ASKING WHY, TELLING “WHY”
by Rob Lopresti
It’s always a great pleasure when I get a story published. For the past few years one part of that happy experience has been the chance to write about it here at Criminal Brief. Today it’s more of a mixed event.
My story “Why” is in the current, May 2011, issue of Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine. (And by the way, our new Criminal Briefer Janice Law has the lead position in that issue.) Mine is another shortie, more anecdote than full-blown story, but I like it a lot. So why do I have mixed feelings?
The story is about police investigating a man who killed a group of people in a public place. I am extremely glad it wasn’t in the issue on the newsstands when the horrific events occurred in Tucson last month. I am equally glad that I didn’t go in for a lot of gory details.
In my story there is no question about who committed the crime. The cops are trying to figure out, as the title implies, the why. It was inspired by hearing reporters earnestly saying things like this: “Yesterday a man wearing a bright tutu and an Indian headdress attacked five strangers with a machete. Authorities are trying to determine the motive for the assault.”
In cases like this I always want to hear somebody say: “Authorities suspect the man was crazy as a gravel sandwich.” But in the wake of Tucson, that’s a political statement, isn’t it?
Law and Order used to brag that its stories were “ripped from the headlines.” I’d prefer my stories to require a little more suspension of disbelief, thank you.
But here’s what I intended to say about this story. I wanted to talk about the way I chose to tell it.
I don’t think I have ever succeeded in getting a story published after changing it as radically as I did this one. And if you have a copy of the magazine I can show you exactly how I changed it.
The story originally had three scenes, and I split them into four. But if you want to read it as originally written start with Scene 2 (beginning on the middle of page 30), then Scene 4 (bottom of page 32), then Scene 1, and finally Scene 3 (middle of page 32).
If you’re keeping score that means I replaced both the beginning and the end of the story with different scenes. Now, that is radical surgery.
The reason is simple: I wrote a story with two endings. In one finale, a character had an ah-ha moment, an epiphany if you will. In the second ending we see him reacting to that realization. Originally I went with chronological order, but I decided to end with the bigger bang, even though it meant losing an exit line I really liked.
I think it was the right choice, but I’d be glad to hear what you think. And in the mean time, dear friends, stay safe.