Sunday, January 10, 2010

What Comes First?

There's an old paradox that one hears from time to time: Which came first, the chicken or the egg? I'm sure you've all heard it. I kind of found myself in that type of situation this week.

I have this pair of characters who come around and tease me with hints of some of their exploits from time to time. With the new year, they told me they once found a body in the trunk of a burning car, right here in Omaha. I know the fire department did find a body in the trunk of a burning car, a couple decades ago, and I thought that might make an interesting mystery for them to solve.

I don't normally write mysteries. These characters are not normally sleuths. It was an interesting idea, but I needed a reason for the dead body to be in the trunk. Actually, I needed a reason for the body to be dead. And that's where I got stuck. I needed this person to be a person, and their life should give me some clue about the motive for their death. But none of that was coming to me. All I got from the characters was snickers and, "We had to figure it out, so now you can."

I've started reading a handbook for mystery writers, hoping it would at least list types of murder motives, stuff like that. It hasn't yet. If I'm still over my head after I read that, I'll have to see if I can't get some answers from fire investigators, homicide detectives, and crime lab technicians. I still know a few of those, though not necessarily the ones who investigated the burning car I heard about.

Mysteries are like that old question. Without a character history, you won't have a motive for the crime. Without a motive, this particular crime would not be committed. Think of me this week, out there chasing chickens and hunting eggs. Trudy

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