Review: The Weekend Novelist Writes a Mystery

by Robert J. Ray and Jack Remick; Dell Publishing; Bantam Doubleday Dell Publishing Group, Inc.; New York; 1998.

 I approach my copy of this book with a sigh of boredom. When I open it, however, I’m surprised to see how many pages at the book’s beginning are filled with notes and underlines. Reading a few of these, I shamefacedly think, “I got some valuable information from this book. I shouldn’t be so hard on it.”

 “From empty page to finished mystery novel in just 52 weekends” is the promise, and I believe it’s possible. Weekends have assigned tasks, singly or in blocks, and examples from a fake “novel in progress,” named Murder on Drake Island, illustrate what kind of work must be produced.  

 This is a good book if you can create your mystery novel as you would cook a complicated dish: step by step, actions completed in the order dictated with no dawdling, hesitations, second thoughts, or writer’s block.

 The great difficulty was that my creative mind does not work in the way needed to complete the 52 weekends. I could do the initial assignments. It was easy, for instance, to write reams of text creating a monologue that links the killer to the victim and thereby pile up all sorts of backstory and revealing character quirks and details about the victim’s bedroom decor, and so forth. Feeling in a smugly accomplishing mode, I categorized the elements and saw the growing information about my characters, and felt I was indeed on my way to painlessly producing my first mystery novel.

 The ease and enthusiasm ended when I progressed to Weekend 9: The Working Synopsis. Suddenly, I realized that every character I had in this murder mystery was dead – dead on the page. I had no desire to tell their story. Trying to write the synopsis was excruciatingly difficult. My creative spirit shrank from pretending enthusiasm for the cardboard elements I had chopped out to fill the assignments.

 Now, as I think back, I see this is why my notes and underlines are confined to the book’s first chapters. When push came to shove, this weekend novelist could not deliberately decide upon a foundation and construct a world upon it, ordering her mind to supply people, motivations, sets, scenes, and complications on demand. I found other requirements and suggestions, too, to be ill suited to my natural way of thinking. For instance, the note card method, in which everything is jotted down and shuffled around until the best order is determined gives me a great sense of tidiness, but no inspiration.

 The comparison that I made above to cooking falls apart when it’s taken into consideration that following a receipt does not require creating the ingredients whole cloth. And that’s the problem, isn’t it? When you have to somehow make the beef, the cheese, the wine, and the vegetables, everything becomes much more complicated unless you are gifted with exactly the abilities needed and can exercise them without any missteps. In terms of writing it means you either do not need to have a subconscious link with your story or that you have somehow unknowingly, unconsciously, been mulling it over and have reached the point where it springs fully developed into your mind as requested.

 This rarely occurs, I would bet, and so The Weekend Novelist is requiring the author to remain external to the story. Your heroine is thus and so because it serves the formula. Your villain’s motivation is whatever cog needed to make the plot organism click along to the end.

 I suppose great works have been made with this method. Certainly, acceptable products frequently are born of it. But for those of us who don’t have the necessary gifts, who need a more organic approach to creating living characters and situations, The Weekend Novelist is not the answer.

 So, my recommendation is to read through this book before buying it. As the hoary, venerable, old grandfather of mystery-writing texts, it is widely available. Get it out of the library and give it a try. If it works for you, that’s great. Thank the authors by buying a copy. If it doesn’t, then treasure up your money and move on to another book. I’ll be going through my library for the next few posts and commenting on several.

 Has anyone tried to use The Weekend Novelist? Did your experience mirror mine? Or do you feel I’m wrong about it?


About thebooksonmyshelf

Welcome to my blog. There's always a revolution going on in my home -- between art, writing, thinking, and three boy cats, there's rarely a moment without something hopping. I have lived in three major cities and now am in a small wonderful rural town. The proud author of the world's longest first-draft cowboy novel, I am now plowing into the realm of the cozy mystery. Come along and see how my journey through the woods of inexperience turns out.
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One Response to Review: The Weekend Novelist Writes a Mystery

  1. Teri says:

    Just want you to know that I still read your blogs! I like your icon!

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