JULIA SPENCER-FLEMING: Here's the thing about how I structure my writing: I don't know the mystery, I have no idea whodunnit or how or why, and I often have a very vague idea about the non-mystery portion of the book. (I believe my entire plan for THROUGH THE EVIL DAYS was "Clare and Russ trapped in an ice storm.") However, before I begin, I must know what the book is about, and how it's going to be structured.
For example, THROUGH THE EVIL DAYS is about parenthood, and the things parents will do for their children. It's structured in six day-long segments, moving ahead in a very straightforward chronolgy, and each day ends with a section from the missing girl's point-of-view. ONE WAS A SOLDIER was about the difficulties of returning veterans, and is structured with a series of framing sections, consisting of the veterans' support group meetings. The action moves back and forth in time in a way that requires the reader to pay attention (sorry if you got confused!)
HID FROM OUR EYES, my current work-in-progress, is about fathers and sons and those near father-son relationships between teacher and student, or mentor and mentee.
The structure for HID FROM OUR EYES is based on the concept of “four stories.” You've heard this before – there are only two, or four, or five plots in the world, and every story originates in one of them. I'm using the four stories concept: Someone goes on a journey, someone comes to town, someone is born, someone dies. Every building block - I'm not sure yet if these will be chapters or sections or some other-named organization - is comprised of these four elements, at least metaphorically (since I'm not writing about a maternity ward, most of the births are more symbolic than literal.)
See if you can tell which of the four stories is referenced in this excerpt.
“Chief,” his sergeant said again. “We've got the perp in custody. Some drifter on a motorcycle banged on the MacLarens' door before daybreak asking to use the phone. Claimed he found her here.” The sergeant lowered his voice. “Viet Nam soldier. Probably high. You know what those boys come back like. Stone killers.”
Jack sighed. “Any other reason to suspect him? Other than the fact he's a soldier?”
“MacLaren held him on the porch with his shotgun while his missus called us. This guy pulled out a knife the size of your arm and threatened to gut MacLaren with it.”
“That may be, but he didn't use it on this girl.” At the expression on his sergeant's face Jack held up a hand. “Okay. I'll talk to him.”
“Davidson took him down to the station house. We've got the impound truck coming for his bike.”
Jack considered stopping at his house for a shave on his way to the station, but weighing a scratchy face against getting a cup while the first pot of coffee of the day was still fresh decided him on the latter. He barely managed the cup of joe – Davidson, who had more enthusiasm than brains, practically frogmarched him to the interrogation room. “We got that knife off him, chief.” Davidson handed him a manilla folder with his preliminary notes and the tape recorder. “No track marks on his arm, but he's definitely on something.”
The something was Old Granddad, by the smell that greeted Jack when he entered the room. The kid was folded over the table, head buried in his arms. He was wearing a wrinkled olive drab army jacket over blue jeans so new they still had fold marks in them. Army boots on his feet. Not just another 'Nam vet, then. This boy looked to be straight off the plane from Saigon, or wherever they flew them from these days.
Jack pulled out the chair on the other side of the table and sat down. “You're in a spot of trouble, son. Why don't you tell me what happened up there in Cossayuharie.”
The soldier lifted his head. Sandy hair growing out of a military cut, wary blue eyes. A bruise starting to purple up on his temple.
Holy Mary, Mother of God. It was Margy Van Alstyne's boy. “Russell?”
“Chief Liddle.” Fatigue, yes, and also anger in the boy's voice, and barely-leashed violence. He smelled of liquor, but whatever he had drunk the night before had burned off him.
Jack stopped himself from saying the first thing that came to his mind, and the second, and the third. Just because he knew this boy, had known him since birth, didn't mean he wasn't involved in the young woman's death. The fact she had been dumped on Route fifty-seven, the missing panties and stockings – these were all details a copy-cat could have taken from the old newspaper stories. Russell had been a good-natured kid when he left for the army two years ago, but he had also been a hell-raiser, and God knew what two tours of duty over there had done to him.