Diana Dares

Foiling Chicanery with Boundless Intelligence, Fashionable Outfits, Moxie, and One Sporty Blue Roadster.

Friday, August 04, 2006

...and the Curse of the Broken Plot

Frequently, one makes a plan. Frequently things do not go according to the plan. It is then that both writers and girl detectives are reminded of the importance of two character traits: adaptability and perseverance.

Woody Allen said that 80 percent of success is showing up. If that's the case, I'd say another 19% is how quickly and how well you can formulate a backup plan once you show up and find the situation entirely amiss. Perhaps you arrive at your family reunion only to find your entire extended family missing, captured by aliens. Perhaps an old friend calls you up out of the blue and wants to meet, but when you do, you suddenly realize that you have walked into a trap. Suppose you go to the party of the summer in your favorite cocktail dress and realize it is a lame affair and the three people attending are all wearing khaki shorts of some kind.

If there is one thing my sleuthing has taught me, it is always to have a backup plan. Know your exits. Think about what they won't see coming. Close off options mentally and force yourself to come up with an alternative so that should that option end up closed off, you don't have to sweat it.

One of the differences between staff writers and more seasoned writers is how attached they become to their story elements. As writers, we're all looking for that great twist or hook that elicits gasps or cheers or that socked in the gut feeling, and they're not that easy to come up with, so naturally the writer gets attached to their cool idea -- in a lot of cases you're writing 59 pages so that you can write those 2 pages. It's the part of which you're the proudest, the apple of your eye. And chances are someone will tell you it has to go. It might not even have anything to do with the element itself -- maybe another show on the network is doing something too close to it a week earlier, or some element is too expensive, or the actor refuses to have red things near her -- but it's gone. Now what?

Don't waste time crying over the dead. They're dead. Get on with it.

Which brings me to perseverance. Perseverance is a funny thing - it's so much more effective than you would imagine it could be. If you truly devote energy to a pursuit for a long time, you will reach a certain level of competence, even if you don't have a great deal of talent. It's true of the clarinet, yoga, race car driving, even writing.

In my undercover gigs, I have learned a great many skills: bareback riding in the circus, handgliding off mountains, cliff diving in Acaupauloco, calf wrangling on the dude ranch. I will let you in on a secret: despite my vivacious nature and my sparkling intelligence, I was not very gifted at any of those endeavors. But the job called for it, and I practiced, and soon I could pass for a pro and then the bad guys relaxed. They got careless and I found the necessary clue and cracked the case.

But I only learned these things by getting back up on the horse, mountain, cliff, or calf and trying again. And I'd like to think that at some point, I will have climbed back up on enough animals and natural rock formations and not have to do it anymore, but deep down I know that I will. There will always be another bull to ride for at least eight seconds, or another evil ringmaster to fool into thinking that I am a natural-born carnie. And there will always be another story that I need to break and rebreak and rebreak again.

I got a great opportunity recently and I'm trying to prove myself worthy. Chief McGinnis invited me in and presented me with a tough case. He asked me for my thoughts. I asked a few questions and thought for a bit. Finally I gave him my answer: I outlined it all, told him how the criminals could've pulled off the job. It wasn't a bad answer. It made sense. Logically, it could have happened. But this was a genius crime, and my explanation was sorely lacking in genius. It was textbook. By-the-numbers. It was not what the chief needed. I was initially proud to have figured out a way the crime could have been pulled off, only to realize that my answer still wasn't right. Back to the drawing board. Look at the facts again, and find another way.

Piratey thought of the day: I was back in River Heights this weekend to work this case that I just mentioned, and got to spend some time with my friends and their toddler, whom I hadn't seen since he was a baby. We naturally discussed pirates. I inquired as to whether he planned to take his pet cat on his pirate ship when he left his home for a life of sailing and plundering, and he shook his head at me solemnly. He explained. "No, you can't take cats. They don't stay on your shoulders." He sighed wearily, as only one who has tested the shoulder-balancing ability of all the animals can. "Only parrots do." I think this kid is nine kinds of brilliant.

My point? Pirates adapt and persist. As should I. As should we all.


  • At 12:48 PM, Blogger Kira said…

    Great post, Di, and best of luck on the case. :)

    That kid sure knows his pirate accessories! I actually saw a woman on the Promenade once with a cat on her shoulder -- kitty seemed to be diggin' it.

    Now, my cat weighs sixteen pounds. Should I ever manage to heft her onto my shoulder, pirate-fashion, I'm pretty sure I'd throw my back out before I ever made it to the poopdeck...


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