Deadlines approach. October 15 is the deadline for two contests I wish to enter. That’s just over two weeks away. Both stories are complete and in the critiquing stage now. In fact, I have three stories up on Scribophile for critique right now. It’s been a very creative time for me these past few weeks.
Contests spark that creativity. When I get asked where I get my ideas, I have to pause and say I don’t know. I used to have an idea box where I stashed little slips of paper with scribbled ideas for stories. But that’s been empty for a while. I use the contest prompts to get my creative juices flowing now, as well as themed magazines like Pilcrow and Dagger. As a matter of fact, their theme for November/December (mystery and crime stories) has gotten me writing my first mystery story in years.
That’s significant, because about the only thing on my so-called bucket list is to be published in Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine. I’ve read this publication since I was a teenager (that’s over 35 years) and have aspired to be published in it almost since the beginning. I have won their monthly Mysterious Photograph contest five times, but, as great as that is, it’s not the same thing, in my mind, as placing a full length story in those hallowed pages.
But mysteries are difficult to write, at least for me. I’m not an organized writer and I’m not adept at plotting out my short stories. I mostly “pants” them – start writing and see where it goes. Mysteries require you to be organized, with certain plot points along the way that are virtually non-negotiable. You must have an action done to someone (say a murder), a reason for that action (e.g., inheritance), and clues along the way that lead to the perpetrator of the crime.
The action must follow a certain pattern, too. I think of it like the three poles of a circus tent. There must be rising action in which the hero is but a pawn in the action, trying to figure out what’s important and discard what isn’t. Something bad happens to the hero along the way (pole number one). At the midpoint the hero needs to be much clearer about the direction he’s taking to solve this crime (pole number two), and then the final act of hindrance against the hero (pole number three) before the climax and denouement. Along the way are the clues.
I don’t know that I’m going to make the October 10 deadline for the Pilcrow and Dagger issue, but I’m pleased to see the progress I’ve made as a writer while working on it. I’ve planned it out enough and am about halfway through it. I won’t have time for my beloved Scribophile critiques, though. I may have to fly solo on this one.
Again, the deadline for getting your work in for the November/December issue of Pilcrow and Dagger is October 10. If you have something that doesn’t fit the theme, send it in anyway. Good writing is good writing!
Life is short, read fast.