A Weird Way to Get An Aha! Moment

Mary Robinette Kowal is awesome. I made it a point to follow her blog and seek out her work after seeing/hearing her on panels at Readercon in 2010, and I have appreciated every time I’ve spoken with her at cons or sat in on a panel/production she’s been involved with. She recently started a new feature on her blog called “My Favorite Moment.” In contrast to Scalzi’s “The Big Idea” where writer’s talk a little about the germ and “What if…?” process that led to the production of the work, Kowal’s feature has the author presenting something that tickled them while they were writing the manuscript [see her actual description of the feature here].

Recently, she featured a story by David Brin. The take-away that struck me was when he said this:

I’d like to offer an aside — one piece of advice that I give students of writing.

Whatever their favorite genres, I recommend that new authors make their first major project a murder mystery.

The reason is simple.  All other genres let the author get away with flaws in plotting and suspense, by distracting the reader with genre-specific  razzle-dazzle, e.g. romantic tears or dying dragons or scifi tech-speak. But in a murder mystery, there is only one question; did the dramatic, whodunit revelation pay off?  Was it simultaneously both surprising and well foreshadowed?

Does the reader experience a pleasurable moment of self-loathing? “It was all there but I just missed figuring it out! I’m sooooo stoooopid!”If that’s how your reader feels, at that crucial moment, then she or he will buy your next book. That’s the wonderful, ironic fact.

This is where things get funny, to me, and led to an “Aha” or maybe just “Ha!” moment. The post went live on her site on 21 June.

I have been at my Writing Popular Fiction residency this week, and the 21st was when students were scheduled to meet with their mentors to discuss the semester’s writing plans. As a 1st Timer, this meant determining what kind of novel we want to start working on for a thesis project. After talking about a couple of the ideas – I went into the meeting with six that had been really nagging at me, four SF-ish ideas and two mystery types – we opted for starting to explore one of the mystery/thriller ideas.

Call it irony, call it fate… I’m just calling it nice timing for a piece of advice.

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