Murderati and Me

January 23rd, 2009

The people at Murderati,com (who include, by the way, JT Ellison, whose creative living piece will appear here on Sunday) were kind enough to ask me for a guest blog, so I wrote one about getting into trouble, a topic that’s never far from my mind.  In this case, I talk about a specific kind of getting into trouble — when the exterior landscape of the book ceases to have its roots in the characters’ interior landscape.

It’s here:

Hope you like it.

4 Responses to “Murderati and Me”

  1. Thomas Says:


    I liked your guest blog very much. What I think you’re hinting at (perhaps more than a subtle hint) is that there is such a thing as running out of ideas. Or, at least, good ideas. It brought up a few issues that I wanted to comment on.

    The first is what writers at all levels discuss all the time. Outline or not outline? Me and my unpublished self always has to outline in some sort of way. Outlining to me does not necessarily mean writing a long list of scene details on a piece of paper. To me, it’s more of a mental process, a matter of mulling things over before I even type a single word. I cannot make things up as I go (unless it’s a non-fiction piece like the one you’re reading now) and feel content about it afterwards. When I try, it always comes across as a whole lot of unconnected “flub”. I compare it to a band going into the studio to record an album. Ideally, they will have written their songs and rehearsed them ad nauseum before going into the studio. At the very least, there better be a collection of riffs and lyrics beforehand. To go into a studio blind and expect to come up with great songs right before recording is something that doesn’t work for me. To bring the analogy back to writing again – many writers would argue that to not outline is the only way to write that works for them. Many do it with great success. I think we can only find out through doing which group we belong to. Do we always know what to write when we turn our laptop on or does it come to us right there, right then?

    Second, what really hit a nerve with me is what you list as your third thing not to do. Take a break. Come up with a new idea. A NEW idea!! At first, what a joy! But then it turns into a curse, as it absolutely kills the original idea and story. Perhaps this a common rookie mistake – I don’t know – but I suffer from this illness. I don’t know how many pages I have thrown out because my latest idea is better than my last one. Perhaps it’s a bad habit, perhaps it’s a personality disorder? I don’t know. But, sometimes it just takes a minor tweak of an already good idea to get off track. When it happens, I trash the majority of my text but save my darlings. After all, how could I kill them?


  2. Larissa Says:

    Not to be devil’s advocate here, but didn’t you actually stop and take a brief break right before hitting hard and finishing the end of your last book? I know that stopping can be suicide-I’m kinda there right now. I am resisting the urge to play into my desire to write the next idea I have in relation to this story because I think it would overload the plot (what there is of one) and it probably wouldn’t enhance a whole lot.

    But. The dreaded word. But, I need something….being a better story teller would probably help…I need a connection. I need to know what that connection is before I can figure out how to write this story. I don’t know the why. And the more I think about it the more it sticks it’s tongue out at me and runs away.

    I don’t know. This all has very little to do with your guest blog post. It’s been a day.

    Overall, I enjoyed reading your view points on Murderati. You’re one of the few people I know who can seem to, the majority of the time, follow your own advice.

    Well done and I am looking forward to Sunday.

  3. Timothy Hallinan Says:

    Hi, Larissa —

    It wasn’t so much a break as a breakdown. Actually, everything in that Murderati post came from my experience in losing the way on that book. I was fortunate that two specific things became clear to me about the relationship between the book’s inner and outer landscapes, because that’s what actually enabled me to finish. I had to stop thinking about plot completely and think only about character.

    If you have an idea for a new story line for the book you’re writing, I’d suggest giving it a few days to see how it relates to the main line, what it tells us about the characters, how it deepens our understanding of the world of the book, and whether, after you think about it for a little while, it seems sort of inevitable. Sometimes a new story line is our characters’ way of telling us they’ve got more reactions than we’re noting to whatever is going on.

    Thomas — I literally can’t outline. I couldn’t write an outline if my career depended upon it. This causes me a lot of trouble because I have to give my publishers some sense of what the story will be in order to get the official go-ahead to write the book, and those few pages are as hard for me as the whole book. The book never bears any resemblance to the proposed “story outline.”

    The alluring thing about a new story line is that you haven’t made any mistakes on it yet, so it brings all this new enthusiasm with it. That lasts until you’ve had to wrestle to bring it into the light of day for a few weeks, and then something else starts to look all shiny and full of promise. Sooner or later, the original idea gets lost.

    I think the criterion (as I say, not very well, above) is that the new story line should somehow seem inevitable, which is to say that it should arise completely naturally, even inescapably, from a character’s needs or fears.

    Or something.

  4. Sylvia Says:

    I enjoyed the article and your comments here.

    That lasts until you’ve had to wrestle to bring it into the light of day for a few weeks, and then something else starts to look all shiny and full of promise.

    I suffer from this in general. I have a tendency to pick up new projects full of excitement just to dump them again after a month. In terms of writing, I’m struggling to complete my first novel (having written lots of articles and stories) and I’m sure it’s the overwhelming length of it that is making it so difficult.

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