How far would you go to plot out a good story for National Novel Writing Month?
Sure, I’ve sat at boring meetings and imagined the conference room attacked by zombies. Where would be a good place to hide? What office objects might be used as weapons? Who, among my co-workers might stand and fight vs. who would run? All writers have overactive imaginations. We all indulge them during the plotting and drafting process. We speak bits of dialogue out loud to hear how it sounds. We step through the choreography of our fights just to be sure we haven’t written a villain with an extra arm or an impossible reach. We take bus rides to time how long our protagonist’s alibi holds up if he got off at the wrong stop. We might even ask our friends to get into the trunk of a car just to see how many bodies you could hide there.
Yes – these are all things I have actually done. Don’t judge me! Experiencing details like this are what makes fiction come alive and plot ring true. But it is easy for our imaginations to take us too far. Like the time I practiced following people. My protagonist had to follow his mother through a store to be sure she didn’t buy things for a house she no longer owned. She had moved to an adult apartment community but what she really needed was fully assisted living. He didn’t want to be caught spying on her and to write the scene I needed to know what he could see and what he couldn’t. How close could he get?
I think I might have creeped out a woman in the patio and garden section of Target. (If you’re curious, it seems best if you don’t follow directly behind your subject, but rather behind and a little to the right. When people feel followed, they tend to look over their left shoulder most often. Who knew?) But while I have done some strange or unexpected things in my pursuit of a believable plot, I never went as far as Jack Drummond.
Jack wrote murder mysteries. He wrote, and self-published his first book. He was an author. He didn’t have the money to publish the second book and didn’t have an agent but he did his research. He learned that tru-crime was much hotter than mystery in 1978 which was unfortunate. He didn’t know any notorious criminals to interview. Jack didn’t let that stop him. He was a bull-by-the-horns kind of guy. He was the kind of guy that would find a way. The kind of guy that self-published before self-publishing was cool. If he couldn’t interview a criminal for a book, he would become a criminal for a book!
Then it all went terribly awry.
Jack had a clean record with no prior arrests. His published book was called “The Flight Instructor Murders” published under his pen name, George Redder. He certainly drew from his personal experience to write it. While there is no evidence that he had ever killed anyone, he was a pilot with a valid pilot’s license. For his manuscript “Bank Robber” he wrote in his notes, “What right… have we to copy crime if we don’t know it first hand?”
He flew a rented plane from his home in New York to Columbus, Ohio. He had a plan to rob three banks and get away in a stolen car to the bus station. From there, he would take a bus to the airport and fly home or (his words) “die trying.”
You can read the all the details in David Meyers and Elise Meyers Walker’s book Historic Columbus Crimes. An informant called the local police to report Jack as a suspicious person. When police arrived to question him, he drew a gun and though officer James Wagner deflected his aim into the air, Jack was killed in the counter fire from police. Earlier that day, his daughter received his manuscript in the mail. It was a how-to true-crime story without an ending.
Chapter One, Page one.
I’m a bank robber. Beginning tomorrow.”
It was never published.
Be careful out there WriMos! Plotting a book is dangerous business. Don’t be a Jack.
Read ~ Write ~ Wander
(cover art displayed under fair use. Pics of the mysterious woman reported to be me were taken by Dearest.)
Have you ever done anything strange, illegal, or odd to research a story? Tell me about it in the comments!