motive, the MacGuffin. Scene! The End.

So I’m not unfamiliar with tying – or rather, untying and retying – the knots of a story. However, this is my first mystery. With clues hidden and scattered and hinted at throughout the MS, trying not to give things away and tossing out some red herrings for fodder, now I have too many things to explain. In the midst of the mess I’ve made of these “few lines” I was going to whip off last night, I started wishing for a convenient butler to blame everything on.

Edgar the Butler, The Aristocats, [1970] © Disney
Of course, the butler did it is a both a classic trope and hackneyed cliché. Relax; even had I a butler character to throw to the wolves of dénouement, I’d not use him. It’s not my first rodeo.

But damn! Sure feels like it. Seven hours I spent labouring over revealing the threads. The “few lines” currently stand at about 2,100 words. And I’m not done explaining!

I was too damned clever with too little experience in the genre. I have too many possible villains and accomplices. Clearing names in one breath and ruining reputations in the next is taking its toll in what should be a tight, fast scene.

At last, I fell asleep in the wee smalls, desperate for the convenience of simplicity . . . and dreamed that my H was the villain all along.
No, that won’t work.

What to do with the steamy mess?

Well, I’m not going to change my plot. Maybe I’ll backtrack and wrap up some threads earlier to lighten the load of the end. I can muddle through this dénouement and think about how to tidy it while betas pfthhht it. Next time I write a mystery – if I ever do – I could keep it simpler. One villain. One motive.

Yet my current conundrum presents a huge opportunity. A writing exercise of epic proportions [for me]: to write this scene with all the complexities intact and still keep it interesting to the reader. To unravel the Gordian knot of my plot by following the tangles, rather than jackhammering through it – which is what I’m currently doing.
Whew! We’ll see how it goes.

FPW WiP cover

Many thanks to the irrepressible Camilla Monk for her design advice [who am I kidding - it's her idea!] that fits my brand so well!

Famous Penultimate Words will be published . . . soon-ish.