1 – The Dark of Night
None, some, maybe many, maybe all of you have heard of the Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest…who knows? So I will explain.
The title of the contest is based upon the opening line of one of the novels of Edward George Bulwer-Lytton, a 19th century Englishman. One of his novels starts out with a long sentence whose beginning is, “It was a dark and stormy night…” In some literary circles it is considered one of the worst sentences ever published. I don’t know. True it may no be great prose, but it does catch your eye. And what else do you want the first line of any novel to do?
The contest consists of submitting the worst fictional sentence you can devise. The sentence must not be from a published work, and it must be of your own doing. Maybe I’m wrong, but the contest was originally centered on sentences that would be used to start a book. Evidently any sentence will now suffice — too bad. My favorite entry was, “Beyond the narrows, the river widens.” Call me crazy, but that line had me laughing on the floor.
So, back to the “Dark and stormy night,” but forget the storm. Several years ago, I took a picture. It was simple enough…standard camera, no electronics, and real film. The exposure was 1.5 seconds. I don’t remember the f-stop, but nothing special. So, what’s the big deal? The picture isn’t all that special. The color seems a bit off. What’s special?
It was taken in the dark of night in natural light!
I hoped to include a copy of it in this blog, but fate stepped in. I can’t find it. I know I have it somewhere, but where? When and if I find it I will put it up.
So, what is the lesson here, aside from the need to file things more carefully? The lesson is simply that black has color! (I could explain the true color of the Sun at this point, but that’s an unnecessary digression.)
So, where does black show up a lot in our lives? You’re looking at it…the printed word.
2 – The Printed Word
Having retired from over fifty years in engineering, my soul intellectual pursuit is writing. Sure, I give out the obligatory free advice now and then to my younger relatives, but it’s a different generation, and my “free” advice often seems more like “cheap” advice. No offense taken. It’s their world now.
In return, I get free advice on my novels. Some of it is helpful, like when I changed the sex of an important character, a dog, in the middle of one the books (prior to publishing, thank goodness). Most of it falls into two categories: first, “your books lack descriptions of the people”, second, “your books lack human interest.”
I don’t worry about being the world’s greatest novelist. And I can’t dispute that type of criticism. I am an engineer. I am used to writing what is necessary, not what is entertaining to anyone, except possibly myself. You either get it or you don’t. Face it, the vast majority of novels written hold no interest for you whatsoever…nor do they to me. Like all fiction writers, I am stuck with writing what I like.
And what is that exactly? If you haven’t nodded off yet, I will tell you.
First, there is mystery. I like mystery. If I didn’t, I would hate being an engineer. How does it work? Why did it break? Why did it do something unexpected? Can it be fixed? How dangerous is it? Why does it cost so much? The questions for engineers are endless.
OK, I have the mystery side covered.
But, what drives the mystery? Perhaps a better word would be “curiosity”. Look at it this way. As an engineer I only see the mystery in things because I am curious about things. In fact, you don’t become much of an engineer unless you’re curious about pretty much everything…and you have an insatiable need to find out.
And that’s also what I think makes you a mystery writer, that and the ability to put it into words. Certainly much of these same characteristics belong to mystery readers.
So, where did the descriptions and human interest go? Well, the phrase, “love at first sight,” begs for description(s) and admittedly it is filled with human interest.
I’m sitting here trying to think of a “mysterious love at first sight” situation, one that is truly centered on pure love. I’m getting nowhere.
“I am curious as to why I’m attracted to you.”
“Your beauty is a mystery to me.”
“Do you agree with me that we would make a simply wonderful couple?”
You get my point? It is not as though these mysteries don’t exist in social intercourse, but they will never be answered. So, why bother?
Every story is a mystery of some sort, but much of it is in what you, the reader, are thinking or the story character is thinking. Mystery is about ideas, not feelings. You know how you feel. If it is love, you are not curious about your feelings, although you may be curious about her feelings. You may forever be curious about why she loves you, but it is probably not wise to question it if you know what’s good for you.
Don’t get me wrong! I have been married to the woman I desperately love for over fifty years. I have no quarrel with the human interest of love between people.
However, my question as a mystery writer/reader can’t be answered by how a person looks, whether they were orphaned, crippled, taught to hate by they’re experiences in life, or are simply your average Joe or Jane. We all have some grievances. Some are pretty severe, but that doesn’t make us criminals automatically. To me, mysteries are not human-interest stuff. A few of my characters are worth despising, but they are not obligated to be criminals. They might actually be victims.
I guess I could write about crimes of passion, but I wouldn’t be very good at that. And quite honestly, they seem stupid to me…probably the lowest form of human thinking.
Oh! And by the way, the ugliness scale is not of much help in determining guilt.
So, I write with little description of either the character or beauty of the humans in the story, unless it actually tells part of the story. I concentrate on the character and beauty (or ugliness) of the ideas in the story.
I do provide some descriptions of parts of the Pacific Northwest, and I try to relate those descriptions to the story in general or to the thoughts and ideas and attitude of the protagonist.
Call that a dearth of human interest and description if you will. I actually do respect your opinion. I just may not act on it.
After all, I am a mystery!