By Sally Carpenter
My first three books of the Sandy Fairfax Teen Idol series were easy to plot because they offered a pre-set structure. Book four, my WIP, doesn’t have that so I jumped in and started writing before outlining the story. Immediately I ran into trouble.
My first book, “The Baffled Beatlemaniac Caper,” took place during a three day-Beatles fan convention, so I had only three days for the body to appear and my hero to find the killer. I used the event schedule from real fan conventions and worked in the clues and red herrings around that. Since I only had three days, the action moved quickly and never lagged. Simple!
My second book, “The Sinister Sitcom Caper,” lasted a little longer. Sitcoms followed a set production pattern lasting five days so I just filled in Sandy’s sleuthing around his rehearsals and the taping.
On “The Cunning Cruise Ship Caper,” he performed on a five-day Caribbean cruise. I could have gone on a seven or even 14-day cruise, but again, limiting the time made for a quicker story and eliminated “down” time and repetition. The daily formal dinners would get boring after day six and the fourth port of call wouldn’t be much different from the second. I used the activities calendar from an actual cruise to flesh out the day’s schedule and again, much of the story fell into place.
Then came book four and I was stuck.
The book’s original title was “The Bloody Black Tie Benefit.” Sandy’s family was putting on a benefit gala to raise money for his father’s orchestra. But the event would only last for one night, which might be good for a short story but not enough for a novel. I had to add more.
Without jettisoning the gala, I added Sandy’s appearance on a TV quiz show and renamed my WIP “The Quirky Quiz Show Caper.” This posed some problems. I didn’t want him on the show for days on end; that would get stale. Realistically, the contestant Sandy is partnered with wouldn’t win every single day. And what would he do the rest of the day when he wasn’t taping the show?
Also, I originally set the murder in the office of Sandy’s father. Bad move. How could the murderer get into the office without being seen by the receptionist or anyone else in a large, multi-floor office building?
I wrote about 50 pages and stopped. It wasn’t working. The plot was too forced, I had no interesting suspects, and the scenes between Sandy and his father seemed drab. So I tossed those pages and restarted from scratch.
This time, I placed the murder at an old art deco theater. Ah ha! Now I had several entrances the killer would use. The theater was a more interesting than a blah office building, and I cooked up some really fun scenes that could only take place in such a facility.
Instead of the father I framed Sandy’s brother, Warren, the house organist at the theater, as the killer. Now I was cooking with oil. Their sibling rivalry was fun to write.
Warren was also taught at a small college, so I set some of the action on the campus. As a college graduate, I could describe this setting with authenticity. Okay, now the plot was filling out.
I set the gala at an incredibly swanky estate in a tony neighborhood, another fun setting (hint: the home is named Xanadu, formerly owned by a newspaper mogel).
I added in a subplot of Sandy wooing his new girlfriend and spending time with his children (occasionally at the same time).
With so much going on and so many locations, I needed to outline the action to keep track of it all. I made sure Sandy did a little sleuthing each day while still carrying on with his social life and career. Lo and behold, the story now ran two weeks without any dull “filler.”
The novel is taking longer than I anticipated to finish, but it will come out a better book due to the time taken with a major revision and a careful outline.