Today I passed page 200 in editing my current work-in-progress, and as I did so another method of murder occurred to me, along with a different murderer. This may seem a little late to be coming up with two crucial factors in a murder mystery, but instead of blotting them out of my consciousness, I stopped what I was doing and thought about it.
Like many other writers, I consider myself a pantser with a few caveats. I begin with an image of a character doing something. This is not quite a scene but close to it. I know who he or she is, mostly what they’re doing but not the implications and consequences. Who the person is in relation to the victim (or even if he or she is the victim) and the murderer isn’t yet clear. As I think about the image and how it grows in my imagination, the general outline of a story becomes clear.
I like to have the murder weapon or process be true to the setting and the characters. I don’t want to see a quiet, steely librarian suddenly whip out a gun, though that might make for a fun story. Nor do I expect longshoremen to use poison, or anything that could be considered genteel. So I was thinking up a method of murder that fit the setting, a farm in a part of rural America. I was satisfied with what I developed (and won’t mention it here because I plan to use it in another story).
And here is where the moment of inspiration comes in. It occurred to me that I had a much more appropriate method of murder that I had overlooked—perhaps because it was so obvious to someone like me (and no, I can’t say what that means). And then I thought about the admonition not to change horses in midstream. The method I’d been using made sense, it worked, and I was already in editing. But the new one made a lot more sense, implicated a lot of other innocent people, and was still true to the characters and setting. Plus it required a minimum of rewriting. I had to remove one short chapter, fewer than a thousand words, and the replacement chapter all but wrote itself.
I can’t say with one hundred percent certainty that I’ve solved every problem in switching murder methods, but I like the feel of the story I’ve produced, and I like seeing some minor characters become more interesting to the reader.
This isn’t the first time I’ve done this—changing a character in some important way in the middle of the story, combined two characters, changed locations, changed characteristics of a character—but this is perhaps the most significant one. I’m all for rules that guide the writer, ensuring a tighter, deeper, more compelling story. But I’m also all for breaking those rules when something better comes along.