Sunday, November 2, 2014

Accidents

And I am now definitely in the home stretch on the outline.

I actually created another outline just for the behind the scenes stuff. Not as something to adhere to strictly, not quite. More just to get a feel for what's going on when the main characters aren't around.

As I touched on earlier this week, when I was telling that really dreadful story about my cousin slitting a cab driver's throat over pocket change, I think a lot of the meat in a story like this is in the fact that villains don't always have a great master plan. They make mistakes just like anybody else. It's just that those mistakes tend to get people killed and/or ruin lives. Part of the fun of a mystery novel is all the random chaos in the crime scene which the detective has to reconstruct.

Why the hell was Parson Smith calling that morning, when everybody else says he was on the other side of town? What caused the clock to freeze up ten minutes after midnight? And why is Alfonso, the Smith family's pet alpaca, so traumatized?

Back when I was in college, I had a great class. It was forensic anthropology, taught by Dr. Tal Simmons, who has apparently been getting into all sorts of globe-trotting adventures since that time, according to Google, like some kind of really short, bone-obsessed Indiana Jones. Seriously, she's not quite five feet tall but packs more badass per inch than just about anybody else I've ever met. It was a hard class, but challenging in all the right ways. I think of all the anthro classes I've had, hers was in the top three. Just a hell of a lot of fun and weirdly informative even to this day.

The final project of the class involved a graduate student dumping a bag of random bones and shit on our table with one single commandment: find out, as much as possible, who the hell this was and what happened.

We had to go through all the detritus, sort it all out, rearrange the random debris as much as possible into a skeleton and then estimate age, probable race, gender, cause of death and so on.

In our case, it was a sixteen year old boy, probably African American, who had been stabbed six or seven times with a very long blade, hard enough to enter the back and then exit through the front on several of the blows. He had been decapitated, partially dismembered, and then left in a dumpster. And, for no reason that we could tell, a juvenile bear paw had been thrown in for good measure.

The bear paw was the big monkey wrench in the reconstruction. Bear paws, to an inexperienced group of students like us, were similar enough to human hands that we didn't immediately twig to what happened. After all, the killer had not been polite enough to leave a note telling us he'd removed his victim's hands and buried them elsewhere (or ate them for all we knew).

We had to go by what we had. The bear paw was a strange detail. The cub was still going through its various juvenile growth spurts but...was about three times bigger than what the human equivalent should have been at that age.

We had a choice. Either we were dealing with some kind of fucking mutant with enormous hands or there was something else going on.

Unraveling that something else and then trying to reconstruct the road that led there is what makes mystery writing so much fun.

Right now, I'm touching up the timeline. Figuring out what sorts of things the bad guy would do when he panics. What deals he makes. Who he talks to and where. Where he is when the major things happen. It makes a big difference. Already, I can feel the earlier bits of the book fill in in unexpected ways.

There are going to be a couple of gags early on that I pretty much have to make, for example, that I didn't realize I'd have to do until I wrote that second outline. They're pretty minor, but they'll make a lot more sense once you get to the end of the story.

I am definitely running out of outline to write. I'm hitting that point where I'm on the verge of over-preparing. I'm getting that "fuck you, common sense, let's get started here" itch.

So I'm doing that this week, probably, after another day making sure everything makes sense.

Totals: 1094, 500, 500, 562, 500, 500, and 719. I'm just using 500 as a placeholder on outlining days to show that I've done enough work to hit my daily goal, but it's of a weirdly crunchy yet important variety compared to the relatively small number of words.

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