Hello, mystery lovers! It’s Sunday evening. My kids are in bed (asleep is another story) and I’ve been nursing a headache all damn day. My plan was to watch the second presidential debate but I prefer to watch Shameless — much easier on the old psyche when fictional characters do abhorrent things instead.
Anyhoo, I wanted to blog today about a book — not a mystery, but a tome with expert advice for writers. It’s called Story Genius by Lisa Cron. My friend, a successful women’s suspense author, recommended the book to me, claiming it changed her writing process for the better. And since my writing process isn’t so much a process as me banging my head against my computer keyboard, I figured I could pony up the $12 for the paperback and give it a go.
And holy hell, am I glad I did. I’ve been struggling with my passion project, a YA mystery set in 1995, for months. I’d been so enthusiastic for the story, but slowly I was losing steam. And succumbing to depression as I did. What started off as a book about two boys reconnecting after years apart quickly became a convoluted, overly-plotted, runaway mystery with story threads I couldn’t weave together if I tried. I lost the story. Plain and simple.
Now without getting into heavy detail, Story Genius helps authors unlock the story they want to tell. Cron uses brain science to explain what makes readers fall in love with a book. And it has nothing to do with plot. Your characters lead your story. As a mystery author, my immediate jump-to is plot. I start off with a premise — a story about two boys in love. But quickly, my brain jumps to questions about the victim, the murderer, the subplots, the motive — and sure, a mystery needs all that, but not at the expense of the story.
So long story (ha!) short, I re-outlined my novel. I have 63 new scenes driven by my characters’ internal struggles, and believe it not, that has also given me a mystery and a murder. Sure, I’m essentially throwing away 75K words of an earlier draft, but this new story is stronger than ever. Perhaps, I’ve found a new process. All I know is I’m finally excited about my book again.