AN APPROPRIATE TIME

AN APPROPRIATE TIME

1 To everything there is a season, and a time for every purpose under the heaven.

2 A time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up that which is planted;

3 A time to kill, and a time to heal; a time to break down, and a time to build up;

4 A time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance;

5 A time to cast away stones, and a time to gather stones together; a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing;

6 A time to get, and a time to lose; a time to keep, and a time to cast away;

7 A time to rend, and a time to sew; a time to keep silence, and a time to speak;

8 A time to love, and a time to hate; a time of war, and a time of peace.

In Ecclesiastes we read that there is a time for this and a time for that. In the twentieth century Pete Seeger, The Byrds, and Simon and Garfunkel revisited these verses through their music. Writers constantly revisit the question: where and when (how, why, who, and by whom)  should a murder be committed.

An agent I spoke with during a pitch session was adamant about when murders occur. She said, “One in the beginning (first page) one in the middle and one at the end. There had to be at least three”. I didn’t comment, after all, I was pitching, she was catching. But I disagreed. I have always disagreed with that formula.

Heidi, a fellow writer at Thursday Night Writes, agrees with me. This is what she wrote to me this morning:

“I just reached the first murder in my current reread of Ngaio Marsh: on page 111 of a 247-page book. So let’s have none of their nonsense about a murder on the first page.”

Exactly. With a first page murder where is the time for loving and hating, a  build up to WHY.

Where is the time for being born, so we know WHO?

Where is the time to gather stones together so we can figure out BY WHOM?

And what about a time to plant in order to know WHERE or HOW.

Moby Dick didn’t kill Ahab till the very end of a very long book. And maybe Moby Dick isn’t the best example since it’s so long and drawn out, but in the course of the story the intentions of the two protagonists (Yes, two. I have always sided with the whale) are revealed to the reader. At the end of the book it was definitely time for Ahab to be plucked up. Definitely.

In a cozy we want to dwell on our characters and their emotions. By having a murder on the first page we lose a lot of opportunities for them, and especially for our protagonist, to weep and laugh and mourn and dance; to build them up and flesh them out. Flash forwards are the answer you say. Flashbacks. Sure, they can work, but I say there nothing like a straightforward build up of actions leading to straightforward consequences.

There’s a time for everything and everything in its time.

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About Eleanor Ingbretson

Native New Yorker. Transplanted to New Hampshire years ago, but still considered a flatlander by the neighbors. Writer of fantasy and mystery and whatever else takes my fancy.

Posted on May 13, 2017, in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.

  1. What a marvelous post, Eleanor. I’ve always suspected “the formula,” no matter which formula it is. The very reasons you’ve given for ignoring the formula are what make so many of the classic writers superb and worth re-reading. Thank goodness that woman you encountered was only one agent.
    In A WEE MURDER IN MY SHOP, the first of my ScotShop mysteries, it was my agent who said to put the murder on the first page, but then my wonderful editor at Berkley Press said, “No. We want Peggy to meet the ghost first, so they can find the body together.” How right she was. The murder happens half-way through the book, and I love it that way. So, apparently, do my readers, except for one disconsolate 1-star reviewer who complained, “The murder doesn’t even happen until the middle of the book!” Right. And that was as it should be. I don’t write for people like him.

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  2. Amen, sister! But you left out the final sentence of my note: “You and I are classics.”

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