Monday, October 5, 2009

The Mystery of the Ride

© Gary Morgenstein 2009 all rights reserved

Now this sounds odd coming from someone who writes thrillers, but I am deeply impressed by writers who plan everything out. Index cards, Microsoft word folders, Twitter files, things attached to computers blinking various colors like an alien spacecraft containing who knows what sort of wonderful elaborate plotting techniques. That Chapter 2 sigh feeds into a bent fork in Chapter 8 into the shocker in Chapter 19. Argh, how do you guys do that?????

Then there's me. When I began Jesse's Girl, all I really knew was that it would be about a troubled father-son relationship opening with the midnight call to the widowed main character, Teddy Mentor, from the Montana wilderness drug treatment program where he'd sent his son Jesse by escort two weeks ago. I knew the conversation would tell Teddy his adopted son had run away and they had no idea where he'd gone, but he shouldn't worry.

Course not, what father would worry about a teen with substance abuse issues gone missing far away from Brooklyn?

Everything else was a surprise. A minor character became integral to the plot, a love interest for Teddy. A murder materialized and I said, oh, so that’s my plot, is it? The few preconceived notions I had quickly vanished. From chapter to chapter and sometimes scene to scene, I was in someone else's hands. Which of course were my hands, but they belonged to another.

How is this possible, I ask everyone out there who has ever written a mystery or a thriller? Am I alone in strapping myself into the Starship Morgenstein, requesting warp speed with little idea about what galaxy I’ll end up in? Especially with mysteries and thrillers and all the intricate plotting required, how do all/any/some of you know what you are doing ahead of time? Do you find it ever interferes with the creativity? Am I the only one using shredded notes and post-its? (which I lose anyway).

And this isn't only with Jesse's Girl, which had the fumes of fatherhood (anyone out there who has a teenager will know what I mean and those whose kids aren't teens yet, lay in some good Scotch). When I wrote my political baseball thriller Take Me Out to the Ballgame, all I knew was that the chapters would be divided by half-innings (Top of the First, Bottom of the Third). I had a vague idea how it would end (which I changed). Nothing more.

It could be that I’m a disorganized person who sees the world visually enhanced by dialogue and, without writing, would be on very strong meds.

I guess I am still a child about writing. I was eight years old when I wrote my first short story about a fictional shortstop for the Yankees (I grew up in the Bronx, hence the accent). I like the mystery of writing. I like the unexpected. I like being propped up in bed like Proust (except for the laptop, iPod and rock music) and letting me take over me. Opening those windows into myself but making them intelligible because at the end of the day, it is our readers who matter. Without them we are the proverbial fallen tree in the forest.

About the author:

In addition to Jesse’s Girl, Gary Morgenstein’s most recent novels, both available exclusively on, are the political baseball thriller Take Me Out to the Ballgame and the romantic triangle Loving Rabbi Thalia Kleinman. His chillingly prophetic play Ponzi Man played to sell-out crowds at a recent New York Fringe Festival. A PR consultant for Syfy Channel, he lives in Brooklyn, New York, with lots of books and rock and roll CDs. You can visit him at or at


Glynis Peters said...

You are not alone :) I sit with an old ink pen, pad, cold coffee and wait. Then all hell breaks loose, notes here there and all over the house. No tidy table or index card planning for me, I try - oh how I try, but to no avail.
I have titles, endings and snippets. I have characters that belong in different years and have no connection to each other at all!
Interesting post, I enjoyed my visit, thanks.

s.w. vaughn said...

Definitely not alone! There is a deep faction among writers - "pansters" versus "plotters". I'd actually hazard to say that pansters outnumber the plotters (either that or plotters don't use the internet much :-)

Lots of successful writers don't outline. Stephen King and Dean Koontz don't - so I say, why should I? Planning makes me itchy. LOL

Kim Smith said...

Oh my! Pantsers Anonymous? I am totally in !!

Marta Stephens said...

I don't outline either. I write down the general idea of the story--the highlights--the direction I want it to take, but it rare stays on course. Too many ideas pop into my mind along the way to bother with an outline. ;)

Many thanks for sharing with us.