Double Oh Dear

by jkatejohnston

14 August 2014

Dear Max,

I read my book. It wasn’t horrifying, but my plan to be completely done with it in a year, re-writes and all, is beginning to look laughably optimistic.

I read it because it feels like the mystery needs to get solved pretty soon. The DA rested his case, and the story has been going on for a while, almost 300 pages. Perhaps it’s time to figure out what happens.

There are two plots. The main one is: innocent guy gets charged with a particularly unpleasant burglary/indecent exposure. The evidence of guilt is overwhelming, but the case is way over-charged, including two counts that carry a potential life sentence.

The client thinks the case is about innocence. His legal team (a fairly competent lawyer and a brilliant investigator) think the case is about plea bargaining, and when they can’t get a decent offer from the DA, they think it’s about knocking out the life counts at the trial.

The client refuses to do a DNA test, and that’s one of the many reasons the lawyer and investigator think he’s guilty. The real reason he doesn’t want to do a DNA test is that he suspects (correctly) that his brother is the true perp, and the DNA will incriminate his brother. In other words, the cops will compare the client’s DNA to the DNA from the crime scene and say, “Yeah, it’s not you, but it sure as hell is someone who’s related to you.” I figured out this was the plot about 250 pages into it.

Somehow, the investigator has to figure out that the brother did it. We’ve been reading a lot of Encyclopedia Brown, and I’d really like to turn to the back of the book right now and read: Solution to the Case of the Weenie-Wagging Burglar. How did Encyclopedia know?

Other stuff:

When you write fiction, you have to put the world in: food, weather, place. Sometimes I remember to do it, and there’s the world, yay. And sometimes I forget, and it’s like watching TV with your eyes closed, just people talking and talking.

People should not make jokes too often. It’s tiresome. Life should be funny, people, not so much. Good lines usually aren’t that good.

One thing that stumps me is: how much extra stuff can you put in? I wrote a chapter that’s supposed to show what law practice is like, with lots of cases going on, low-level stuff, social work. That part doesn’t do much for the story, but it’s the kind of thing I like writing. So is that part of putting in the world or is it just self-indulgent digression?

Specialized knowledge is not that helpful. I wrote a long chapter about DNA that’s almost as boring and confusing as real life. It has charts and long explanations of special vocabulary words. I need to come up with a plot that doesn’t involve allele sharing or plus-one stutter.

The client character only became recognizably human after about 200 pages. I have to rewrite him, human from the beginning. Oh dear.

Plot. Someone has to know it, ideally from the beginning. That would seem to be the author’s job. Double oh dear.