The Fisherman’s Daughter is the working title for my latest novel. I’ve plotted the story, but I still have some questions and issues to work out along the way. Authors debate over whether or not to use an outline for a novel. Some write outlines that are hundreds of pages long while others just start writing with only a whisper of a story idea in their minds. I fall somewhere in between those two extremes. If I don’t have an outline, I get sidetracked and lose sight of where I’m headed. I think a mystery novel needs to be tightly written, and the reader will not be happy if the author leads him down too many blind alleys. On the other hand, an in-depth outline can lead to a plot that is rigid, making it appear contrived. It is a cliché for an author to say that the characters take on lives of their own, but there is some truth to that statement. I’ll often be in the middle of writing a prepared scene when it occurs to me that a character would never do what I’m about to have her do. At those times, a different but usually much better action occurs to me, and that action sometimes sends the story in an unexpected direction. I don’t want to plot my books so rigidly that I miss those “Aha!” moments because they always make my story better.
Writing a mystery is a challenge because the murderer cannot be the obvious choice, but when he is revealed, he must be the logical choice. I want the reader to say, “Of course, why didn’t I consider him? I should have known.” That’s not an easy trick to pull off since I know who the killer is from the very beginning of the book. The highest compliment a reader can pay me is when he says, “I was so shocked she was the killer. I never suspected her.” The twists and turns that keep the reader guessing are the meat of the novel, and I try not to outline those areas too tightly because the best plot twists often happen when I write myself into a corner.
The Fisherman’s Daughter takes place on Kodiak Island and starts out with a teenage girl in an aluminum fishing boat (a skiff) heading back to her family’s commercial fishing site after she attends a Fourth of July party. Here is an excerpt from the prologue.
“No!” She slammed the shifter into neutral and twisted the key – nothing. She tried again, but no luck. She turned the key several more times in rapid succession. The boat turned sideways in the heavy seas, waves rocking it violently from side to side. Deanna’s heart hammered in her chest.
“Calm down, calm down, calm down! You’ve got this, Deanna Kerr. You are seventeen years old, not a little kid. Think!” She unhinged the hood from the outboard, her hands shaking so badly she could barely hang onto it. She set the hood on the deck and stared at the shiny metal cowling. Panic started to overtake her. She had no idea how to fix this type of engine.
“Think!” She commanded herself. The engine isn’t getting fuel. It must be a fuel filter problem. A wave poured over the side of the boat, filling it with several inches of water. She fumbled for the bailer and started scooping water out of the boat, but then another wave hit and more water poured into it. She had to get the engine started and get out of the trough of the waves. She realized that her parents had forgotten to give her a handheld VHF radio to carry in the skiff. She should have remembered to ask for one. If she had a radio, she could call for help.
Another wave crashed over the side of the skiff, and Deanna reached for the bulb on the gas line and pumped furiously. She turned the key. The engine coughed and died. “Please God, make it work!” She tried again but no luck. A wave struck her broadside and nearly knocked her out of the boat. She fell on her knees in the water in the bottom of the skiff. She looked for water in the fuel filter, but she didn’t see any. Maybe the filter was plugged by something else. She opened the tool box that was secured to the inside of the hull. Her hands trembled as she grabbed the filter wrench and fought to loosen the filter from the fuel line. Maybe she could just bypass the filter. She tried to think. What would her dad do? She wasn’t sure how to bypass the filter. She pulled out the old filter and studied it, but it looked fine. She had no time to think. She grabbed another filter and secured the housing. As she stood, a wave hit and knocked her back into the bottom of the skiff. She chanced a glance at the angry ocean. Conditions were worsening at an alarming rate. Around her, whitecaps piled one on top another, but even more ominous was the black ocean toward the north, toward her home.
Did I have to use my imagination to write this scene? Not really. Unfortunately, I’ve been there and done that. It was not at all difficult to imagine how terrified Deanna would be in that situation, but this is nothing compared to what happens to her next! I’ll post more excerpts as the novel progresses.
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