Tuesday 18 June 2013

Walking the Line as a Writer

In a comment he made on my blog post on Friday, in relation to what I'd said about The 10.30 from Marseille, Daniel asked a very interesting question. How does a writer stay on the right side of the line between enticing readers with a fascinating premise or storyline, and irritating them either because of the way the story is told, or because the climax to the story is rather a let-down?

Like so many good questions, this one isn't that easy to answer. And it would be over-confident of me to claim that I have always managed to stay on the right side of that line in my own books. But let me offer some thoughts related to the way I approached The Frozen Shroud. This is a book which, even though it's not a locked room mystery, has one or two elements that might remind Daniel of John Dickson Carr. Three murders, each committed on Hallowe'en over the span of one hundred years, have disfigured the history of the lonely community of Ravenbank on the edge of Ullswater. And a local legend has grown up, about a spectral presence known as The Faceless Woman.

This is all rather Gothic, and a bit different from the mood of most of my stories. I wanted to create a spooky atmosphere, and there's a crucial scene towards the end of the book, when the fog descends over the lake, and someone is out on the water in the mist, facing death. But I didn't want my story to hopelessly implausible, or even worse, risible, and it's not a venture into the supernatural. So how to walk that line?

My method was to make sure that almost all of the action, and every bit of the dialogue, is grounded firmly in the here and now, with people like Hannah Scarlett, Daniel Kind and his sister Louise going about their lives and encountering a variety of believable obstacles as they do so. I did a good deal of research to build an authentic background. That fog-on-the-lake scene benefited greatly from practical advice from the local mountain rescue team, who helped me to make sure that what I described reflected what would happen in real life. They were even kind enough to read the draft scene, and make comments which I took on board. All this does, I think, help a great deal.

Above all, though, it's people that count in a novel, and there are life-changing developments in Hannah's life, all of which I see as very credible. They are relevant to the plot, and which introduce elements of realism, counterpointing the macabre stuff about legends and the eponymous Frozen Shroud.

Will this work/? Will readers be convinced that I've stayed on the right side of the line? I await reaction in the UK, and I'm currently looking through early reviews in the US. More about these soon.


Anonymous said...

Martin - Thanks for sharing your thoughts about this important question. I couldn't possibly agree more that the people in a novel have to be authentic and believable. If they aren't, nothing else matters. If they are, then the author can make readers believe a whole lot...

Martin Edwards said...

Thanks, Margot.

Christine said...

I like Flannery O'Connor's comment: 'The writer can do anything they can get away with, but no-one has every gotten away with much.'