Posted on May 4, 2009 - by MG
Subtitle: Yet another self-indulgent writerly blog post about the process of writing, probably nothing you haven’t read elsewhere, sorry…
I know that a couple of my friends who read this blog are writers too, so I thought I’d actually write some posts about the process of starting a completely new project.
Over the last year I’ve been mulling over an idea for something completely new that I could work on post Joshua. I know Joshua is only on book 2 but I’m already starting Joshua 4 and planning Joshua 5. For me the major part of the Joshua experience will be over by next year.
So last year I started to ponder a question: could I write a crime novel for children? I wondered why there isn’t a really high profile mainstream crime series for children. I wondered if the genre actually lends itself to children and young adults.
Maybe it doesn’t. There are some big problems after all.
- Crime is usually motivated by some very adult issues. Things that have little places in the world of children, frankly. So a children’s crime story could be about theft, or something like revenge for a huge injustice. But the best crime stories are about murder…so how do we get around that?
- The detective figure is not a natural hero. Smarter than everyone around him/her, the detective must see what others cannot, ideally without turning into too much of an arrogant pig. A child detective would have to be that much smarter. And readers don’t empathize easily with preocious children.Writers of adult crime stories get around this by making us sympathize with the detective through their flaws; drunkenness, loneliness (divorced, single parent), utter wierdness, or by making them into such wise genial figures (MIss Marple, Madam Ramotswe) that we cosy up to them.This isn’t easy to do with a teenage detective.
You could probably solve many of these issues by using humour, but that’s been done. What I wanted to know was – what would it take to make the detective novel work for children, without making it about larks, serious yet also thrilling and adventuresome?
I thought about this for some months. I came up with an idea that I thought could work. During my book tour in 2008 I bounced the idea around with a few of the Scholastic staff who accompanied me. They thought it could work too.
More tweaking of the idea, over months, adding elements into it, exactly like a potion. First comes the problem…the need or lack. Then comes the possible solution…a dash of this, a snippet of that. All borrowed from sources where they work. (I never said I didn’t steal and borrow. I do it all the time!)
After almost a year I had something that is about 60% there in terms of structural elements and conscious influences. Like Orson Scott Card advises, the basis is a cross of two ideas, actually, three, although not in equal proportions.
In a coffee shop with my new editor, I discussed the idea. We’d just seen some people we knew as we passed Trinity College, Oxford and our discussion had turned to something relevant to my idea. It was probably the right time to have an expert listen to the idea, because I believe the plot outline and concept had only recently gained coherence.
My editor was most intrigued by the idea. That’s a good sign that it’s worth pursuing further. Mr Agent, of course needed no persuasion. An editor’s interest can’t be argued with…