Tag Archives: senses

Developing a Better Psychic Detective

Psychic detectives occupy their own niche in the mystery novel genre.  They bend the rules of solving crimes because their deductive methods are not grounded in forensics by default.

A typical mystery requires _evidence_, _motive_, and _opportunity_.  It is the failure on the part of the perpetrator to cover his or her tracks completely that gives the detective the ability to pick up the hidden trail of clues.
An ordinary detective might find vestigial physical clues, notice things out of the ordinary, or find a credible eyewitness that would start them on the journey.
For a psychic detective, a new set of tools becomes available.  Maybe it’s the spirit world, with the ghost of the deceased still lurking about; maybe it’s the psychometry expert who handles an item and relates its history even though it and its owner are parted.  Or maybe it’s the premonitionist, who sees future events and appears at the crime scene as if drawn to it.
A psychic detective novel provides its own obstacles in the form of the detective themselves;  because forensics is science and psychic phenomena is paranormal, there will always be skeptics as to whether psychic findings are valid in a forensics-based court of law.   Sometimes the psychic leads the authorities to a vital forensic clue; other times their unerring (in)sight causes the suspect to confess.   It really depends on how accurate their powers are, and whether they, like tarot cards, are subject to a broad interpretation.
Consider the five senses; these are what normal detectives use.  Now layer on top of that the sixth sense — what form does the psychic detective’s ‘talents’ take? How do they work?  Do they cause problems to use, or can they be used at will?
The scientific method is about forming hypotheses based on available evidence.  The psychic method, in parallel, is about forming hypotheses based on available psychic input.
The cousin to both of these, lying somewhere in between, is the mystic detective.  Someone who uses Otherworldly abilities to turn up clues that normal, mortal forensics might have covered up.  The ‘magic leaves traces’ idea, similar to the psychic impressions, allows for the mage detective to pick up leads that the ordinary police (the traditional foil to the lone wolf detective) miss.
But remove the labels, and the tools of the detective have a common baseline: it’s all about Discovery versus Obfuscation, narrowing versus red herrings, and separating the truth from the lies and misleading conclusions.
Your detective, whether mortal outcast, gifted psychic, or trained magician, operates outside the circle of normal investigations; picking up the pieces where the police have left off.  A crime procedural perhaps goes down the wrong trail, accusing the wrong person; it is up to the detective to find the evidence that disproves the police’s suspect.
On the other hand, if this is a police/constabulary buddy tale, one officer might be the psychic/mage, the other the diad opposite who is grounded in the normal, mundane methods world.  The Holmes and Watson concept; the superlative detective and the skeptic that creates the framework for the empowered investigator to showcase his or her unique talents despite the partner’s assertion that ‘it shouldn’t work that way.’
It is, in a lot of ways, a well-worn trope of a plot idea, and so it is up to how well you create your character of the detective, powers, flaws, and obstacles, that makes your story stand apart from the others on the shelf.

Guest Post: Start Big or Start Small, But Where it is Becomes Your Call

(Meant for yesterday.)

Morning folks.  Whether you have 0 words or 500, if you’ve hit your first roadblock, or the wordcount just isn’t coming as fast as you’d like, it’s time to look at what you’ve got and seeing if you blew through the easy words in your rush to get rolling.

That first hour of writing on a blank canvas can be deceptive; you put down the first stuff that comes into your head and burn through your Big Idea, Premise, and Opening Lines pretty quick.  But once the initial framework is on the page, the inevitable ‘Now What?’ comes into play.

If you’re feeling a little uncertain where to go from here, there are two paths you can take today: (insert Phil Keoghan of The Amazing Race impression here): Stall, or Start Walking.

  • In Stall, you look back at what you’ve already written yesterday and add some details.   Add colors, sounds, smells, extra features, musings, impressions, extra dialogue to give your first characters in their first scene some more depth of focus.    For example, this year I started off with a brief sketch of a crime scene, and then pulled back a little to tease at the timeframe — the distant future.   I originally described the devastation of an explosion as simply ‘lots of bodies’, but when I doubled back, I added in damage to the building, the parking lot, and then described the era in more detail.    I actually described the main character as something more than a gender and ethnic background, and gave the secondary character some more lines so that he wasn’t introduced just to walk off and get coffee for my detective.
  • In Start Walking, you want to think ahead to what’s on the horizon,or, to wit, ‘where is your next scene going to take place?’    This is not a one man, one room play you’re writing here, odds on.   Whether you’re writing a Hero’s Journey or an Everyman/Everywoman slice of life tale, or a Superhero(ine) Saving the City, they’re not likely to be in the place they were when you wrote on Day 1.   Ask yourself, ‘where do I need to get the main character next?’   And start writing towards that direction.  Do they need to make any special preparations?  (An odd reverse example is Mr. Rogers, who fascinated me as a child by having the odd ritual of changing his shoes while talking to the audience after he came into the house.)    Do they tell anyone where they’re going?   Will any of the scene 1 characters be coming along, and are they opposed to doing so?

The point is that right now, today, Day 2, you are building potential. Potential energy, potential wordcount, and potential motion, along, of course, with potential plot.   Being able to lay tracks ahead of you or buy time to figure out where you want to be is still wordcount; the goal here is to breathe life into your novel by giving it enough detail and brea(d)th so that you want to keep writing in this space.

Eventually we’ll be setting things on fire (not necessarily literally) and maybe blowing stuff up, but it doesn’t have to be today.   Days 1 and 2 for me are usually reserved for either detailed worldbuilding, or meeting the main character, or setting up the stage where the main character will walk into any moment.    Or any combination of the three.

Hope this helps, and feel free to suggest a topic for a future guest post….

The Melody that Carries the Story

Music and story-telling go together like wine and cheese. You can have one without the other, but putting them together makes for a delicious pairing.

It’s something you grow up with, mostly in movies, but have you ever been in the car, listening to the radio, or at a friend’s house, listening to one of their obscure CDs, and paused. “That’s brilliant!” maybe crossed your mind to say, because you couldn’t help but watch your mind explode with the images and scenes the concerto or the beat or the harmony of the singer’s voice was giving you.

“Writing for the music,” is a phrase that came up recently, and it’s a good way to describe it. When you hear the song and you get inspired to write a sex scene or a horror scene or a fight scene. Then, when the song is over, or the initial inspiration dries up, it’s over and gone and that’s all it takes, if you don’t get it out sooner.

It’s something I’m fighting with writing horror for November, because I always wrote for the song that I was listening to, which was dirty and dark, and, in the end, had no real purchase or true emotion to it. When I looked back at it later, it sounded hokey and wrong, nothing felt stable.

Then there are the songs that don’t overwhelm you temporarily like that, that strike on a deeper level and get your brain running in a different direction. It’s like the background music for a scene you can see clearly, and it only enhances it more, plus, instead of being fleeting, it’s always there like a good memory. The song instead reminds you of something, it makes you think instead of pulling you under with a burst of sound and sight.

On the other hand, music can tend to be a nuisance for those who don’t care for noise. Nothing sounds better than shutting the door and getting so much quiet that your thoughts are louder than your surroundings.

Then there are those who thrive with it. Who derive their focus and their motivation from a peculiar or particular song, something that catches their ear and helps them follow along. Having a melody in the background can improve attentiveness, the beat giving them something to focus on with their typing or writing.

It sets a mood, for the scene, and when it’s not what you’re writing for, it’s what you’re writing to, helping you feel the sensuality or the adrenaline or the cool air of the mountain.

Music can help you establish the mood and atmosphere, to better pull in the reader if you do it correctly. Trying to describe the feeling you have for the scene, using descriptive words that bring them right into the room or onto the cliff side or at the gala. It adds to the tools you can use to enrich the story.

It’s as useful a tool as any research or little bits of information that you want to implement.

As long as it’s not a bother to your writing, that is. Or somehow you hate music. Which, I don’t think I’ve found a person who does. There’s just a time and a place for everyone to enjoy it.

Another thing about music for me had been, through the years of roleplay, where friends would talk about the theme songs for their characters, based on songs they loved or the lyrics specifically, or maybe just the way it sounds. Have you ever had a song that just clicks for a character or a set of characters?

It’s such a wide thing to explore, where the possibilities seem endless. The same songs that help motivate you in physical activity (running, swimming, boxing, etc.), can help push along a thought or an idea that sparked as a result or before then.

All of this reminds me of something I’d heard back in “The Enjoyment of Music” in college. The Doctrine of Affections was something written in the Baroque period, a theory that music can evoke emotions involuntarily (Source). Which, to me, makes sense, especially looking back at it. It makes you feel something, a slow, deep tune makes you sad, and a high pitched, fast song makes you want to dance. Harder songs make you want to thrash, typically.

It lends to writing and action or lack thereof, and to what goes on around us, the visual and the audio and the taste and touch and smell. It holds on and doesn’t let go until the song is over. It’s why we need to hear it again, because it’s so provocative in its own way. To listen, over and over until we finally have everything that it’s given us down in a story or a chapter, in a character and their mannerisms, in the landscape, or the scene.

Music is as much a part of writing as it is a part of us, and I wouldn’t change a thing about it. Would you?