Monday, September 26, 2011

Setting Chaos Right

Admittedly, there is something strange about those who spend a great deal of their time in thinking up ways to do away with another of their fellow beings. Someone once wrote that a person who repeatedly tries to devise a way of killing another is either a psychopath or a mystery writer, and that sometimes the line between them blurs. They even use a similar line over the opening credits of the TV show CASTLE.

I resent that. I spend a great deal of time finding ways to eradicate some poor soul, but I don’t feel like a psychopath. At least, not most of the time.

So why do I do it? Why do any of us do it?

Aside from the fact I’m much too afraid of getting caught to even think of trying anything for real, I believe we do it because as writers and as readers we fans of murder have a very strict sense of honor and decency and justice.

Whether we’re plotting the demise of a nosy next door neighbor or creating a scheme to eradicate the populace of a distant planet, we are creating mayhem and chaos. Murder is against the natural order of things – it is unnatural, and the unnatural is disturbing to us. However – if we create it ourselves as writers, we control it. We know from the beginning that however bad things get, we can set it right and good will triumph again.

Now I can hear some of you muttering that there are many books where the killer is not punished, that he walks away unscathed. Yes, of course there are, but in the traditional mystery framework (even if it is set on a distant planet many eons in the future or the past) we know that the bad will be punished and order restored. Even if the law is not served, justice will be, and the two are not always the same thing. Sometimes a murder is a good thing, and to punish the killer would be unfair. As was written in Texas law until not too many years ago, there are some folks who just need killing!

By contrast, real life is messy. People are murdered and the perpetrator is never caught, and sometimes even if he is he isn’t convicted. There is no guaranteed happy/good/righteous ending, and sometimes the uncertainty of that ambiguity is unbearable. I think people turn to mysteries both as readers and as writers because they need the framework of justice guaranteed to be triumphant. I know I do.

In the worlds we create horrible things happen, yes, but right and justice prevail. The murderer is going to be stopped some way. Our senses of balance and security and rightness are restored. All is well.

Would that it could be that way in real life.

Janis Susan May / Janis Patterson

7 comments:

Marcelle Dubé said...

Good post, Janis. I agree--the satisfaction we gain from writing and reading mysteries (especially murder mysteries) has to do with righting wrongs and putting order back into chaos. That's why I find a murder mystery that doesn't provide justice at the end so unsatisfying.

Toni Anderson said...

I'm not sure I agree that murder isn't natural--I think there arguments that it is. It certainly isn't socially acceptable (thank goodness). I do think your are dead on (hah) about why we like our mystery stories. We like the ending to tie up all the threads and evil to be punished and the good to get their rewards. Good storytelling feeds this very basic human need. It's a fascinating subject.

Wendy Soliman said...

Isn't it lovely to be able to get revenge and make people do precisely as you wish. Shame it's not like that in real life. Perhaps that's why I prefer a fictional world where I'm firmly in charge!

Kathy Ivan said...

I think that is part of the appeal of being a writer--I am able to provide a satisfactory conclusion to the bad things that have happened throughout the story, resolve all unanswered questions and provide a sense of closure for not only the H and H but the reader, as well.

Of course, getting to think up diabolical ways of doing away with people is only a bonus. LOL

MaureenAMiller said...

If only our powers with the 'pen' could be applied to real life. We could have the proverbial 'red phone' sitting on our desk.

Red phone rings.

"Maureen speaking."

"Maureen, this is NYPD. We need your help."

"Alright. Let me get my pen." :)

Great post, Janis. Keep setting chaos straight!

Janis Susan May/Janis Patterson said...

Thanks for all the replies - I agree that writing is a little bit like (and sometimes uncomfortably like) playing God. As PD James said, "I love the power of authorship. I can kill someone and leave the body lying right there on the page."

Shirley Wells said...

Great post, Janis. I believe it's a need to find order among the chaos. How many people say "Oh, if only I could be President for a day...?" Well, we can. We can be anyone. We can slay the baddies and make the world a better place. It's great fun.

I love the idea of Maureen getting The Call from NYPD. :)