Wednesday, May 7, 2014

My Master List

by Holly West

My husband and I are in darkest Peru today, enjoying the sights at Machu Picchu. As such, I wrote this post well in advance so that you'd have something to read from me while I'm on my little adventure.

I've been plotting a new novel of late. It usually takes me at least a few weeks to get this part of the writing process done, but for me it's the quickest way to do my best work. And plotting, for me, is the most enjoyable part of the process because it allows me to explore ideas and themes that interest me, I get to read great books to find inspiration, and I watch and analyze a whole lot of films.

This particular story is set in 2014 in Venice Beach, California and features a female barkeep who stumbles upon the slain body of her new, annoying, boss in the dumpster behind the bar. I know more about her and the story than that, but that's all I'll say here for now.

Currently, the novel is a classic "whodunit." I've got the whole first act laid out just the way I want it. But in going forward with the plotting of it, I've begun to ask myself whether I really want to write a traditional mystery. MISTRESS OF FORTUNE and its sequel, MISTRESS OF LIES are traditional mysteries, so I feel like I've done that. I'm kind of thinking I want this one to be a different kind of crime story.

One of my favorite writing resources is Alex Sokoloff's SCREENWRITING TIPS FOR AUTHORS. I used it to write MISTRESS OF LIES and, as I've discussed previously, it revolutionized my process, if I might be so bold. I'm using it again in plotting this novel and today, my assignment was to create my "Master List."

The Master List is a list of books and movies that have had an impact on you. That are either in the genre you want to write or that you wish you'd written yourself. Here's what I came up with:

THE SECRET HISTORY by Donna Tartt (book)
FAITHFUL PLACE by Tana French (book)
KILLING MR. GRIFFIN by Lois Duncan (book)
DOLORES CLAIBORNE by Stephen King (book and movie)
THE PLAYER by Michael Tolkin (book and movie)
SILENCE OF THE LAMBS by Thomas Harris (book and movie)
WINTER'S BONE by Daniel Woodrell (book and movie)
IN COLD BLOOD by Truman Capote (book and movie)
DEAD MAN WALKING by Sister Helen Prejean (book and movie)

A few things stand out to me when I look at this list. First of all, none of the stories are traditional mysteries, with the exception of FAITHFUL PLACE, which is both mystery and procedural. Second, many of these stories (THE SECRET HISTORY, KILLING MR. GRIFFIN, I KNOW WHAT YOU DID LAST SUMMER, DOLORES CLAIBORNE, THE PLAYER, and WINTER'S BONE) feature good, albeit flawed, people who are pushed to do unthinkable things--whether by accident, to save themselves, or because of peer pressure or some other influence. Third, several of the books (IN COLD BLOOD, SILENCE OF THE LAMBS, and DEAD MAN WALKING) are about people who find themselves face-to-face with true evil and yet somehow find something redeeming in it (well, not in the evil, perhaps, but in the perpetrators of it).

Simply by making this list, I've learned something about the sort of stories that appeal to me. It also kind of tells me that perhaps a traditional mystery isn't the direction I want to go in, at least for this particular project.

My question for you, obviously, is what are some of the books and movies on your master list? Do they have anything in common?


Kristi said...

I'm a nerd about process and plotting, so of course I just bought Alex's book!

Kristopher said...


Your Master List contains many of the books that would be on my list as well. With The Secret History right at the top of that list.

If I look at my list closer, most of the books I love have some type of psychological element to them. The mind is just such a fascinating organ and the various ways it can be affected are endlessly entertaining.

Thanks for the introduction to the idea of The Master List idea.