Another Column at MyShelf.Com

Between the pages, Past
A Mystery Column
By Dennis Collins


Nowadays editors have a formula for just about everything. They’ve been telling me for years that a mystery novel can’t be complete unless the protagonist is facing some sort of conflict away from the main story line. He or she must be dealing with a personal crisis in addition to being up to their neck in murderers, thieves, and terrorists. It could be a marriage gone bad, an estranged family member, or a sick dog but it seems that they are required to simultaneously handle multiple dilemmas if the story is to going to be worthy of publishing. I’ve even seen complex graphs showing how conflict is introduced, escalates, and then simmers throughout much of the story. Finally it reaches the apex and is eventually extinguished along with the villain. Like I said, it’s a formula.

But they never said that the conflict had to be something bad. I’ve toyed with the idea of having my cop hot on the trail of a serial killer when, all of a sudden he hits the lottery for a hundred million dollars. What would he do then? I know what I’d do. “Hey Chief, here’s my notebook, it’s got all the details about the suspect in it. Oh, and here’s my badge too.”

In my books, the conflicts are more of a distraction than a quandary. Sometimes they’re a love interest and at other times they relate to the responsibilities of parenthood or some other mundane problem. In The First Domino I have a little of everything. Detective Otis Springfield is in the middle of a homicide investigation when his mother suddenly dies from a stroke. Then he begins to uncover the fascinating story of the heroic father that he never knew. Even the bad guy has a conflict in this story, being forced to deal with fear, the sudden emergence of a conscience, and new found love all at the same time. And while I was on a roll developing conflicts for my characters I added a Mafia Don still suffering from a childhood emotional trauma and a hit man who thinks about paying for his sins when he dies. Everybody’s got conflicts.

I’m just glad that real life isn’t that complicated.

2011 Past Columns