Lessons learned from my second crappy
Okay folks, so I wrote my first crappy book. It had no plot. It had no action. It was just two dudes living in a trailer in a Texas prison. Why were they in the trailer? I had no idea. The words were pretty, but there was no journey for the reader. So, those three months (probably more) of my life went into the garbage can, and I set off with new determination to write the most exciting darn book ever written.
I ditched the desolate landscape of Southern Texas and mentally traveled north to St. Louis, Missouri. I’ve talked many times about how the city of St. Louis is a remarkable character, and if I wanted to write a real thriller… that’s where I wanted to be. Unlike my first crappy book, this one had some good characters. There was a good plot, too. A serial killer was on the loose, terrorizing the people of St. Louis with mischief and mayhem! To give you a timeframe, this was about ten years before I wrote Little Boy Lost, which was also set in St. Louis.
I continued my practice of getting up early in the morning before work and writing. This thing was great, I thought. Five months later, I had done it. Sitting on the corner of my desk there was three hundred and seventy pages of paper. This book had plot. This book had a witty dialogue. This book had interesting characters. I had done it! I had written what could only be considered the greatest piece of fiction in the modern era.
My wife had been gone when I finished it, and when she returned it waited for her on her pillow. This is exactly what every woman desires, I thought. Forget chocolates and wine, this was a real book. I’m sure her heart was aflutter with anticipation when she saw it, and so she read it (I think, or at least gave it a good skim). And when she was done, she had a pretty simple question for me, “Why did that guy kill all those people?”
Thus, I learned a very valuable lesson from my second crappy book: motive. I had, indeed, written an exciting book, but it still sucked. It just sucked in a different way than my first crappy book. In an effort to be exciting, my characters lacked depth. They lacked motivation for the reasons why they did what they did. The protagonist had a pretty good motive, not great but pretty good. The evil antagonist, however, had zero motive. The body count in my second crappy book was remarkable. I think like fifty people died over the course of this book. If it was Game of Thrones, perhaps, that would work, but this was not. My wife had asked a simple question, “Why did that guy kill all those people?” I had no idea. None. Being a sicko was not enough, and, to be honest, there was nothing in the book besides the body count to even consider him a sicko. He was just a guy who killed people.
So the big lesson I learned from my second crappy book was that if you’re gonna have a dude murder a bunch of people, the dude better have a pretty compelling reason to do so. (Please take note of this insightful advice all you aspiring thriller writers. You can pay me later.)
After that experience, I paused. I took a break. Perhaps writing fiction was not such a good idea. I was a lawyer after all, and maybe it was time to get serious. I changed jobs and started working at a big national law firm handling big national cases. I wore a suit and tie and went to work in a big glass skyscraper. I spent time on airplanes, flying all over the country to attend hearings about class action lawsuits. I logged all my time in ten-minute increments so that clients would be billed appropriately for everything I did.
That was the end of the story until it wasn’t.