October 15, 2012
A storm is brewing (and so is a story). The sky has grown a milky grey and the wind is quickly denuding the trees, sending leaves swirling over the tin roof, scratching its surface as they crash to the ground below. It feels like November already. My cabin puffs smoke like a dragon.
I’m midway through my writer’s retreat now. My murder mystery is slowing revealing itself to me.
I’ve been dipping here and there into The Elements of Mystery Fiction by William Tapply. The author tells us:
“Your sleuth should obviously be drawn with the greatest care. You want your readers to identify with her, root for her, agonize with her.
Readers will worry about her because she has goals that are important to her and it’s not certain that she’ll achieve them.
Define your story by your sleuth’s motivation. What does she want? Why does she care enough to take significant risks to attain it?”
What does Ruth care about? She tells herself she doesn’t care about anything. But it’s a bluff. She cares about art. She cares about Shōtarō Tani and wonders why he stopped writing. Isn’t he a bit like her? Just throwing in the towel and fleeing? For him to return to the literary arena offers her a ray of hope, doesn’t it? Perhaps return is possible.
When she begins to suspect him of foul play she tries to reason her suspicions away. He loved his sister. His earlier novel, The Prodigal Son Does Not Return uncovered the depth of respect he had for her and the pity he felt for her circumstances. Ruth cannot believe Shōtarō would harm his sister. Clearly, the culprit is her thuggish husband.
Ruth is also moved to protect Daté—whom she fears is in harm’s way. Daté’s novel, Kimono Killer, was only thinly disguised. It was easily recognized as a critique of the Tani family. Daté received threats, which she laughed aside. Soon she moved onto her next novel. Ruth admires Daté. She wants to warn her that she is in danger. Will she be too late?
Clearly it is dangerous to remain associated with Shōtarō and his “novel.” Ah, the perils of translation! For me, the danger of translation has always been the production of work that is unrecognized and unrewarded. For Ruth the stakes are much higher!
I turn back to the window. The sun has broken through the milky clouds and for a moment turns the broad-leafed tree outside the cabin a glittering gold. The wind stops. Even the milky clouds have arrested their flight across the sky. All is silent and still. A wisp of smoke drifts lazily across the window.
Top photo by Brian Yurasits on Unsplash
What evocative photos, especially the featured image of the stormy sky. Tapply’s advice seems spot on. I never realized those points about the “detective” before. But come to think of it, I did like Kinsey Milhone and root for her. Similarly, Ruth comes across as adventurous and smart, but not perfect–she has her human foibles. Nancy Drew? Hmmm, such a paragon. But I guess I rooted for her, too! Jan