For Mysteries & More!

The Organization of Writing

Looking over old pieces of mine this weekend, I’m struck again by a curious thing.  Grabbing readers from the very beginning of what you write can be of the utmost importance when crafting a story.  Yet is the beginning of what story you’ve written necessarily told in the best possible way?

Take the following as an example.  This short prologue was meant for a pivotal novel in my Mysteries of Syracuse series.  Think of it as the start of a “season finale.”

***

God rest ye merry gentlemen.  Rest in peace and never trouble yourselves more about the toils of life.  Ye have passed from this world into the next, and may it serve you well to know that you’ve not been forgotten.  Ye merry gentle dead who may have walked longer upon this earth had not your lives been cut so brutally short.  Ye circle of acquaintances, friends and relatives, villains and partners in this game we all played.  How many of you realized you would be cut down?  The game lost!

Thomas Phelan, aye!  He was the first to fall, and it was through him that the others followed like links in a chain broken one link at a time.

December 31, 1981.  Do you remember that night?  The tiny white Christmas lights still twinkling in the night.  Festive music and laughter ringing through the halls and rooms filled with guests.  One single gunshot reverberating through the frigid air as if the sound would never die!  Do you remember the night that broke through the carefully erected facades you so deliberately created to hide your rotting morality?

James Collins, Celia Danforth, Col. Martin Hawthorne, Giles Queen, Emeritus Rutledge, Phyllis Stoddard, Arthur Stuyvesant, Elaine Yates, Linda Yates, Prof. Umberton, Prof. Eugene Zellar…Do you living remember their names?  I do.  I remember each and every one of them.  Names of the fallen dead.  An incomplete guest list for that night, December 31, 1981!

Who will join you, ye merry gentle dead, before the year is out?  Wait and see…

***

Captivating?  Maybe, maybe not.  A quick glance at the above presented an alternative to me.  Let’s take the same piece above, but rework it ever so slightly.

***

December 31, 1981.  Do you remember that night?  The tiny white Christmas lights still twinkling in the night.  Festive music and laughter ringing through the halls and rooms filled with guests.  One single gunshot reverberating through the frigid air as if the sound would never die!  Do you remember the night that broke through the carefully erected facades you so deliberately created to hide your rotting morality?

Thomas Phelan, aye!  He was the first to fall, and it was through him that the others followed like links in a chain broken one link at a time.

James Collins, Celia Danforth, Col. Martin Hawthorne, Giles Queen, Emeritus Rutledge, Phyllis Stoddard, Arthur Stuyvesant, Elaine Yates, Linda Yates, Prof. Umberton, Prof. Eugene Zellar…Do you living remember their names?  I do.  I remember each and every one of them.  Names of the fallen dead.  An incomplete guest list for that night, December 31, 1981!

God rest ye merry gentlemen.  Rest in peace and never trouble yourselves more about the toils of life.  Ye have passed from this world into the next, and may it serve you well to know that you’ve not been forgotten.  Ye merry gentle dead who may have walked longer upon this earth had not your lives been cut so brutally short.  Ye circle of acquaintances, friends and relatives, villains and partners in this game we all played.  How many of you realized you would be cut down?  The game lost!

Who will join you, ye merry gentle dead, before the year is out?  Wait and see…

***

Personally I think the second version is the stronger.  Will it end up being the final version?  Time will tell.  However, the more pertinent point is how changing up the order of what you’ve written could result in that winning piece of fiction.  It may be a small change (like the one above) or something larger, but it is ever worth considering.

This particular excerpt is from a mystery of mine set in late 1987.  A major storyline arc involving Thomas Phelan’s unsolved murder–first mentioned in my second novel–is finally resolved, and the seeds of a new mystery arc will likely be planted.

The above excerpts are copyrighted material.  Please do not reproduce or use without prior permission from the author.

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