Parsimony

I just took Gabe Tovar out of my third novel, Fail Deadly.  Damn!  I liked Gabe, but the poor guy was compromised by Russian mafia types, and he did add complexity.  Maybe he’s relieved, but I’m sorry to lose him. However, his loss didn’t hurt as much as Raisa Jarvinen, whom I had to take out a couple of months ago. She was an FBI agent, a specialist in languages.  She allowed me to exercise my interest in etymology, languages in general, and the Finno-Ugric branch of Indo European. See, Estonian is closer to Finnish and Hungarian than the Slavic languages that surround it as a result of the Uralic tribes … hmmm. Maybe it’s good for my readers’ sanity that I took her out.  

What I’m learning is that parsimony is valuable in writing, just as it is in science.  I don’t mean the penny-pinching skinflint kind; I mean the Aristotle-Duns Scotus-William of Ockham’s razor kind.  The kind that says Non sunt multiplicanda entia sine necessitate, loosely translated for the novelist as Don’t put in stuff that doesn’t move the story forward.

When I was about to publish Fatal Score, I asked for a review from Brian Lutterman, a Minnesota author whose work I admire.  He graciously accepted and wrote a lovely review.  Then he asked if I wanted an honest appraisal of the less-than-nice stuff. I did, and he explained that, while the plot was interesting and the writing good enough to merit his fine review, but I had too many characters. Parsimony, again.

Eep … The novel I’m finishing, Fail Deadly, had more characters than Fatal Score.  The plot is about as complex, which, following Ockham loosely means there’s less space for characters. 

Sic transit Gloria personae, Gabe and Raisa.  You’ll be back in other books, I hope.

An Epiphany

This morning, I attended a brunch to honor Carl Brookins, a founder of the critique group Crème de la Crime and author of several crime novels and series. Crème de la Crime was born from a writing course at The Loft, the organization which is to the Twin Cities writing community what infrastructure is to travel. Carl has decided to become emeritus after a 20-year-plus run of providing coffee, popcorn, and a lovely home to the group.The gathering of current and former members was an occasion for reminiscence, celebration, and conversation.  How lucky I am to live in the Twin Cities and to have such resources as these.

So there I was, enjoying breakfast with friends, when the epiphany hit.

See, I have always been a science-based sort of guy.  No mysterious suprafactual forces in my universe.  But … something happened as I was bathing in the flow of conversation this morning. Maybe sitting in the aura of massive writerly power (there were seventeen of us) threw a switch somewhere in the occipital or parietal lobes and made me see the truth I have been missing.

I have been struggling with the design of my fourth Mayfield-Napolitani novel.  So far, it has the problems I was tasked to change in the other novels:  a complex plot (gene therapy gone bad) and too many characters.  In writing Mayfield-Napolitani #1, Fatal Score, I was a proud seat-of-the-pantser.  Also a not so proud and often frustrated rewriter (I published rewrite #14).  This time, I knew I needed to outline.  As a result, I have been writing out the procession of people and events, getting tangled, tripping, starting over.  

Maybe it was always obvious, just not to me, but the outline I need is about what happens; how the story is finally presented is another matter entirely.  Nobody told me that directly this afternoon; it appeared while I was contemplating the last bits of scrambled egg.  I guess there are things we do not understand about the brain.  

The brunch buffet was tasty, too.