I had another post ready for today. It was a quite clever (in my opinion) writerly take on the 12 Days of Christmas. Late last night, I received more news from my home state of Kentucky. A high school friend was okay, but his sister-in-law’s family lost their home and the husband is in critical condition following last weekend’s tornadoes. I couldn’t bring myself to post about holiday cheer.
But I write about murder and mayhem
Think about your favorite mystery or thriller novel. How does it end? It is very likely that a satisfying conclusion means the bad guy is caught. An exception to the rule might be a ‘continuing bad guy’ – the one law enforcement follow, learning more and more about the how and why they do what they do. That’s what I love about mysteries and thrillers. They help make sense of bad things.
The art of projection
When writing, we test reactions. Test fears. Ultimately, we are able to see a situation from a multitude of angles and choose how to react. We know it isn’t real life – what sane person would suspect that their neighbor/husband/wife/friend is holding someone hostage in the basement and not simply run to law enforcement?
As writers we make the situation worse. The ‘bad guy’ IS law enforcement, or the heroine is recently out of a mental institution and no one will believe her. We create the worst case scenario and then see a way out. Yes, there is always a way out. This is something that we should also remember in real life. There is always a way out. It might not be the easy way, or the way you would have chosen, but there will be a way.
Now it is time to confess that when I hear first-hand accounts of the aftermath of the storms, or see the news on television, I can’t help but take the story in another direction. Isn’t a violent storm the perfect way to conceal a crime? (Can they really tell if the beam fell, was blow by the storm, or pulled down by a person intentionally?) Think about all of the paperwork and the photographs spread across multiple states. What plots are there – “Wait, I recognize the person in the photo, but that name on the back isn’t right” and suddenly you have a man living two separate lives with two separate families. If you were hoping to leave your life and vanish, a massive tornado is the perfect time.
How fiction heals
Throughout history, fiction has helped us understand great disasters, plagues upon our houses, war and peace. Mysteries and thrillers do the same. They take the worst of humanity and look inside, hoping for reason or explanation. At a minimum, they offer a satisfying conclusion.