by Mike Crawmer
I began working on a new mystery a couple weeks ago. I hadn’t planned to do that—after all, I had a finished draft that needed some writerly attention. But, one day, out of the blue, a new character decided to take up residence in my head, strutting his stuff, making noises, trying to get noticed.
I noticed him all right. In fact, I took an immediate liking to him. He sparkled in my imagination, and, with some work would, I know, sparkle on the page. I could see the good and bad in him, his complexities, his contradictions, his possibilities. I could see him making a mess of things for my two recurring protagonists, Greg and Andre. I envisioned him as an instigator and a foil, a suspect and, maybe even a victim. I named him DeShawn.
Soon, he wasn’t alone. Thoughts of a flamboyant DeShawn begat thoughts of a domineering Ulysses and his cheating lover, Simon. Then the overprotective Patrick and conniving twin sister, Pauline, joined the party. The unhappy Vaughn and the drifting Jeremy (and their son, Brett) added to the growing noise in my noggin. Before I knew it, my head was cluttered with an entire town of chattering, attention-grabbing characters. There was only one problem: They didn’t have a story.
Well, they do now, at least the start of one. Day by day I’ve been plugging away at the plot for "Death in a Food Fight." Seems a key plot point needed a new character, so the strong-willed Alma Threadmorton was born on the page. Sure is getting crowded in that town of mine, but it's still early in the process--and, besides, one or two of them have to die!
Some of you are probably shaking an admonitory finger at me, tsk-tsking that I should be reworking the finished manuscript, not creating a whole new story. You’re probably right, but, hey, I’m having too much fun filling in the blanks in my characters’ lives, drawing the connections that link one to another (and a third or fourth), creating complications and conflicts, designing homes and workplaces, laying out the murder scene, picking the weapons or murder methods, and delighting in all the minutiae on which the story will be built.
Revising the first manuscript is too much like work to me—I get all the work I need every day at the office. Oh, some day I will need a break from DeShawn and his shenanigans, and I’ll use that time to work on the languishing manuscript. But, for now, I’m just going to enjoy myself and figure out just what kind of trouble I can make for Greg, Andre, and DeShawn and the rest of the cast.
Have you ever had to make the choice between “fun” and “work”? What did you do? Go play in the sandbox or get behind the ol’ grindstone?