© Gerrie Ferris Finger 2010 all rights reserved
When writing a novel, there are at least two schools of thought on knowing the ending at the beginning. That is to say, in the mystery novel, the whodunit – leaving for the dénouement the whydunnit. Although the whydunnit is the key to whodunit, it's the who that's dunnit.
There are writers who like to free-wheel and find out what's behind the plot's happenings at the same time the characters do. I'm more of a director when it comes to knowing who my heroine is going to pursue. My thoughts can take off in chaotic directions if I don't have a bad guy to focus on. I need someone who leads me and my heroine up the plot trail. She can free wheel; I want my bad guy a step ahead until the end.
I may not know the antagonist when I write the first word of the manuscript, but I want to know who the bad guy is by page fifty or when my characters have established themselves (and they will do that without direction from me).
At the start, I know the heroine's character and personality. (I haven't written a hero's story yet.) I put her in a situation that kicks off the plot. Characters come along and suddenly the bad guy emerges. Oh, he doesn't show up as the obvious bad guy because we (readers and this writer) are just getting to know him or her. But here is where my directorship takes over. Now that I know who he is, I can hide him under different guises, while being fair to the reader. I can see where he's going and divert him if he wants to get off the evil trail. I've written stories where the evil-doer has an overwhelming urge to redeem himself. That can't happen, this is a mystery, not a literary novel.
In the mystery, there are usually three to five characters with conflicts that make them suspects. As the focus narrows, my heroine has to see through the twists to figure out who committed the crime in order to solve it. In THE END GAME, heroine Moriah Dru, a professional PI child finder, sarcastically says to her lover, police lieutenant, Richard Lake: "Just what I like, an eeny-meeny-miney-moe of suspects."
Knowing the identity of the antagonist doesn't mean I know the ending of the book, or his motivations, or how he plans to defeat Dru and Lake. He has his secrets, but, in the end, like Dru, I'll catch him. By then, too, we'll have figured out the whydunnit.
About the author:
Gerrie Ferris Finger is a winner of the Malice Domestic Best First Traditional Mystery Novel Competition. She lives on the coast of Georgia with her husband and standard poodle, Bogey.