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Thread: The Household Detective

  1. #1

    The Household Detective

    Written eons ago from a puzzle. Enjoy.

    THE HOUSEHOLD DETECTIVE



    Chris, with a cold beer in his hand, sat watching his favourite detective show, as he did most days. Karen knew not to disturb him, while he absorbed all the show's information. Then, before the ‘TV Detective’ revealed to perpetrator of the horrendous crime, Chris had already out-detected them, using his own powers of observation and reasoning.

    At a critical point in the show he was watching, the on screen detective revealing some important information, a scream came from upstairs. Chris leapt from his chair, racing up the stairs three at a time. In the spare room, Karen stood silently, mouth agape. She couldn't take her eyes off Peter and Wendy, dead on the floor before her.

    “Oh,” Chris muttered, carefully entering the room, not wanting to contaminate the scene, or disturb any evidence. He scanned the sparsely furnished room. The only clues, broken glass and large water stains around the two bodies. Above the chest of draws, the only real piece of furniture in the room, Chris noted the curtains flailing in a strong gusty wind.

    “Is this how you found them?” His eyes squinted as he asked Karen the question. She looked at him suspiciously.

    “You don’t think that I did this, do you?” Chris thought about it for a moment, realising it was impossible.

    “No,” he replied, far too slowly for Karen's liking, “you were quite fond of them. Why would you do this?” Karen looked at her two dead friends on the carpet. Not wanting it to stain, she went to the laundry to get towels to soak up the mess. Meanwhile, Chris stood over the two bodies, running different scenarios through his head. After studying all the facts, he could only come up with one satisfactory conclusion.

    “Accidental death,” he mumbled. Karen came back in with towels to soak up water from the carpet, but Chris didn’t want her to touch anything just yet.

    “I don’t want the carpet to stain Chris. If it does, we could lose money off the bond.”

    “But I want to leave it a bit longer, just in case I missed something.”

    “You just wanna keep playing detective, don’t you? Jesus Christ Chris, they’re only goldfish!”
    If we surround ourselves with 'yes' people, how can we grow.

  2. #2
    Chris, with a cold beer in his hand, sat watching his favourite detective show, as he did most days. Karen knew not to disturb him, while he absorbed all the show's information. Then, before the ‘TV Detective’ revealed to perpetrator of the horrendous crime, Chris had already out-detected them, using his own powers of observation and reasoning.
    This reads like a report a detective might turn in after peering through the window. And the one who gets it is looking for data on someone they already know as a person.

    But from a reader's viewpoint: Someone unknown is talking about someone not introduced, in an unknown time and place, watching a TV show I don't care about. Where's the hook? Why should I care that he's holding a beer instead of a Coke? More than that, you just said he watches the same TV detective show most days, all day. Since you haven't established a time of day, just that he watches "his favorite detective show most days." how can it mean anything else, to-the-reader? It's not what you meant, but because you're reporting on what you visualize happening, it is what you said.

    My point is that a story is not a record of the events and dialog that happen over time. That's history, and how many history books have you read for entertainment this year? Story happens. And it happens in real-time, not overview. Your narrator is neither in the story nor on the scene. Yet when s/he speaks the characters freeze and wait till the narrator stops talking before going on, never asking who in the hell s/he is and what they're doing in the man's living room. How real can that seem?

    You're approaching the act of storytelling as if you're telling a story personally to the reader. And since you're alone on stage, with no slides or actors, you set the scene. Then you explain the events as a dispassionate outside observer, making the discovery of a body read like a report.

    But let's put you into that story as the one living it. You hear the scream and drop everything. Does it matter what's on the TV, and where in the show it is? Of course not. All that matters is that your wife screamed and needs help, Anything that went before is irrelevant. So there's where the story begins. You might start it with him settling into his chair and reaching for the remote, to place him, but forget what's playing.

    You bolt up the stairs and find your wife at the door to your children's bedroom, her face drained of all color, sagging against the doorway, mouth still open from the scream. And that sight will influence your actions, and turn you from worry about her to seeking the cause of her terror. So you look into the room and find your children tumbled to the floor, apparently lifeless.

    Do you then, a) fall into concerned citizen mode and treat it like a crime scene? b) Analyze the situation. c) say, Oh my god!" and hurry to them. d) Stand there, frozen, trying to place what you're seeing into some reasonable context, as your mind tries, again and again, to reject what it's seeing—then switch to one of the other modes.

    The last one is the most likely, because we have to react instinctively, and quantify such a scene before we can act. And if you think with his mind as you write, you will. But take the external observer—the cinematic approach—and two very bad things happen:

    First, you will explain things to the reader, as you do here. And since your voice can only be heard in your mind, you'll do that explaining in an emotion-free voice. I don't mean to be discouraging, but an acquiring editor, on reading that in an opening will reject the work before the second sentence—which is why it's critical to pick up the tricks of telling the story in a character-centric, not an aurthor-centric way.

    The second thing is that because you are focused on the progression of events rather than the protagonist's response to and analysis of them, you assign your characters dialog and action according to your needs, not their human response to those events. and that all to often reduces them to plot devices, smart when you need smart, and foolish when the plot needs that.

    You're working hard on these stories, and obviously enjoy writing. And, you have the necessary dedication and perseverance. That's great. But what you're missing, and need, are the specialized tricks of writing fiction for the printed word that our medium mandates. Our medium, uniquely, is serial. Every wink, hesitation, and action is spelled out one word at a time. So the tricks of film, which is a parallel medium, cannot work on the page. And like every field, fiction for the page has its own body of specialized knowledge and tricks of the trade that aren't obvious to those outside the profession. The pros take them for granted, and use them as intuitively as you use the nonfiction writing skills we all learn in our school days. Adding them to your toolkit is no harder than learning nonfiction writing was, so given that you learned them, it's something you can do as well as anyone else. But it has to be done.

    Yes, it's a pain in the ass, one you really don't want to have to get into, because you want to write stories that people will love now... just as we all do. But for writing fiction, like plumbing, engineering, bookkeeping and every other field, it's all in the becoming—in the time and effort it takes to train your writing talent and ready it for takeoff.

    So keep on writing, of course. Writing is what we are. But at the same time, dig into the craft, because as Mark Twain so wisely observed, “It ain’t what you don’t know that gets you into trouble. It’s what you know for sure that just ain’t so.”
    Jay Greenstein
    My articles on writing.
    The goal isn't to tell the reader that the protagonist is terrified, it's to terrorize our reader.

  3. #3
    Just wanted to point out Jay, I never said it was a childrens bedroom. That is your assumption.

    This story is an idea from a lateral thinking question. Society trains us to think a certain way, much like you comment in regarding school essay training, when it comes to events. When you hear 'Peter and Wendy', your mind goes automatically to people.
    But I never said people, just their names.

    I do understand your comments on the start of the story, however, regarding hooking the reader's interest. I will work it out a bit better.
    As previously stated, majority of the stories are 'as originally written', which for a lot of mine, are between 15-20 years old.

    As I grow in technique, I will adjust each one, hoping to improve it.

    I write stories because the story ideas fill my head. I get to a point where songs, conversations, and everyday life prompt me to think about that idea. It's nice to clear space by putting ideas to words. If people enjoy the story, even better.

    And just so you know, I did quite a bit of creative writing stuff at school, as the teachers saw I demonstrated a talent for it, even though the rest of my English school work was average.

    And the head of the literature department at one of Australias top universities said I have a talent for it after reading a couple of my stories. One he thoroughly enjoyed, the other was good but he said the opening line was too cliche!
    Although his follow up comment was "It's a double edge anyway. Because if you're good, I'd say come and study. But on the same token, if you're no good, I'd still say come and study."
    Last edited by MadMickyG; May 28th, 2017 at 02:21 AM.
    If we surround ourselves with 'yes' people, how can we grow.

  4. #4
    Just wanted to point out Jay, I never said it was a childrens bedroom. That is your assumption.
    No, it's what you presented. You placed a man and woman together in a house, at a time when detective shows are on TV—presumably evening—with the others in a room upstairs,. When the wife screams he finds her in that room, but with two individuals he knows by name on the floor. And she screams, something she wouldn't do if they weren't important to her, given that there seems to be no violence involved. Yes, they could be pets, or something else. But finding a couple of dead animals lacks drama, and children, even grown children visiting is the first impression you give.

    Leave what matters unsaid and you can't expect the picture the reader gets to be influenced by your intent. That dribbles from the words at the keyboard. Your job is clarity. So when someone reports that the impression they got differs from your intent, the one to blame is not the reader.
    As previously stated, majority of the stories are 'as originally written', which for a lot of mine, are between 15-20 years old.
    All else aside, never post anything but your "A" game, polished to a high luster. Anything else is a disservice to the one who took time they didn't have to give you, in hope of helping you become a better writer.
    I write stories because the story ideas fill my head.
    Story ideas are easy. Any writer can spark them off faster than you can write them down. Writing that story so the reader will need to turn to page two is a bitch. But if they don't, you wasted the time to write the rest.

    Ideas matter, of course. But ideas are plot, and plot can best be appreciated in retrospect. It's the writing that makes us stay with the story, and it's the writing you need to work on.

    I'm not trying to start an argument, but I feel I have to point out that the act of writing doesn't make us a better writer. Unless we add knowledge of the craft, and what publishers and readers want/expect to see—and why—continued writing will serve only to harden existing, and inappropriate, fiction-writing habits into concrete. Any profession has a body of knowledge and technique that's not obvious to outsiders until it's pointed out. And viewing the profession's product doesn't teach it because as they say, "Art conceals art." To create the product we need to master the process.

    “It ain’t what you don’t know that gets you into trouble. It’s what you know for sure that just ain’t so.”
    ~ Mark Twain
    Jay Greenstein
    My articles on writing.
    The goal isn't to tell the reader that the protagonist is terrified, it's to terrorize our reader.

  5. #5
    I presented information only. I was not clarifying, as it makes the reader assume. The whole point of the original question was to highlight our way of thinking.

    Learning to think outside the box. If I was to clarify everything, the story itself would become even less dramatic than it appears to be.
    And to say the loss of a pet, or pets, is not dramatic, is a little unfair. I would hope you've had at least one pet in your life that you were attached to.

    As for posting as is, I had multiple people read all my old stories around the time I wrote them, with plenty commenting on how they enjoyed the stories. Not everyone enjoyed them, but majority were positive.
    But as I said, that was 15-20 years ago. Now I can understand some writing techniques would have changed, but the overall technique would remain the same. One would hope anyway.

    The main reason I post as is, is to see how well I did at the time. They were written and edited back then. Obviously I am improving (I hope) my understanding from feedback on this forum.

    And I do intend to hit the library for fiction-writing material, when I can indeed find spare time between family commitments, kung fu and work. But if you want to improve at anything, you find the time.
    If we surround ourselves with 'yes' people, how can we grow.

  6. #6
    Quote Originally Posted by Jay Greenstein View Post
    This reads like a report a detective might turn in after peering through the window.
    Well put! I needed a good chuckle.

    And a lot of good advice in your second post which I will endeavor to apply to my own practice.
    The idea of 'you won't improve just by writing without intent to improve' is something I know at heart, but tend to struggle with.
    There's an article you linked before about the structure of a scene and action-reaction units, and I found the technique worked well as a guiding formula when trying to write action.
    I just wish there were a big list of techniques to use in each situation, and an order to practice them in which would guarantee fast improvement!

    Quote Originally Posted by MadMickyG View Post

    Chris, with a cold beer in his hand, sat watching his favourite detective show, as he did most days. Karen knew not to disturb him, while he absorbed all the show's information. Then, before the ‘TV Detective’ revealed to perpetrator of the horrendous crime, Chris had already out-detected them, using his own powers of observation and reasoning.
    Perhaps this would be a way to rewrite it to be more involving:
    'Chris chugged the cold beer, taking care not to miss a single frame on the old ray-tube television. 'Aha!' the clues clicked into place, and he felt his mouth respond with a smug grin, 'outmatched these dumb TV detectives again' he thought with satisfaction.'
    I've tried to write this from Chris's POV, rather than an omniscient observer.
    Last edited by Penless; May 28th, 2017 at 05:37 AM.

  7. #7
    Hmmmmm.........

    Thanks Penless. As I've said, I still have lots to learn.
    If we surround ourselves with 'yes' people, how can we grow.

  8. #8
    Learning to think outside the box. If I was to clarify everything, the story itself would become even less dramatic than it appears to be.
    Failing to investigate the basics of the profession isn't thinking outside the box. Applying the nonfiction writing skills we all learn in school isn't thinking outside the box, it's cuddling within it and rejecting all but the rigid structures already learned.

    In fact, the idea that you "leave it up to the reader's imagination" is, in and of itself, an indication of a basic misunderstanding of how fiction for the page works. It assumes that we, the narrator, are telling the reader about the situation, with enough detail that the reader can "imagine themselves" into it—help them daydream better, so to speak.

    But that is a misunderstanding of how viewpoint works. If the protagonist is to be our avatar, then we must know everything that matters to the protagonist in the moment they call "now," as they live the story, not in retrospect. Their understandings—and misunderstandings—must be ours. Their needs and imperatives must become those of the reader, if the reader is to see the scene as the protagonist does. Thus, when you say,
    Chris, with a cold beer in his hand, sat watching his favourite detective show, as he did most days. Karen knew not to disturb him, while he absorbed all the show's information.
    the viewpoint is yours. It's dispassionate, a report, and reads like one. Do you watch TV to "absorb the show's information?" Of course not. You watch it for enjoyment. So those opening lines are the words of someone talking about the events in retrospect, not placing the reader into that living room. And the prose continues that way without ever making the reader know the characters as more then the subject of that report.

    And yes, I know it's something you wrote a while ago. But that's irrelevant. What is relevant, is the fact that you didn't see the problems and fix them before posting, which says that your approach to writing is unchanged. And that's not thinking outside the box.

    But I'm not telling you anything you want to hear, so I'll bow out of your threads and wish you luck with your writing career. I only responded to your last post in hopes of making you see the reason why learning the craft of the profession shows where the boundaries really are, to make expanding the box possible.
    Jay Greenstein
    My articles on writing.
    The goal isn't to tell the reader that the protagonist is terrified, it's to terrorize our reader.

  9. #9
    Dont think I dont listen to you Jay. I do. I am working out some time to gather some reading material to improve my writing techniques.

    If I could, I would have started at university like the literature professor suggested. But for the moment, with 3 teenage-ish kids, money is hard to spare.

    But it's never too late.
    If we surround ourselves with 'yes' people, how can we grow.

  10. #10
    Well done!

    I like the set up.

    One point of confusion is when the wife is asking if the husband thought she did it. I think that needs a bit of cleaning up. The new paragraph should start when she looks at him suspiciously. Other than that, well done.
    Last edited by Jack of all trades; June 14th, 2017 at 08:36 AM.

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