Being the second in a series charting the writing of a new fantasy detective story.
If I’m setting this mostly in the PI’s office building, it’s about time I visualised the place a little better – it’s not a location I’ve ever explored before, or even really imagined properly. There’s just the office and the street, and the rest of the city beyond.
First thought is that it’s a New York brownstone, maybe four floors. The PI’s office is on the front. Alleys down both sides. Maybe a laundry at the back. Three floors of apartments above the commercial lets. So that could be anywhere from six to twelve apartments. That means when the building gets isolated there could be quite a few folk stuck inside – a bigger cast than I’d originally imagined.
Not that we have to meet everyone. But, since this is a detective story, everyone we do meet is a suspect. Plenty of characters means plenty of suspects, and plenty of opportunities for misdirection. Still, this is a short story, not a novel (actually these stories usually weigh in at around 10,000 words which technically makes them novelettes).
An early scene could be a kind of community meeting. Everyone in the block gets together to figure out what’s going on. And the PI naturally takes charge. Actually no. Someone else. The mouthy guy from the second floor. Or the smooth-talker from the third. The PI’s on the outside (figuratively) looking in. While the majority go off on the wrong tack, he and a small selection of others take the path less trod. Which leads them eventually to the solution.
PI in a community of people is interesting. The character’s a loner, so what happens when he’s forced into a dramatic social situation charged with emotion? He’s forced to face his isolation and really connect with people for a while. He’s no good at it of course.
Going back to the misdirection, the villain should probably be one of the small band he teams up with. The one you least expect, naturally. Unless I play the good old double bluff. My shortlist is the femme he falls for, the scuzzy cockroach, the janitor (where’s Scooby Doo when you need him?) or the smart-alec who takes over proceedings in the meeting. I’m favouring the femme (when she betrays him it’s a knife to the heart) but we’ll see.
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