Posted by: dougery | October 28, 2010

Roping my NaNoWriMo Rhino: Securing a Plot

I suspect there are a great many writers out there who can draft brilliant prose at will but sometimes struggle to compose a plot they are happy with. Piecing together a few pretty words and rambling on–that seems easy enough–but giving it purpose, giving it a backbone, an arc on which the drama climbs up and then comes crashing down, that can be daunting. This year November snuck up on me in the manner only months can when you’ve been transplanted hundreds of miles away from everything familiar and have yet to secure a job (spoiler alert! More on that last bit soon, perhaps very soon, not gonna jinx it). I found myself fretting over just what the hell I was going to write my NaNovel about and the clock was ticking.

So I decided to think about what I like, what I find funny or amusing or interesting. Something to sustain my interest for the next month of insane typing and scribbling. General topics are a good place to start, but I found myself being dragged ever closer to the whirlpool of genre, as in, which rocky shoal would I wash up on? Comedy? Historical Fiction? Christian Romance? Erotica? Fantasy? Something, gasp, more serious? I felt more comfortable in some of those categories but a certain masochistic element of my subconscious kept steering me towards the unfamiliar. Which is how I came to the conclusion I would write a locked-room mystery.

Now I have no particular fluency in thrillers, mysteries or suspense stories of any kind. I barely know the term ‘locked-room’ and have read maybe one or two (Rue Morgue for certain, perhaps a Sherlock Holmes adventure?). All I really know about the genre is that a crime is committed (often a murder) that has occurred under seemingly impossible circumstances. A detective must then comb through the evidence and figure out what happened and how and whodunit.

My inner punk then decided to literally blow up the ‘locked-room’ conceit from the inside-out. I rattled my brain for any and all figures who would have access to a sealed room by any means imaginable (via space or time) and thus my list of suspects include:

A time-traveling mad scientist.

An alien tourist with the ability to make things he touches intangible (including walls).

A young girl who can teleport (BAMF).

A conjurer.

And to top things off I gave the house itself sentience and a tendency towards depression.

Basically I wanted all of them to be capable of committing the crime and for the detective to have to puzzle over who isn’t guilty of helping the crime to occur. And since all of this action was taking place in a Venture Brothers / Buffyverse type place where magic and super technology and all that fun stuff exists side-by-side I needed to spice up both the victim and the detective accordingly.

The first thing I did was decide that even though someone has been murdered, they aren’t strictly dead. Thus the working title of my NaNovel: “The Corpse That Wouldn’t Die.” When the detective arrives on the scene, something can be heard shambling about the locked room. That something is the victim who has regrettably become reanimated as a zombie. Still dead, still the victim of (several/a) horrible crime(s) but alarmingly unhelpful in supplying anyone with clues on how he was killed.

I’m a huge fan of the Coen Brothers and aim to model my detective on Marge Gunderson. Polite to a fault and brilliant in her own modest way, I needed to give my detective a means of getting all riled up. Of losing control of her emotions while perhaps increasing her detective faculties. Thus detective Lucy Lamplighter became a werewolf called in to investigate a case with a few, let’s say, irregularities on the night of a full moon, clouds temporarily protecting our protagonist.She’s a young divorcee who is seeing a microwave repair-man now and again and is already miffed that she might have missed her period. Now that’s drama, people.

So yeah, goodbye ‘serious fiction.’ But I can’t wait to get cracking on this. A few questions for those of you (anyone?) who made it this far:

1. If you were a sentient (and depressed) house, what would your name be? Would you even have a name as such?

2. I seek to have my alien’s super hi-tech space costume resemble the outfit of a hipster. So skinny jeans, plaid shirt and… what else?

3. I need help coming up with a reason a nosy neighbor might call the cops other than the screams of a dying man coming from the adjacent house. Ideas?



  1. 1.) I’d go with no name. That or The House With No Name.

    2.) Buddy Holly glasses? An ironically childish watch?

    3.) Loud music.

    I love the premise and want to read it. I’ve always wanted to write something long (like a trilogy) with a really detailed, realized setting, that gradually exerts its will more and more, so that halfway through people say stuff like “it’s like the island is character itself” and by the end it becomes clear that the island is in fact an actual character. That was my great disappointment with Lost. It trended that way, then became “East of Eden” with a Smoke Monster and drowned Koreans instead.

  2. Thanks, Osutein. I appreciate the feedback and the answers.

    1. I agree with you on the no-name part. Trying to ‘think’ like a house makes my head hurt but I doubt it would have an idea of what it was called other than ‘The House.’

    2. Glasses perhaps. Watch is out since my mad scientist’s time machine is his pimped out Swatch.

    3. I might go for something even more petty if I can come up with it. Loud music might conflict with the screaming is all. I want it perfectly obvious that Nosy Neighbor heard the screams of a dying man and chose to ignore them.

    Yeah, I think the House will be given away as a character early on. It can alter itself (albeit very slowly) and talk after a fashion (I’m thinking people blow their breath on a window and words appear).

    Don’t get me started on Lost.

  3. I want a signed first addition.

    1. What about having the house somehow reflect an order? Bauhaus its personality or present form reflects it’s function? Could this change as its function changes from setting to witness to accomplice?

    2. I wanna go with low cut shirt and scarf if hipster male. Also rides a bike with one of those wire baskets attached. Drinks ONLY PBR and Naked juice.

    3. This is tough. maybe its the absence of something that tips off the neighbor. Something he or she ALWAYS sees or hears and in a certain place or time that would arouse suspicion/? This sounds like a much better version of the nightside series by
    Simon R. Green

    Can’t wait man get crackin’!

  4. Good to hear from you as always, Konstruct. Believe me, were this to ever hit the presses you’d have one of the first.

    1. Damn, that comment makes my head hurt. When I figure out what you’ve said I may implement it.

    2. This perfect. The alien is asexual but a low cut shirt and scarf it is. Also, his flying saucer now will have a giant wire basket on the side, so thank you.

    3. Hmmm, i think you might be on to something. Maybe reverse domestic violence? Maybe the house residents always fight and throw dishes and on this night that doesn’t happen and the nosy neighbor calls the cops before the actual screams. Hmmm…

  5. 1. Bob

    2. A chinese fan

    3. His grass is a half-inch too long

    I can’t wait to read this! And I LOVE that the flying saucer has a giant wire basket.

    This reminds me of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy–only weirder? In a good way, of course.

  6. Follow up:

    1. I reread what i wrote. Whoah! Sorry about that. Let me make that a bit more clear. Perhaps the shape and form of the house could change in appearence as the character develops. In other word it would change from a nice victorian to brutalist when it is discovered to have assisted in the crime (it’s function worn on it’s sleeve exc…)? Probably too complicated. Just a thought.

    2. A chinese fan is a must!!! Also one of those portable toy suitcase recordplayers. Looks official, suspicious a mystery! and then unfolds into hipster vinyl tester-outer?

    3. Still tough

    Still very exciting

  7. 1. The house is going to change it’s shape, but the changes are plot sensitive and I don’t want to give too much away. Just know that I am probably going to have the house be sullen and paranoid like Marvin from Hitchhiker’s guide. We’ll even get a chapter from it’s ‘perspective’ toward the end.

    2. Maybe the spaceship itself is shaped like the hipster suitcase record player? i.e. the ‘saucer’ fits inside this box thing with a handle?

    3. I think I am going with lara here. Neighbor walks over with a ruler and measures the grass WHILE the man screams as he is killed and then calls the cops because she thinks it’s too high.

  8. i can’t wait to play the game of clue based on this.

    and shouldn’t the hipster alien have an ipod? or at least one product by apple?

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