I am missing a corpse.
There is a piece of advice that I’m sure you know already, and that’s to make your first act as short as possible. Don’t waste time with introductions and preliminaries bar the essentials but get to your inciting incident as soon as possible.
That means, if writing a murder mystery, you should cut to the corpse. The novel doesn’t really begin until you have your dead body. No matter what interest you have, what civil unrest, what interesting character dynamics you create, without that central pillar your novel will feel like it’s missing something.
My corpse has gone AWOL. It should have been here – right here – but someone’s snuck off with it whilst my back was turned.
I should explain: I’m talking about New Gods, the third book in my Antarctic trilogy. I wrote this years ago and, unlike Night Shift and Human Resources, it hasn’t really been looked at since. So far I’ve been pleasantly surprised; fixing continuity caused by my tinkerisations with the previous books has been the greatest problem.
But I’m 100 pages in now; that’s nearly a third of the way through.
There hasn’t been a single murder yet. Not one.
There’s a lot of good things. There’s the suggestion of a historical massacre. There’s political intrigue. There’s the reintroduction of an old character and just enough about him to cause the reader doubt. New characters seem realistic and intriguing.
But there’s no body. And this is a problem. Nearly a third of the way through and the novel hasn’t yet begun.
This is odd, if you think about it. Why should it be so important that there’s a death when there’s so much else going on? It’s not as if other genres make such simple, bare demands. All that matters is a conflict, a course irrevocably decided upon. I have that in spades.
But this is a murder mystery. People need a body – or, at the very least, something with the same emotional heft. I don’t have that here. Will what I do have be enough to keep people reading? Well maybe; as I said, there’s plenty going on. But why leave it to chance?
It’s time to dust off my scissors. The (first) murder needs to be brought forwards. It needs to be front and centre. It needs to be my primary focus. If that pushes some other strands into the background then so be it.
Hell, that might make those threads stronger; a little messiness can frazzle my lead-character, can distract and disorientate so as to mask (from character and reader) what really matters. This could become a boon.
But I’m not going to start cutting just yet. First I’m going to read through the rest of the novel. It’s worth remembering what I’m trying to achieve before trying to achieve it.
Besides, it should be fun.
UPDATE: I found it! That pesky corpse was hiding on page 138. Now I just need to rearrange the whole novel to bring it front and centre.
Also, I can’t wait to the end of the novel. It’s time to start snipping!