Saturday, April 30, 2011
What would Jessica Fletcher Do?
I know, it totally sounds hokey ... at best. But, it's true!
If you've never watched an episode of Murder She Wrote, or really an episode of almost any crime/drama, then you need to. It can help to focus in on what it is you're trying to explain, reveal, hide or introduce in your story.
In reality, detectives -- or in her case, unofficial detectives -- rarely solve a murder case within the time frame that these shows take place in. However, that's because the show is limited to an hour or two. If it isn't short and quick, our attention wanes, we get up for a snack, or we will change the channel. In our writings, even if things don't move quite this quickly, we too need to move the plot along. Otherwise, no one will want to read our words either!
Watching J. B. Fletcher go through the murder, find the suspect, pick up clues, and of course, exonerate the wrongly accused, is sort of like watching a ball go from point A to point B. We know, as writers, that we want our "ball" to sail through the air from point A, and make it to point B.
However, it is easy to get hung up on back stories, unnecessary chit-chat, or excessive characterization. And our "ball" ends up dropping very short of the goal, hole, or basket. By cluing in (excuse the pun) on what we need to focus on (moving the plot to the climax, or revealing more necessary aspects to the sub-plots), watching a crime/drama unfold, play its part, and close within about 52 minutes, can really exemplify what we should be doing in our stories as well.
Think about how every episode opens up with a problem, how characters flaws and attributes appear in all the suspects, and how at least two subplots appear in the story as well. Watch how the protagonist learns from her mistakes, uses her knowledge and small-town cuteness to keep us entertained and charmed - along with the other characters whom we like just as much.
This, in turn, keeps us watching the show, wanting more (I think), and amazingly enough, thoroughly satisfies us with the quaint and perfect wrap up. We even anticipate the mandatory smile at the end.
Yes, Jessica Fletcher's role, and detective work, remind me how to keep those literary loose ends at bay, and keep the story moving. While the gooey-perfection of the show doesn't have to show up in our work, just thinking about the story aspect to it while watching it on television, can remind us to keep that "ball" moving for our benefit, and the reader.
It also makes me wonder how in the world we live without pantsuits, blue eye shadow, and feathered hair today. Okay ... not really.