Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Mother, May I...

When I was young, one of our favourite games to play at recess was "Mother, May I". This involved one person being picked as 'Mother' and all the other players lining up a distance away. You moved forward by asking if you could take 'one tiny step' or 'two giant steps' forward. 'Mother' would agree or not - or tell you what she wanted you to do. The object of the game, of course, was to be the first to reach 'Mother'.

Faster was better.

However, in my manuscript, I've discovered faster isn't necessarily better. I have a tendency for things to happen too fast - for there to be huge leaps of progress. As I go back through it, I'm breaking some of these giant leaps down into tinier steps. My detective team is clever - but they're not super-human.

I'm allowing them to make mistakes and to perhaps judge before they have all the information. I'm allowing personal prejudices to play a part in their decision making. I'm giving my other characters free reign to throw the accusations of guilt on each other.

Tiny steps - some forward, some backward.

I'm keeping some of the giant steps because breakthroughs do happen in life. One small piece of the puzzle can make an entire section come together. But I do have to keep reminding myself that sometimes, slower is better.

After all, this is a novel - not a short story.


  1. Elspeth - I'm so glad that you brought that topic up! Trying to decide how much detail to give about an investigation, and how many steps the sleuth takes, isn't easy. Too few (and too many perfect leaps of thought) and, as you say, the sleuth seems superhuman and not realistic. Too many and the story gets bogged down in a mire of un-necessary details. Or the sleuth can seem incompetent. None of those is a good result. There's a solid balance that I think makes for a believable but nicely-paced story.

  2. I've often wished I could be one of those writers who cranks out a story in a month, but it takes me more like 9 months for a first draft. I like to think that if I take it slow I won't have as many holes to fix later on.

    I'm not sure if I'm right though. :)

  3. Margot; The trick is finding the right balance, isn't it? I seem to tip one way or the other. *heavy sigh*

    Stephanie; Oh, I wish I could be one of those writers too! I can write my games fairly fast - but that's a horse of a completely different colour.

  4. I know those feelings well, Elspeth.

  5. It does seem to be either one way or the other. In my first book I had a lot of meandering and false starts, and in my second, everyone just seemed entirely too competent... Very good to keep the RIGHT pacing of info going (it's made me a little bit of an outliner, actually... plugging in how far from the end I want this or that to happen.

    (I never liked mother may I. I spotted from a VERY young age that the person at the front could play favortism too easily "no you may not!") I suppose that was the young conspiracist in me, as possibly those kids didn't even see it themselves when in that position.

  6. Carol; It's good to know I'm not the only one!

    Karen; Outlining helps. But even with outlines, I seem to adjust the plot continually.

    Watery Tart; I always wanted to be Mother - even at a young age I liked the feeling of control. What does that say about me? Nothing good.

  7. I LOVED that game!! That was the BEST! Sort of like Simon Says.

    I always liked the guest post you wrote for me: "It Takes the Time it Takes." Well put.

    Mystery Writing is Murder

  8. My grandkids and I play that just like when I was a kid! And we also play Simon Says and What Time is it Mr. Fox? Ah, I love those crazy yard games.
    Pace - it is so important and a balance of pace so that sometimes the reader is speeding through the book and sometimes they are slowed right down and relishing the detail.

  9. This is definitely the story of my most recent effort. Slower, as they say, than molasses in January...

  10. Elizabeth; What a nice thing to say! I'm appreciating the irony of wishing I wrote faster, but realizing sometimes in my plot things happen too quickly.

    Jan; We called it "What Time is it Mr. Wolf?" Pace. Ug.

    Patricia; It's the story of my PRESENT effort. The molasses is the speed I'm writing but sometimes my plot is lightspeed. I need the reverse to happen...

  11. So true - it's kinda fun (should I admit that??) letting the characters get close to the answer, then throwing obstacles in their path to slow them down :)

  12. Elizabeth, I can't wait. I can feel your painstaking days through your posts.

  13. I'm the opposite. I have to speed up so I don't spend 24/7 with the characters. The hardest words to write sometimes are, "by the end of the week,"

    Terry's Place

  14. Good point. I’ve read some books where everything seems to happen in the first few chapters and then the pace slows to a crawl. As you say, “tiny steps, some forward and some backward,” keep me glued to a book.


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