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Louise Penny Help Desk: Part 2

image-penny-cu.jpgAs part of crime month on Canada Writes, we asked you to send along to us some of the questions you had for our Master Class leader Louise Penny. Here, Louise answers two more—giving us some notes on plot and conflict, as well as letting us know how much legal knowledge a writer should have.


Mitchell Parent of Calgary, Alberta asks:

Fiction, especially crime fiction, is a style that creates an intricate web of events that make the story interesting and catch the reader's attention. As a primarily non-fiction writer, it's hard for me to come up with something truly catching. How do you develop up your plot and conflict so that they can be effective in holding the reader's interest?

As a former journalist, I was also worried about that. I first figure out why someone would kill—then I figure out who… then how. That’s the core. Then I work outward, and come up with sub-plots, themes, mis-direction, clues and ways of hiding them in plain sight.  

Much of this now comes quite naturally, but at first it was crucial to me to make notes of characters and plot ideas.

I think really great crime fiction isn’t about the crime, but about all sorts of other things.  Robert Frost said that for him a poem begins as a lump in the throat. The same is true for writing crime fiction… think of something that outrages you, that moves you deeply, that angers you. Or that you love. And then explore that. Put it in peril. Something must be at stake—it might as well be something you care about. It can be a person, a work of art, a village, a university. If you care about it, you’ll make the reader care… and then they’ll want to read and read, to see what happens. You must make people care, otherwise, why would they bother spending their valuable time with your book? And, you might as well make them care about something you also have feelings for. "

The Poets' Society of Hastings County North, Ontario, asks:

Do you incorporate information about actual Canadian law into your crime stories?

A bit, but not much. All I really need to know is that murder is illegal. My books aren’t really about the law, or forensics, or medicine. They’re mostly about emotions gone astray. Something small that festered and became something monstrous. The law I leave up to more clever people. What I do incorporate are actual Canadian poets and poetry. I use quite a bit of poetry, most of it by Canadians—with their permission, of course. "

Thanks to Mitchell and Poets's Society of Hastings County North for your questions! You've both won a copy of Louise Penny's latest mystery, A Trick of the Light.

Do you have questions for Louise Penny? If so, leave them on our Facebook wall or Tweet them to us @cbcbooks (#canadawrites). Our favourites will be sent along to her and if she answers your question then you too will win a copy of her latest mystery.

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