By MSW Guest Blogger Scott Graham
Who, what, when, where, why and how?
The go-to questions of a journalist—and the questions I asked and wrote up for two and a half decades as a business journalist and nonfiction author.
Then I set out to write a murder mystery.
I believed writing mysteries would prove similar to journalism and nonfiction writing. More moving parts would be involved, but still, I thought to myself, all I had to do was figure out the story I wanted to tell, and write it down.
That’s what’s known as hubris. Or denial.
Whichever the case, it’s embarrassing for me now to admit how misguided I was.
Things went well for a few chapters. I saw the story playing out in my head, and I wrote it down. This was fun.
Then things began to get tricky. I needed one of my characters to perform a certain act, but that act didn’t fit with the persona of the character I’d created. On behalf of the story, I really needed the act performed. No problem, I thought. I would quickly go back to the earlier chapters and tweak the character’s persona enough to make her the sort of person who would do what I needed done.
I can hear you chortling from here.
When I made the necessary tweaks to my character’s persona, another problem arose. The original dialogue I’d created between my now-changed character and other characters no longer rang true.
I took a deep breath and rewrote my character’s dialogue—but in the process, I found I needed to change the personas of two additional characters to make my new character’s persona blend with the entire story.
I took a deeper breath and made those changes.
What happened then?
You already know the answer. The changes I made to those characters required further changes to their dialogue.
Next, having changed three characters’ personas and dialogue, I noted that the story’s opening no longer flowed as smoothly and effortlessly as it had on its initial write-through.
I reworked the basic framework of the opening and, after a couple more rewrites, managed to iron out all the opening-chapter hiccups. Finally, I figured, I was ready to cruise on into the heart of the book.
The deeper I wrote into my story, however, the more changes I found I had to make—to characters, dialogue, setting, the story itself, even to things as mundane as time and weather. And the more changes I was compelled to make, the more additional changes became necessary, with each of those changes leading to still more changes.
Before long I felt as if, rather than writing a book, I was involved in a protracted chess match against a grand master wherein every move I made opened infinite possibilities for attack by my seasoned opponent. At the same time, I found the almost-overwhelming challenge of my new mystery-writing endeavor more satisfying than any other form of writing I’d attempted.
Over the last three years, I’ve learned that the challenge of writing fiction lies in making something that is, in fact, incredibly difficult look incredibly easy to readers.
Now, my most fervent hope is that readers will find I’ve met that challenge when they read Canyon Sacrifice, the first installment in the National Park Mystery Series, set for release by Torrey House Press in June 2014.
What’s your favorite National Park, or what park would you love to visit? Comment for a chance to win one of two copies of Scott’s book!
Scott Graham has explored the Grand Canyon all his life. He has backpacked into the canyon’s farthest reaches, and rowed his own eighteen-foot raft down the canyon’s notorious Colorado River rapids. He is an avid outdoorsman and amateur archaeologist who enjoys rock climbing, skiing, backpacking, mountaineering, river rafting, and whitewater kayaking with his wife, an emergency physician, and their two sons. Graham’s book, Extreme Kids, won the National Outdoor Book Award. His five nonfiction books have been reviewed positively by many publications, including the New York Times. Graham lives in Durango, Colorado.