Damned if I know who killed the chauffeur

Writers are sensitive souls.  When Senator came out, Publishers Weekly gave it a rave review, saying, among other kind things: “The plot remains practically bulletproof, right up to the surprising ending.”  So of course my response was: “Waddaya mean, practically bulletproof?”  I spent many exhausting hours bulletproofing that plot.  Show me the holes!

Mysteries need to play fair with their readers.  You’ve got to give them a fair chance to identify the murderer.  You can’t hold too much back, and ultimately you have to explain everything.  This is not easy, especially with a complex mystery where everyone turns out to be a suspect except the family cat (and I wasn’t sure about her for a while).

This reminds me of the famous story about the movie version of Raymond Chandler’s The Big Sleep. The screenwriters (who included William Faulkner and Leigh Brackett, who later wrote The Empire Strikes Back), couldn’t figure out one plot point, so they wired Chandler to ask: “Who killed the chauffeur?”  Supposedly Chandler wired back: “Damned if I know.”

There are lots of great mystery writers around, but I have difficulty reading them for pleasure–I find myself paying too much attention to the craft.  When I read a novel like 1Q84, on the other hand, it’s purely for pleasure–Murakami’s craft belongs in another literary universe altogether.

One odd thing about the plotting of Senator: when I first outlined the novel, I got the murderer wrong.  At one level, this doesn’t make any sense; I’m the writer, I get to say whodunnit.  But ultimately I understood that the whole novel was pointed towards someone else as the guilty party; in fact, the story made no sense without a climactic scene that was at least three plot twists away from the original person I had fingered for the crime.

That, by the way, is what makes writing really worth while.

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