Let's Talk with Debra H. Goldstein
The Art of Improvisation
Have you heard the one about the author who took ten years to write his first book? How about the tale of the writer who produces two to three books a year? I can’t provide the punchline for either of those questions, but I can explain the art of improvising a complete mystery in one hour.
Recently, I had the pleasure of moderating and being part of a “Let’s Make a Mystery” zoom panel, with Sharon Lynn and Sarah Smith, hosted by Sisters in Crime’s Desert Sleuths Chapter. Our charge was to explain the elements that comprise a mystery – things like characters, setting, plot, dialogue, and pacing – and then, using suggestions the audience put in the chat, create a mystery. It was a hoot!
Many settings were proposed, but we settled on a run-down ranch in a rural setting near a town of 800 people that had cows and horses and a well-tended marijuana patch. We then turned to the characters. Names, jobs, and relationships were all explored. The three of us narrowed it down to five or six characters. Next, we decided on the crime. Murder, of course.
We first thought that in 2023, a character would discover a decayed body in a box in a leaning barn but jumping two time periods and having the body in the box seemed trite. So, using the weapons suggested, we pivoted and moved the story to the 1970’s, where Hank, a former farmhand who managed to get hold of the farm via a shady marriage, was found propped up like a scarecrow near the pot he grew on the farm. He’d been killed by a pitchfork to the chest.
Sadly, the shady sheriff had only one suspect in his line of vision – Hank’s wife, Sadie. That wasn’t good enough for us. Improvising we gave every character a motive, turned one into the amateur sleuth, and came up with a plausible reveal of the killer both for Hank and the body of someone who disappeared/died years earlier (yes, we worked in the body in the box).
What we accomplished within the hour was hilarious, but it also was a good teaching tool. The audience learned the elements that go into a mystery, discovered the effectiveness of brainstorming, and saw how authors run into dead ends but must be flexible (which can be translated as “kill your darlings”) for the good of the work in progress. We ended by noting that we’d created a solid mystery, but like most writer’s first drafts, our present product wasn’t ready for submission. Although the bones were there (literally and figuratively), our mystery needed revision.
While you’re here, click over to enter our July contest! Giveaways this month include a book from Anna Gerard (aka Diane AS Stuckart) and Valona Jones (aka Maggie Toussaint). CLICK HERE to enter.
Want to learn more about author Debra H Goldstein? Visit her WEBSITE.
Posted in Let's Talk, with Debra H. Goldstein • Tags: Debra H Goldstein, Let's Make a Mystery, The Art of Improvisation | 35 Comments