10th Step On The Character’s Ladder

I’ve been researching “compunction” for characters in my work while working on “The Striker” an installment of “X-Division Assignments” an espionage action story set in late 60s San Francisco.
 
It also bears upon many published news stories for the past two years.
 
The following comes from my last outline step:
 
10. Character tested for veracity of compunction
 
10.1. and Character reveals a wide ranging emotional display
10.1.1. including positive emotions, such as happiness and surprise
10.1.1.1. with leakage of genuine feelings from incomplete deception (feel embarrassed, feel genuine happiness, and let a smile slip)
10.1.1.1.1. as in false remorse
 
10.1.2. with deceptive or falsified emotions overcompensated in their emotional performance
10.1.2.1. as in false remorse
 
10.1.3. with a large number of speech hesitations that cued deceptive apology
10.1.3.1. as in false remorse
 
10.2. and reveals narrow range of emotional display
10.2.1. for remorse (showing sorrow)
include a detailed account of the offense
10.2.1.1. responsibility (showing connection)
acknowledgment of the hurt or damage done
10.2.1.1.1. reparation (showing care)
restitution, compensation or token gesture in line with the damage that one has caused
10.2.1.1.1.1. resolution (showing closure)
expression of a credible commitment to change

“The Chrysanthemums,” by John Steinbeck

Descriptive Paragraph:

The high, grey-flannel fog of winter closed off the Salinas Valley from the sky and from all the rest of the world.  On every side it sat like a lid on the mountains and made of the great valley a closed pot.  On the broad, level land floor the gang plows bit deep and left the black earth shining like metal where the shares bad cut.  On the foothill ranches across the Salinas River, the yellow stubble fields seemed to be bathed in pale cold sunshine, but there was no sunshine in the valley now in December.  The thick willow scrub along the river flamed with sharp and positive yellow leaves.

(My mentor Howard Pease continues) This introductory paragraph takes you to the Salinas Valley—in California, if you know your Steinbeck, the time is winter, specifically December.  You may decide that this description is gray and dull.  Still, note the yellow stubble as well as the willow scrub with yellow leaves.  In spite of the gray environment, something flames up, perhaps within the protagonist, who enters the story in the fourth paragraph.

The Tenth Rung of the Character’s Growth Ladder

10. Reconciliation
9.   Separation
8.   Denial
7.   Disruption
6.   The reversible step into the Danger zone
5.   The first irreversible step into the Risk zone
4.   The opportunity

3.   The plan
2.   Temptation
1.   Motivation

What does first irretrievable step mean for other characters—if they were to have their own ladders?

In terms of the protagonist, there are several interpretations.  Here is one.

In the standard mystery, where the protagonist is a detective, then this rung of the ladder would represent that action taken that exposes the protagonist’s examination of the events to the antagonist.  Here, the canon of mystery writing presents a very schematic approach to the application of the fifth rung to this other character, but this application hardly fits all writing genres.  For them, I consider:

In terms of minor characters (being neither the protagonist nor the antagonist), I will generalize how this rung is employed.

The fifth rung is about the possibility of others discovering the intentions of the character.  Abstractly, it could mean an action taken by the character that has a strong connection that can be traced back to the character.  In a family-drama, it could be the filing of divorce papers by a spouse.  This presumes that the motivation for divorce was hidden (and it may well remain that way).  It follows that having done this, the next rung is divorce.

“The Jet-Propelled Couch,” one of five psychoanalytic case-histories recorded by Robert Lindner, M.D., in his book, The Fifty-Minute Hour.

Opening Paragraph:
 
This case-history, the last in the book, has become a small classic in its field. The chair behind the couch is not the stationary object it seems. I have traveled all over the world on it, and back and forth in time. Without moving from my seat, I have met important personages and witnessed great events. But it remained for Kirk Allen to take me out of this world when he transformed the couch in my consulting room into a space ship that roved the galaxies.
 
(My Mentor Howard Pease continues) Our protagonist is Kirk Allen, and his case-history is being told from his doctor’s viewpoint. The “I” person is the observer who looks at and interprets the main character’s words and actions. This gives room for plenty of dialogue, always popular with readers. It is the method used in the interview type of article. Few writers, however—even professionals—give us so engaging a first paragraph as this one by Dr. Lindner.

The Murderer’s Equation: The Energy Equation of The Murderer’s Ladder

10. The necessity for eliminating the little overlooked clues and loose threads
9.   The false suspect
8.   The cover up
7.   The flight
6.   The actual killing
5.   The first irretrievable step
4.   The opportunity
3.   The plan
2.   Temptation
1.   Motivation

The topic line is sure to provoke head scratching—it is drawn from engineering where energy is conserved or lost to entropy.  Allow that the word entropy is not one that either an engineer, writer, or reader aspires to, so all groups would be better served if they understood the dynamics of the energy flow going up the ladder.

Motivation is the well from which the murderer’s principle energy is drawn.  In all worlds, engineering and art, motivation is about energy’s source and energy’s intended use.  Energy is transferred, but its waste through neglect in the writer’s or the engineer’s craft is rarely acceptable.

What is the energy equation?

total energy = energy taken – energy used – energy lost = 0

where both the engineer and the author seek to achieve:

energy taken = energy used

energy lost = 0

How does this translate into the murderer’s ladder—rung-by-rung?

What is the murderer’s equation?

murderer’s energy = 1 + 2 + 3 + 4 – 5 – 6 – 7 – 8 – 9 – 10 = 0

As can be seen, the well of energy is deepened by rungs 2, 3, and 4; but they account for little of the total energy available to the murderer which is found at the first rung of motivation.  Temptation (rung 2) and opportunity (rung 4) are driven by chance.  The energy from these rungs are sparks compared to rung 1’s flame of motivation.  Planning (rung 3) solidifies motive, and is a greater energy contributor than rungs 2 and 4, but it is still a small amount as plans do not have the same passionate energy as does motivation.

So, what happens when we look at this part of the equation:

– 5 … – 7 – 8 – 9 – 10

Each of these rungs on the ladder drain energy that could have been spent at rung 6, the murder, where the natural source of energy is intended to being consumed.  Rung 5 is the murderer’s energy expended because the murderer did not simply thrust the knife on the first opportunity (skipping over opportunity, rung 5, and plunging on).  Rung 5 drains the energy available to perform the murder.  In all regards this amount is negligible, but can be monumental in a hesitant (under-motivated) murderer.  This hesitation, of course, could make its own story.

For some motivations, the revenge story for instance, there should be no energy available for rungs 7, 8, 9, and 10—as passions would dominate all action, and passion would be completely drained at the ultimate act at rung 6.  The passion of revenge needs no escape, no containment of evidence, no false suspect.  Thus, the revenge story would have only 5 rungs, not 10.  This would be our equation, then:

murder’s energy = 1 + 2 + 3 + 4 … – 6 = 0

However, if this is more than a story, such as a revenge epic, then an epic is larger than a single act of murder.    An epic spans time or place and consists of many actions with many sources of motivation.  This would be the story of a serial murderer.  A simple serial revenge (Hatfields vs. McCoys) might look like:

murder’s energy = 1 + 2 + 3 + 4 – 5 – 6

+ 1 + 2 + 3 + 4 – 5 – 6

+ 1 + 2 + 3 + 4 – 5 – 6 – 7 – 8 – 9 – 10 = 0

where three murders are performed after three visits to the well of motivation—and presuming surplus energy was drawn to contend with the authorities after this string of murders.  Consider that the murderer is going to the well absolutely exhausted the second and third time.

As a twist, consider the psycho’s serial murder equation:

murder’s energy = 1 + 2 + 3 + 4 – 5 + 6

+ 3 + 4 – 5 + 6

+ 3 + 4 – 5 – 6 – 7 – 8 – 9 – 10 = 0

where the psycho’s motivation comes from murders which build a surplus of energy used in subsequent murders.  The psycho’s energy does not flag because the act of murder is their second source for energy.  However, all serializations come to an end.

This structure also suggests how complex plots can be energized, and that through successive murders, the psycho might reach for stronger victims of higher energy need.  So, returning above to the psycho’s serial murder equation, the first murder had a reserve of energy afterward.  The second murder did too.  Those two reserves of energy were sufficient to accomplish the third, but the consequences were inevitable.

“The Gold of Troy,” by Robert Payne

Opening Paragraph:

During the seventies and eighties of the last century an old gray-haired scholar, wearing a high collar and a sun helmet, was to be seen wandering over the ruins of an obscure mound in Asia Minor.  He was short and wiry, with dark brown eyes, high cheekbones, a heavy nose, and a sensual mouth; there was something of the peasant about him, something too of the Lubeck merchants who were  his ancestors.  He spoke in a high-pitched voice, dressed shabbily, walked with a curious gliding motion, and always carried in his coat pocket a dog-eared paper-bound edition of the Iliad or the Odyssey.  To the friendly inquirer he would explain that he had uncovered the ancient city of Troy and found in its walls a secret treasure hoard of gold, which he kept securely locked in his house in Athens.  He believed that the ashes of Odysseus, the crown jewels of the Trojan Empire, and the golden death masks of Agamemnon and many  other Greek heroes were in his possession, and it is just possible that his claims were justified.  Until he was long past middle age he never touched a spade, but during the last seventeen years of his life he excavated continually.  The most unscientific of archeologists, he founded the modern science of archeology.

(My mentor Howard Pease continues) Let me note here that this biography won critical acclaim as well as a place on best-seller lists.  Best sellers, good, bad, or indifferent, usually have one thing in common: they have a mass appeal; that is, the average reader finds them interesting enough to recommend them to friends.

It is at once evident that this is not a jazzed-up biographical novel based on more imagination than facts.  The opening paragraph, long and detailed, gives the impression that here is a book based on good, solid material.  The author presents his protagonist in an interesting way.  The mention of Odysseus, the crown jewels of the Trojan Empire and the death masks of Agamemnon echo in our minds like the opening bars of a song remembered from our childhood.  The author captures our attention and succeeds in luring us on to read further.

“The Nephew,” by James Purdy

(Bad) Opening Paragraph:

All the flags were out in front of the houses and stores in Rainbow Center on Memorial Day, as Boyd Mason drove his Buick back from a real-estate trip to Kentucky, and parked on the east corner of Peninsula Drive and Crest Ridge Road, at the side of his sister Alma’s house, where he had lived since his wife’s death twenty years before.

(My Mentor Howard Pease continues) This one-sentence paragraph contains more than a dozen facts, at least half of them not important enough to be included so soon. When you overload a first sentence or paragraph with so much information, your reader is apt to come up so wobbly and bewildered that you lose him. Therefore, prune your opening paragraph until only a few important facts are given.

Case of the Missing Cover-Up

10. The necessity for eliminating the little overlooked clues and loose threads
9.   The false suspect
8.  
7.   The flight
6.   The actual killing
5.   The first irretrievable step
4.   The opportunity
3.   The plan
2.   Temptation
1.   Motive

First, is a cover-up necessary?  Not for the assassin.  The false suspect provides enough distraction for a clean getaway.  No other details need addressing.

 

“Madame Bovary,” by Gustave Flaubert

Opening paragraph:

Madame Bovary had opened her window that gave on to the garden, and was watching the clouds.

They were gathering in the west, in the direction of Rouen, twisting rapidly in black swirls; out from behind them shot great sun rays, like golden arrows of a hanging trophy; and the rest of the sky was empty, white as porcelain. Then came a gust of wind; the poplars swayed; and suddenly the rain was pattering on the green leaves. But soon the sun came out again; chickens cackled; sparrows fluttered their wings in the wet bushes; and rivulets flowing along the gravel carried away the pink flowers of an acacia.

Here we have the protagonist placed at an open window. Next we are given a picture with movement as perceived by two, or possibly three, of her senses. Whether or not the wind struck Madame Bovary’s face is not indicated, but it did strike the trees. Notice that in his mention of trees Flaubert gets down to specifics. He names poplars and one acacia.

Now take a blue pencil and underline words presenting sound: rain was pattering and chickens cackled. Next take a red pencil and underline color words. I find five: black, golden, white, green, pink.

When an artist or illustrator writes a book, it is always noticeable how many color words he uses. Some writers use hardly any.

Once I handed back to a student his manuscript with the notation that it was what I called a gray piece of work; he had not brightened it up with a single bit of color, not even reds, blues or greens. When, a week later, his manuscript came back to me, I found that he had walked his protagonist up a garden path bordered with flowers of a dozen different colors. It was like a list of bouquets you might order for a wedding reception—no, you’d never order so many colors. I thought my student was trying to get a laugh out of me, but he assured me in all seriousness that it had not been intended as a joke. At once I saw I had failed to say:

Sprinkle color words into your manuscript.

“Advise and Consent,” by Allen Drury

Opening Paragraph:

When Bob Munson awoke in his apartment at the Sheraton-Park Hotel at seven thirty-one in the morning he had the feeling it would be a bad day. The impression was confirmed as soon as he got out of bed and brought in the Washington Post and Times Herald.

PRESIDENT NAMES LEFFINGWELL SECRETARY OF STATE, the headline said. What Bob Munson said, in a tired voice, was, “Oh. God damn!”

(My Mentor Howard Pease continues) The protagonist and setting are given, plus a hook that slides over into the second paragraph. The reader’s interest is caught, and he is off to a flying start.

Let me pause long enough to point out two faults in the opening sentence. The first is in the prose. Our better writers would use the personal pronoun he in the dependent clause and save the proper noun Bob Munson for the main clause, thus: When he awoke in his apartment … Bob Munson had the feeling it would be a bad day. The second fault is one of craftsmanship. The protagonist’s feeling that it would be a bad day is psychologically unsound unless he has a reason for facing the new day with anxiety. His impression is confirmed when he picks up the morning paper and reads the headline. But soon after we learn that this news is a surprise to him. He is also angry, because, as majority leader of the Senate, he was not informed in advance by the President.

Case of the Missing False Suspect

10. The necessity for eliminating the little overlooked clues and loose threads
9.  
8.   The cover up
7.   The flight
6.   The actual killing
5.   The first irretrievable step
4.   The opportunity
3.   The plan
2.   Temptation
1.   Motive

The False Suspect is more a convention of taste and times when it appeared.  A False Suspect is useful, but could also be an unnecessary plot elaboration.

The type of murderer that climbs past this rung in the ladder probably wouldn’t miss it.  However, an insecure murderer might be at a loss.

 

The Plan, the third rung of The Murderer’s Ladder

10. The necessity for eliminating the little overlooked clues and loose threads
9.   The false suspect
8.   The cover up
7.   The flight
6.   The actual killing
5.   The first irretrievable step
4.   The opportunity
3.   The plan
2.   Temptation
1.   Motivation

The plan is the structuring of motivation to use the components of temptation to anticipate probable opportunity.

The plan needs to cover the who, what, where, why, and when of action.

The who: the antagonist and temptable characters.

The why and what: found where the motivations of the antagonist and tempted characters converge.

The where and when: as observed in the temptation

What is needed next is an opportunity that looks much like the temptation that was offered in rung 2.

The antagonist is under a modest stress of optimism where temptation proves there are opportunities.  Thus, at the elemental level, planning engages the emotion of joy.

The Ninth Rung of the Character’s Growth Ladder

10. Reconciliation
9.   Separation
8.   Denial
7.   Disruption
6.   The reversible step into the Danger zone
5.   The first irreversible step into the Risk zone
4.   The opportunity
3.   The plan
2.   Temptation
1.   Motivation

What does first irretrievable step mean for other characters—if they were to have their own ladders?

In terms of the protagonist, there are several interpretations.  Here is one.

In the standard mystery, where the protagonist is a detective, then this rung of the ladder would represent that action taken that exposes the protagonist’s examination of the events to the antagonist.  Here, the canon of mystery writing presents a very schematic approach to the application of the fifth rung to this other character, but this application hardly fits all writing genres.  For them, I consider:

In terms of minor characters (being neither the protagonist nor the antagonist), I will generalize how this rung is employed.

The fifth rung is about the possibility of others discovering the intentions of the character.  Abstractly, it could mean an action taken by the character that has a strong connection that can be traced back to the character.  In a family-drama, it could be the filing of divorce papers by a spouse.  This presumes that the motivation for divorce was hidden (and it may well remain that way).  It follows that having done this, the next rung is divorce.

“The Late Love of Dorrie Hayes,” by Mary Jane Rolfs

Opening Paragraph:

Dorrie Hayes had never had so much happiness that she could take any for granted.  She was the kind of girl who had endured many of the small aggravations of life and some of the big ones.  As an adolescent, she had been fat with an unreliable complexion and crooked teeth.  When time and diligence had corrected these misfortunes, she started growing tall at an alarming rate and her hair was completely unmanageable.  There were a few years of relative calm and then it started all over again.

(My mentor Howard Pease continues) This first paragraph is author’s statement.  Miss Rolfs tells us a few selected facts about her protagonist.  We are beginning to know a bit about the outer girl and the inner girl, her looks and her worries.  Our sympathy is roused.  Dorrie’s predicament makes us recall the years when we, too, were dissatisfied with our appearance, those years before we finally decided upon acceptance.  Most readers will want to know more about Dorrie and how she solved her problem.

The Course of Europe Since Waterloo, by Walter Phelps Hall, PhD, and William Stearns Davis, PhD.

Opening Paragraph:

On August 7, 1815, a stately British ship of the line glided out of the harbor of Torbay, and turned her prow southwestward, seeking the broad Atlantic. Upon her quarterdeck paced a little man, stout and heavy-shouldered, with a thick neck and head set low. He was clad in a much-worn green uniform of a French army officer, and the young naval lieutenants watched him curiously, yet with awe, as he walked the deck hour after hour, or stood at the porthole of his cabin, his face pale and set, his deep bloodshot eyes looking across the sea—“eyes that seemed to look at everything, and yet at something beyond.” The ship of the line was the Northumberland. Her passenger was Napoleon Bonaparte. He was bound for St. Helena, there to die a most unresigned prisoner on May 5, 1821.

(My mentor Howard Pease continues) Here is proof, I think you’ll agree, that a textbook need not be dull and need not be poorly written. The late William Stearns Davis, one of the authors, was a novelist as well as a historian, and he used fiction techniques when collaborating upon this textbook. Notice that he starts on a definite day and gives a picture of a ship in motion. Next he focuses upon the ship’s deck and shows us a little man in action. Suspense, beginning with the reaction of other officers to this man, mounts steadily until the hook is finally tossed out—the man’s name.

Take away the last part of the final sentence, which jumps ahead in time, and you have a professional first paragraph for a novel. Thus, were it fiction instead of a history text, your paragraph might end with the sentence: Her passenger was Napoleon Bonaparte, bound for St. Helena.

“Monastery Road,” by Eric Mitchell

Descriptive Paragraph:

Anthony was too excited to sleep.  At midnight he heard the cook’s drunken voice raised in song behind the inn and later a rooster crowing; he saw the first grey light of dawn streak bits of sky through the narrow window.  He sprang up from his mattress before anyone else was awake and hurried, shivering in the early chill, to the wash basin outside the back door … He put on his clothes in the dark.  His loose surcoat had blue and tawny stripes.

(My mentor Howard Pease continues with an exercise) Now underline with your two colored pencils: blue for any of the senses used, red for the color words.

Next, let me say that here is an author who makes use of color words as well as the five senses, and usually he uses both with exactness.  This paragraph, however, happens to contain a flaw, a statement about color, that mars the flow of the narrative.  Can you spot it?  Pause for a moment until you find it.

Here’s the flaw: If our protagonist is putting on his surcoat in the dark, he cannot see its colors, and neither can we.  A small inaccuracy, yes.  Still, it is a tiny hurdle which an alert reader might stumble over.  Therefore, when you present any of the five senses in your writing, take care that your statement is physiologically possible.

The Seventh Rung of the Character’s Growth Ladder

10. Reconciliation
9.   Separation
8.   Denial
7.   Disruption
6.   The reversible step into the Danger zone
5.   The first irreversible step into the Risk zone
4.   The opportunity
3.   The plan
2.   Temptation
1.   Motivation

What does first irretrievable step mean for other characters—if they were to have their own ladders?

In terms of the protagonist, there are several interpretations.  Here is one.

In the standard mystery, where the protagonist is a detective, then this rung of the ladder would represent that action taken that exposes the protagonist’s examination of the events to the antagonist.  Here, the canon of mystery writing presents a very schematic approach to the application of the fifth rung to this other character, but this application hardly fits all writing genres.  For them, I consider:

In terms of minor characters (being neither the protagonist nor the antagonist), I will generalize how this rung is employed.

The fifth rung is about the possibility of others discovering the intentions of the character.  Abstractly, it could mean an action taken by the character that has a strong connection that can be traced back to the character.  In a family-drama, it could be the filing of divorce papers by a spouse.  This presumes that the motivation for divorce was hidden (and it may well remain that way).  It follows that having done this, the next rung is divorce.

The Fifth Rung of the Character’s Growth Ladder

10. Reconciliation
9.   Separation
8.   Denial
7.   Disruption
6.   The reversible step into the Danger zone
5.   The first irreversible step into the Risk zone
4.   The opportunity
3.   The plan
2.   Temptation
1.   Motivation

What does first irretrievable step mean for other characters—if they were to have their own ladders?

In terms of the protagonist, there are several interpretations.  Here is one.

In the standard mystery, where the protagonist is a detective, then this rung of the ladder would represent that action taken that exposes the protagonist’s examination of the events to the antagonist.  Here, the canon of mystery writing presents a very schematic approach to the application of the fifth rung to this other character, but this application hardly fits all writing genres.  For them, I consider:

In terms of minor characters (being neither the protagonist nor the antagonist), I will generalize how this rung is employed.

The fifth rung is about the possibility of others discovering the intentions of the character.  Abstractly, it could mean an action taken by the character that has a strong connection that can be traced back to the character.  In a family-drama, it could be the filing of divorce papers by a spouse.  This presumes that the motivation for divorce was hidden (and it may well remain that way).  It follows that having done this, the next rung is divorce.

“The Chase and Capture of Adolf Eichmann,” by Bela von Block.

Opening Paragraph:

The tall, gaunt man with protruding ears and a receding hairline got off the bus and started to walk along the murky Buenos Aires street. Outwardly he was relaxed, just another working man after a hard day. Inwardly he was tense, watchful—as he had been, day and night, for 15 years.

(My Mentor Howard Pease continues) With the use of the three fundamentals the author catches our attention by beginning this article at a moment in time just before the climax. First, a character is presented in action in a definite setting; then comes the hook. Though this reads like fiction, it is fact.

Notice that the protagonist’s name is not given. There are two reasons for this. His name is given in the title. He is also now living under an assumed name, perhaps one of many that he has used since Hitler’s Germany crashed under the onslaught of the Allied Forces. He is a man hiding from retribution.

“Youth,” by Joseph Conrad

Descriptive Paragraph:

And this is how I see the East.  I have seen its secret places and have looked into its very soul; but now I see it always from a small boat, a high outline of mountains, blue and afar in the morning; like faint mist at noon; a jagged wall of purple at sunset.  I have the feel of the oar in my hand, the vision of a scorching blue sea in my eyes.  And I see a bay, a wide bay, smooth as glass and polished like ice, shimmering in the dark.  A red light burns far off upon the gloom of the land, and the night is soft and warm.  We drag at the oars with aching arms, and suddenly a puff of wind, a puff faint and tepid and laden with strange odors of blossoms, of aromatic wood, comes out of the still night—the first sigh of the East on my face.…

(My mentor Howard Pease continues) Pay attention to the fact that the author places the protagonist in a certain place—in a small boat offshore—and through that young man’s consciousness we get an impressionistic picture of the landfall, in the morning, at noon, at sunset, at night.  It is a picture in words that appeals to three of our senses, sight, smell, touch.

H. L. Mencken said of Conrad: “There have been, perhaps, greater novelists, but I believe that he was incomparably the greatest artist who ever wrote a novel.”

“A String of Beads,” by Somerset Maugham

Plunge Opening:

“What a bit of luck I’m placed next to you,” said Laura as we sat down to dinner.
“For me,” I replied politely.

“That remains to be seen.  I particularly wanted to have the chance of talking to you.  I’ve got a story to tell you.”

At this my heart sank a little.  “I’d sooner you talked about yourself,” I answered.  “Or even about me.”

(My mentor Howard Pease continues) We learn from this that we are probably beginning a first-person, observer’s story about someone we have not yet met.  And we also get the impression that if Laura is to tell the story, her interpretation will be different from the observer’s, the “I” person, Mr. Maugham himself.  Except for setting—a dinner party—we get nothing else.
Maugham’s first goal in writing was clarity, and indeed this plunge opening is instantly understood by a reader.

“The Snake,” by John Steinbeck

Descriptive Paragraph:

It was almost dark when young Dr. Phillips swung his sack to his shoulder and left the tide pool.  He climbed over the rocks and squashed along the street in his rubber boots.  The street lights were on by the time he arrived at his little commercial laboratory on the cannery street of Monterey.  It was a tight little building, standing partly on piers over the bay water and partly on land.  On both sides the big corrugated-iron sardine canneries crowded in on it.

(My mentor Howard Pease continues) Here the setting shows the protagonist as part of his environment.  A further step gives us his name, and we learn that he is young.  By implication we gather that Dr.  Phillips is not a medical man but a scientist who runs a commercial laboratory on cannery row; therefore, he is no doubt a marine biologist.

Notice that he is in action.  We glimpse the tide pool and the rocks on the beach.  We do not see the town itself until the protagonist arrives at his laboratory.  The time element is mentioned twice, but not by clock.  This gives the impression that Dr. Phillips is a man who works until it is too dark to see.  Notice, too, the active verbs climb and squash, both used without adverbs.

Case of the Missing Temptation

10. The necessity for eliminating the little overlooked clues and loose threads
9.   The false suspect
8.   The cover up
7.   The flight
6.   The actual killing
5.   The first irretrievable step
4.   The opportunity
3.   The plan
2.  
1.   Motive

What is the murderer’s ladder without temptation?  Every detective moves forward on the motive of the criminal, just as they count off their suspicions in that the suspect had the motive, means, and opportunity (fled the scene, resisted arrest, etc.).

This a professional murderer.  The temptation is anticipated by the motive (the need for money), and the remaining ladder steps (at least to actual murder) are expected to be performed professionally (and even the problems that may crop up during and after).

How is the professional murderer distinct from the psychotic murderer?  The professional may be psychotic; but the psychotic is not professional.

If the absence of temptation so closely hews to psychology, it could also be the hallmark of the romantic murderer.  However, this would an obsessive, romantic murderer.

“Lord Jim,” by Joseph Conrad

Opening Paragraph:

He was an inch, perhaps two, under six feet, powerfully built, and he advanced straight at you with a slight stoop of the shoulders, head forward, and a fixed from-under stare which made you think of a charging bull.  His voice was deep, loud, and his manner displayed a kind of dogged self-assertion which had nothing aggressive in it.  It seemed a necessity, and it was directed apparently as much at himself as at anybody else.  He was spotlessly neat, appareled in immaculate white from shoes to hat, and in the various Eastern ports where he got his living as ship-chandler’s water-clerk he was very popular.

(My mentor Howard Pease continues) Observe that, instead of the protagonist’s name being given in the opening paragraph, the author uses the pronoun he, just as Kipling does in “Kim.”  This can be very effective, especially so when the title contains the name of the protagonist.  Lord Jim is a translation of Tuan Jim, as he was called by the Malays in Singapore and other Eastern ports.

Temptation, the second rung of The Murderer’s Ladder

10. The necessity for eliminating the little overlooked clues and loose threads
9.   The false suspect
8.   The cover up
7.   The flight
6.   The actual killing
5.   The first irretrievable step
4.   The opportunity
3.   The plan
2.   Temptation
1.   Motivation

What is temptation?

It is the imagining of motivation’s needs being fulfilled.

Temptation, as a social interaction observed by the antagonist, contains the necessary elements to lead to the antagonist’s preferred outcome.  Those elements are the who, what, where, why, and when.

The who: characters that can act on the antagonist’s needs.

The what: needs of the characters that mirror those of the antagonist.

The where: the setting of the characters’ social interaction is suited to the antagonist’s preferred setting.

The why: the characters display flaws (their own motivations) that can be manipulated.

The when: the characters’ social interaction exhibits a problem that is not isolated in time, it remains unsolved, and it can resurface later to the antagonist’s advantage.

The antagonist’s observed social interaction’s outcome may not be the preferred one, but the antagonist appreciates the temptation of being able to prompt the characters, stage the setting, and direct the action.  This only requires planning.

The antagonist is under a modest positive stress (eustress) of release.  Thus, at the elemental level it engages joy.

“The Ambassadors,” by Henry James

Opening paragraph:

Strether called, his second morning in Paris, on the bankers, in the Rue Scribe, to whom his letter of credit was addressed, and he made this visit attended by Waymarsh, in whose company he had crossed from London two days before.

As this comes from chapter five’s opening paragraph and lacks a hook, I included it as an example of a long sentence.  It is exposition, but it puts a lot of water over the dam to then move into the story line.

The First Rung of the Character’s Growth Ladder

10. Reconciliation
9.   Separation
8.   Denial
7.   Disruption
6.   The reversible step into the Danger zone
5.   The first irreversible step into the Risk zone
4.   The opportunity
3.   The plan
2.   Temptation
1.   Motivation

What does the motivation step mean for other characters—if they were to have their own ladders?

If you have arrived here from the Murderer’s Ladder, then motivation could easily be anticipated as being revenge driven.  However, this does not remove that same possible drive from other characters—especially the murderer’s henchmen.

Alternatively, motivation could be inspired out of compassion … from the murderer, the murderer’s henchmen, the murdered, the investigator, others, or all.  That is to say that motivation is individual and could be as similar or as different as those individuals.  None have been put to the test of their motivation, that remains at the next step of Temptation.

As a general observation, however, most motivations can be examined and unwound to simpler motivations that arrived early in the character’s life.

“A Jury of Her Peers,” by Susan Glaspell

Opening Paragraph:

When Martha Hale opened the storm door and got a cut of the north wind, she ran back for her big woolen scarf. As she hurriedly wound that round her head, her eye made a scandalized sweep of her kitchen. It was no ordinary thing that called her away—it was probably further from ordinary than anything that had ever happened in Dickson County. But what her eye took in was that her kitchen was in no shape for leaving: her bread all ready for mixing, half the flour sifted and half unsifted.

According to my Mentor, Howard Pease, this satisfies 3 requirements:

1. Name your protagonist, your main character.

2. Mention setting, so the reader will immediately know the story’s background: a farm, a city street, a boardinghouse, a hotel, a plane. The time element is often included as an important part of the setting—the time of year, the time of day.

3. Throw out a small hook to catch the reader’s interest.

“The Past,” by Ellen Glasgow

Opening Hook Paragraph:

I had no sooner entered the house than I knew something was wrong. Though I had never been in so splendid a place before—it was one of those big houses just off Fifth Avenue—I had a suspicion from the first that the magnificence covered a secret disturbance. I was always quick to receive impressions, and when the black iron doors swung together behind me, I felt as if I were shut inside a prison.

(My Mentor Howard Pease continues) This story is not to be an intellectual puzzle but a more emotional story, no doubt with chills and thrills. Though this paragraph gives other information, the emphasis from the first to the last sentence is on a hook opening.

Case of the Missing Irretrievable Step

10. The necessity for eliminating the little overlooked clues and loose threads
9.   The false suspect
8.   The cover up
7.   The flight
6.   The actual killing
5.  
4.   The opportunity
3.   The plan
2.   Temptation
1.   Motive

The leap from opportunity to killing shows immediacy, and the plunge past the point of no return.

There is no hesitation in the murder, it must be a passionate murderer who does this.

“Red Sky at Morning,” by Richard Bradford

Descriptive Paragraph:

It snowed for three days in early November, and the people of Sagrado put their cars in garages and walked everywhere.  Amadeo, who came in from Rio Conejo every morning in the pickup, put snow chains on the rear tires and loaded the truck with three hundred pounds of concrete blocks to get traction.  An entire family of Navajo Indians froze to death in a drafty hogan near Beclabito, where the temperature went to 46 below one night.  Forest rangers on snowshoes hiked up to Bernal Peak and announced that the 117 inches of snowpack promised a good spring runoff ….

(My mentor Howard Pease continues) This opening of a chapter in a novel is presented here for a purpose.  Instead of a static passage describing the New Mexican town of Sagrado under snow (Santa Fe?), the author shows action, what the local people did as a result of a sudden change of weather.

The Second Rung of the Character’s Growth Ladder

10. Reconciliation
9.   Separation
8.   Denial
7.   Disruption
6.   The reversible step into the Danger zone
5.   The first irreversible step into the Risk zone
4.   The opportunity
3.   The plan
2.   Temptation
1.   Motivation

What does first irretrievable step mean for other characters—if they were to have their own ladders?

In terms of the protagonist, there are several interpretations.  Here is one.

In the standard mystery, where the protagonist is a detective, then this rung of the ladder would represent that action taken that exposes the protagonist’s examination of the events to the antagonist.  Here, the canon of mystery writing presents a very schematic approach to the application of the fifth rung to this other character, but this application hardly fits all writing genres.  For them, I consider:

In terms of minor characters (being neither the protagonist nor the antagonist), I will generalize how this rung is employed.

The fifth rung is about the possibility of others discovering the intentions of the character.  Abstractly, it could mean an action taken by the character that has a strong connection that can be traced back to the character.  In a family-drama, it could be the filing of divorce papers by a spouse.  This presumes that the motivation for divorce was hidden (and it may well remain that way).  It follows that having done this, the next rung is divorce.

“He Turned Disaster into Triumph,” by Martin Abramson

Opening Paragraph:

When the phone rang, Jennie Hanners walked across the living room of her home in suburban Long Island, N.Y., lifted the receiver and listened in stunned silence as a gruff voice told her that her husband, a respected high-school teacher, had been arrested and charged with the crime of fraudulently procuring narcotic drugs.

(My Mentor Howard Pease continues) This is the first sentence of the opening paragraph. Notice again how an author, even when writing non-fiction, focuses upon a moment in time, with a character in action and a hook.

Motivation, the first rung of The Murderer’s Ladder

10. The necessity for eliminating the little overlooked clues and loose threads
9.   The false suspect
8.   The cover up
7.   The flight
6.   The actual killing
5.   The first irretrievable step
4.   The opportunity
3.   The plan
2.   Temptation
1.   Motivation

What is motivation?

Emotional energy to apply toward fulfilling needs.

Motivation contains the elements of who, what, where, when, and why.

Who: The antagonist—or any character.

What: Unfulfilled need.

Where: Here.

When: Now.

Why: Pain is always near.

What is needed next is for the antagonist’s motivation to be engaged through the observation of social interaction that fulfills needs and supplies a model of movement.

For my purposes in writing espionage fiction, the CIA has already done my work for me in a clever report called The Psychology of Treason.

Defector’s Motivation

  • Motivation comes from outside and personal character traits are magnified by the crisis of despair.

  • Defection is seldom ideology based, and then only in the form of nationalism or religion.

  • Benefit comes from opportunity to counterattack, to get even, to get vengeance and justification.

  • Principal motivation can be found in problem areas: marital, mistress, wrong sexual preference, drinking, gambling, money, career.

  • Subordinate motivation described as “having been passed over,” disregarded, humiliated, about to be arrested for a common crime (embezzling), being jilted. Each crisis is measured in terms of appropriate age and experience.

The material above is equally applicable to other antagonist psychologies (returning to murder, or family drama).

The antagonist is under a modest to intense stress of anxiety.  Thus, at the elemental level it engages either fear, anger, or disgust.  However, as a matter of the antagonist (or any character for that matter) coming to becoming filled with motivation, the experience is energizing.

“The Labors of Hercules” by Agatha Christie

Dialog:

(My mentor Howard Pease introduces an exercise) For Example No. 1 we’ll examine dialogue paragraphs that do not contain any hurdles, yet show no consistency in method.  Here are ten consecutive paragraphs from Agatha Christie’s The Labors of Hercules:

Hercule’s voice interrupted him.

“Why will they be all right I when you are gone?”

Hugh Chandler smiled.  It was a gentle, lovable smile.

He said, “There’s my mother’s money.  She was an heiress, you know.  It came to me.  I’ve left it all to Diana.”

Hercule Poirot sat back in his chair.  He said, “Ah!”

Then he said, “But you may live to be quite an old man, Mr. Chandler.”

Hugh Chandler shook his head.

He said sharply, “No, M.  Poirot.  I am not going to live to be an old man.”

Then he drew back with a shudder.

“My God! Look!”  He stared over Poirot’s shoulder.  “There—standing by you. … ”

(Howard Pease continues) This paragraphing wastes space—and paper—by giving a separate paragraph to the speech of a character and a separate paragraph to the action of that same character.  I’ve often wondered if Agatha Christie wants to make her stories appear longer than they really are.  Let’s use the Henry James technique.

Hercule’s voice interrupted him.  “Why will they be ‘all right’ when you are gone?”

Hugh Chandler smiled.  It was a gentle, lovable smile.  He said, “There’s my mother’s money.  She was an heiress, you know.  It came to me.  I’ve left it all to Diana.”

Hercule Poirot sat back in his chair.  He said, “Ah!”  Then he said, “But you may live to be quite an old man, Mr. Chandler.”

Hugh Chandler shook his head.  He said sharply, “No, M. Poirot.  I am not going to live to be an old man.”  Then he drew back with a shudder.  “My God!  Look!”  He stared over Poirot’s shoulder.  “There—standing by you. …”

By using this method, what have we gained?  We’ve gained several lines of print.  We could revise, also, and delete he said several times and the prose would still be clear as well as less wordy.

Prose, like everything else, changes through the years.  Until the middle of the nineteen-twenties, writers used synonyms galore in an effort to get away from the monotony of using said too frequently.  The protagonists declared, asserted, offered, observed, responded, rejoined—the list is almost endless.  Then a rebellion set in.  Dashiell Hammett and Ernest Hemingway dropped all these synonyms.  Their characters simply said something, usually in short declarative sentences.

(from a collection of opening paragraphs at www.secondroot.com)

The Cover Up, the eighth rung on The Murderer’s Ladder

10. The necessity for eliminating the little overlooked clues and loose threads
9. The false suspect
8. The cover up
7. The flight
6. The actual killing
5. The first irretrievable step
4. The opportunity
3. The plan
2. Temptation
1. Motivation

What is the cover up?

This is work on diminishing all connections of the antagonist to the crime.

If the protagonist is involved, then the antagonist may be forced to improvise.  The antagonist’s improvisations to cover up the crime and its association to them will undoubtedly include personal characteristics that conflict with the details offered in the cover up.

The cover up contains the basic elements of who, what, where, when, and why.

The who: The antagonist and characters in pursuit.

The what: Examining the evidence.

The where: Here.

The when: During the investigation.

The why: The antagonist’s need for evidential distancing.

More that may be needed is for the antagonist to frame a character as suspect.

The antagonist is under a high stress of anticipation of success or failure.  Thus, at the elemental level it engages fear.

The False Suspect, the ninth rung on The Murderer’s Ladder

10. The necessity for eliminating the little overlooked clues and loose threads
9.   The false suspect
8.   The cover up
7.   The flight
6.   The actual killing
5.   The first irretrievable step
4.   The opportunity
3.   The plan
2.   Temptation
1.   Motivation

What is the False Suspect?

This is a character who fills many essential traits as antagonist, but not all.

In the closing rounds, there are several possible candidates, characters who could be the unknown antagonist.  Investigation, events, or competition reduces that pool.

The false suspect contains the basic elements of who, what, where, when, and why.

The who: Characters showing similarity to the antagonist.

The what: Examining each as suspect.

The where: Here.

The when: Closing the investigation.

The why: Narrow in on the antagonist.

More that may be needed is for the antagonist to argue away the loose threads that connect to the killing.

The antagonist is under a high stress of anticipation of failure.  Thus, at the elemental level it engages either anger or fear.

The Fourth Rung of the Character’s Growth Ladder

10. Reconciliation
9.   Separation
8.   Denial
7.   Disruption
6.   The reversible step into the Danger zone
5.   The first irreversible step into the Risk zone
4.   The opportunity
3.   The plan
2.   Temptation
1.   Motivation

What does first irretrievable step mean for other characters—if they were to have their own ladders?

In terms of the protagonist, there are several interpretations.  Here is one.

In the standard mystery, where the protagonist is a detective, then this rung of the ladder would represent that action taken that exposes the protagonist’s examination of the events to the antagonist.  Here, the canon of mystery writing presents a very schematic approach to the application of the fifth rung to this other character, but this application hardly fits all writing genres.  For them, I consider:

In terms of minor characters (being neither the protagonist nor the antagonist), I will generalize how this rung is employed.

The fifth rung is about the possibility of others discovering the intentions of the character.  Abstractly, it could mean an action taken by the character that has a strong connection that can be traced back to the character.  In a family-drama, it could be the filing of divorce papers by a spouse.  This presumes that the motivation for divorce was hidden (and it may well remain that way).  It follows that having done this, the next rung is divorce.

The Necessity for Eliminating the Little Overlooked Clues and Loose Threads, the tenth rung on The Murderer’s Ladder

10. The necessity for eliminating the little overlooked clues and loose threads
9.   The false suspect
8.   The cover up
7.   The flight
6.   The actual killing
5.   The first irretrievable step
4.   The opportunity
3.   The plan
2.   Temptation
1.   Motivation

What is the necessity about?

Loose threads have tripped up the antagonist into creating or explaining a rat’s nest of  counter-theories that fail to match up with the known facts.

This is the denouement between antagonist and protagonist.  The antagonist manipulates situations, people, and facts to try to piece together a rationale that removes the antagonist from suspicion or pursuit.

The protagonist has a complete view of the crime, and command of all the facts in a complete time-line that refuses forced insertions or deletions by the antagonist, or the antagonist’s agents.

The necessity contains the basic elements of who, what, where, when, and why.

The who: The antagonist and characters in conclusion.

The what: Examining the antagonist.

The where: Here.

The when: During the investigation.

The why: The antagonist’s need for personal distancing.

There is no more that can be done by the antagonist.

The antagonist is under absolute stress of imminent failure.  Thus, at the elemental level it engages either anger or fear.

The Eighth Rung of the Character’s Growth Ladder

10. Reconciliation
9.   Separation
8.   Denial
7.   Disruption
6.   The reversible step into the Danger zone
5.   The first irreversible step into the Risk zone
4.   The opportunity
3.   The plan
2.   Temptation
1.   Motivation

What does first irretrievable step mean for other characters—if they were to have their own ladders?

In terms of the protagonist, there are several interpretations.  Here is one.

In the standard mystery, where the protagonist is a detective, then this rung of the ladder would represent that action taken that exposes the protagonist’s examination of the events to the antagonist.  Here, the canon of mystery writing presents a very schematic approach to the application of the fifth rung to this other character, but this application hardly fits all writing genres.  For them, I consider:

In terms of minor characters (being neither the protagonist nor the antagonist), I will generalize how this rung is employed.

The fifth rung is about the possibility of others discovering the intentions of the character.  Abstractly, it could mean an action taken by the character that has a strong connection that can be traced back to the character.  In a family-drama, it could be the filing of divorce papers by a spouse.  This presumes that the motivation for divorce was hidden (and it may well remain that way).  It follows that having done this, the next rung is divorce.

Thoughts on the Use of An Author’s Inspiration

As I may have stated elsewhere, I proceed along one track alone even when I have several projects open.

This is a rare exception where I am progressing through the first of my X-Division Assignments series and I have shifted my antagonist role into a character I had originally thought of as being tertiary (not even secondary, and far from primary).  However, that shift needed to be supported by a robustness not originally built into this character.  What to do?

This is where I changed hats and approached the “what to do” problem through my seeing how The Murderer’s Ladder could fit into the scope of An Author’s Inspiration.  In that regard, I have introduced a new data file.  My current design for this character (called Smith) is found in Smith.ladder, as follows:

Smith’s motivation is due to loss in security through Soviet’s torture of brother in North Korean captivity.

Smith’s temptation to pursue revenge arrives in the form of the Soviets adding a mission in SF.

Smith establishes plan to poison Russian consul.

 

Smith is presented with an opportunity to proceed with plan through discovery of cache of lost radioactive isotopes from the early 50s.

Smith’s first irretrievable step is taken by bringing pressure upon the discoverer Hickey to conspire and keep secrets.

Smith uses a new confederate Sanderson to engage in poisoning Hickey, then an attaché for rehearsal.

Smith does not fly from the scene of conflict but instead shelters Sanderson and manipulates the crime scene.

Smith being unobstructed tries to complete the assault on the Russian consul.

Protagonist tests Smith’s false suspects for the validity of their being suspected.

Protagonist traps Smith in false, confused, or overlooked clues.

Some of this may appear cryptic (e.g. SF means San Francisco and is easily substituted in my mind), or in a contorted sentence construction (loss in security–the family was attacked through one member’s torture).  Such are the benefits and down-sides of keeping things short, but accessible.

“The Lottery,” by Shirley Jackson

Descriptive Paragraph:

The morning of June 27th was clear and sunny, with the fresh warmth of a full-summer day; the flowers were blossoming profusely and the grass was richly green.  The people of the village began to gather in the square, between the post office and the bank, around ten o’clock; in some towns there were so many people that the lottery took two days and had to be started on June 26th, but in this village, where there were only about three hundred people, the whole lottery took less than two hours, so it could begin at ten o’clock in the morning and still be through in time to allow the villagers to get home for noon dinner.

(My mentor Howard Pease continues) Here again we have the same three elements closely tied together: the setting, a village square; the time, ten o’clock in the morning; and the subject, a lottery.

Not until you reach the last two words—noon dinner—do you realize that the story is set back in time to the indefinite past.  What kind of lottery you as a reader are about to witness is gradually built up in a matter-of-fact way by implication—hints and suggestions rather than explicit statements—until at last understanding sweeps over you with a rising sense of horror.

(from a collection of opening paragraphs at www.secondroot.com)

“Lust for Life,” by Irving Stone

Plunge Opening Paragraph:

“Monsieur Van Gogh! It’s time to wake up!”

Vincent had been waiting for Ursula’s voice even while he slept, “I was awake, Mademoiselle Ursula,” he called back.

“No, you weren’t,” the girl laughed, “but you are now.” He heard her go down the stairs to the kitchen.

The hallmarks of the opening are present in the naming of the main character, establishment of the setting, and a hook of playful interplay and expectation.

“The Lonely Passion of Judith Hearne,” by Brian Moore

Opening Paragraph:

The first thing Miss Judith Hearne unpacked in her new lodgings was the silver-framed photograph of her aunt. The place for her aunt, ever since the sad day of the funeral, was on the mantelpiece of whatever bed-sitting-room Miss Hearne happened to be living in. As she put her up now, the photograph eyes were stern and questioning, sharing Miss Hearne’s own misgivings about the condition of the bed springs, the shabbiness of the furniture and the run-down part of Belfast in which the room was situated.

(My Mentor Howard Pease continues) Here we have Miss Hearne, probably nearing middle age. The setting is a shabby lodging house in Belfast. And the very small hook is Miss Hearne’s own misgivings about her new lodgings.

In reading novels you’ll find that writers apparently do not feel the need to capture the reader’s interest at once with a hook. The novel reader is a leisurely reader, and he will usually give you a chapter before he decides either to go on reading or to toss your book aside. In this opening paragraph about Miss Hearne the author emphasizes the aunt’s photograph, and for a reason. At the very end of the novel Miss Hearne moves into another lodging, and the first thing she does is to put this photograph on her new mantel. This is what writers call the circle pattern; the novel ends where it began, and the reader gets the impression of life going on as before for Miss Hearne.

“The Man who Shot Snapping Turtles,” by Edmund Wilson

Opening Paragraph:

In the days when I lived in Hecate County, I had an uncomfortable neighbor, a man named Asa M.  Stryker.  He had at one time, he told me, taught chemistry in some sorry-sounding college in Pennsylvania, but he now lived on a little money which he had been “lucky enough to inherit.”  I had the feeling about him that somewhere in his background was defeat or frustration or disgrace.  He was a bachelor and kept two servants—a cook and a man around the place.  I never knew anyone to visit him, though he would occasionally go away for short periods—when, he would tell me, he was visiting relatives.

(My mentor Howard Pease continues) The point of view in this story is the one so often used by Somerset Maugham.  It is the viewpoint of an observer, the “I” person, who tells us about the protagonist, an interesting friend or acquaintance.  We never enter the mind of the main character.  We merely see him in action and hear him talk, all of this interpreted for us by the observer, who is not even named.

“My Family and Other Animals,” by Gerald Durrell

Descriptive Paragraph:

July had been blown out like a candle by a biting wind that ushered in a leaden August sky.  A sharp, stinging drizzle fell, billowing into opaque grey sheets when the wind caught it.  Along the Bournemouth sea-front the beach huts turned blank wooden faces towards a greeny-grey, froth-chained sea that leaped eagerly at the cement bulwark of the shore.  The gulls had been tumbled inland over the town, and they now drifted above house-tops on taut wings, whining peevishly.  It was the sort of weather calculated to try anyone’s endurance.

(My mentor Howard Pease continues) Thus begins one of my favorite nonfiction books.  It is a first-person story of several years in the life of the Durrell family, a widowed mother and her four children.  Caught in a Channel town in weather continually bad, they voted in desperation to escape for one year to the inexpensive Greek island of Corfu.  Mrs. Durrell, slightly vague in her suggestions, always charming and never shocked, allowed that year to stretch by vote to five years.

“The Nigger of the Narcissus” by Joseph Conrad

Plunge Opening Paragraph:

Mr. Baker, chief mate of the ship Narcissus, stepped in one stride out of his lighted cabin into the darkness of the quarter-deck. Above his head, on the break of the poop, the night watchman rang a double stroke. It was nine o’clock. Mr. Baker, speaking to the man above him, asked, “Are all hands aboard, Knowles?”

The man limped down the ladder, then said reflectively, “I think so, sir.”

“Tell the boatswain to send all hands aft,” went on Mr. Baker, “and tell one of the youngsters to bring a good lamp here. I want to muster our crowd.”

(Howard Pease, my Mentor, offers) In reading any story by Conrad we need to focus all of our attention upon his prose. There are undertones and depths not always seen at first glance.

Here in a few words we learn that Mr. Baker is first officer on the Narcissus, that it is night—specifically nine o’clock— and the question “Are all hands aboard?” informs us that his ship is tied up in port. The word youngsters further informs us that Mr. Baker is not young, or he would not have used this term.

Notice the repeated taps on darkness: from the lighted cabin to the darkness of the deck, the night watchman, nine o’clock, a lamp needed. We are soon to meet the main character, James Wait, a black seaman. The mood of this novel is somber. The darkness is followed by somber daylight at sea, and then blackness and a terrific storm. On a deeper level are darkness and turmoil within the characters. All this is the work of an artist.

Case of the Missing Opportunity

10. The necessity for eliminating the little overlooked clues and loose threads
9.   The false suspect
8.   The cover up
7.   The flight
6.   The actual killing
5.   The first irretrievable step
4.  
3.   The plan
2.   Temptation
1.   Motive

What is the murderer’s ladder without opportunity?  Every detective moves forward on motive, means, and opportunity being the three supports to a murder.

The first irretrievable step being a leap, without timing or blending is another mark of the amateur murderer.  Or this could be the plunge of a romantic murderer.