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.

“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 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 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 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.

“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.

 

Case of the Missing Loose Threads

10.
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.   Motive

What is the murderer’s ladder without a wrap-up?

The object of missing clues and loose threads may have been resolved earlier.  This makes things (including the reader’s experience of reading) predestined.

As such, we have a predictable murderer.  There was never a mystery about who the murderer is, and the reader probably even knows the murderer’s complete ladder, instead of discovering the murderer at rung 5 or 6.

San Francisco Writers Conference

Another story worthy of mention is when I was briskly walking down Sutter Street to the conference at 7:45am Sunday morning. I was able to walk at my usual boyish pace where I could arrive at each corner as the light was about to change in my favor. I had done this hundreds of times while on TI, and the knack was with me.

When I stepped across Powell street, the sound of the ringing cable line beneath the street brought back memories of weekend Liberty getting underway.

I slowed to “smell the roses” so to speak. My pace altered. Soon, I stood at a corner next to a pan-handler.
“Cold day to start your job,” I said.
“I gotta do it so’s I can go to McDonald’s for breakfast.”

My partner had stuffed my pockets with bite-sized portions of some energy bar and a length of jerky. I pulled them all out and gave them to him. He thanked me. Then, as I turned to catch the changing light, he added:

“My doctor wants me to get rid of my accordion.”

I was hooked (as only an author can be). I turned away from the corner to re-join him. We were the only people on those cold streets’ intersection.

“How’s that?” I asked.
“I had hip surgery, and he doesn’t want me hauling a 50 pound accordion around. I busk on this corner. That accordion is Italian made with silver and precious woods.” He then did an impression of lugging it along the sidewalk with a distinct strain on his hip.

I took every bill out of my pocket ($20-$50) and placed it in his hand.

We were both struggling artists, even if our situations were different.

“Miriam,” by Truman Capote

Opening Paragraph:

For several years, Mrs. H. T. Miller had lived alone in a pleasant apartment (two rooms with kitchenette) in a remodeled brownstone near the East River.  She was a widow: Mr. H. T. Miller had left a reasonable amount of insurance.  Her interests were narrow, she had no friends to speak of, and she rarely journeyed farther than the corner grocery.  The other people in the house never seemed to notice her: her clothes were matter-of-fact, her hair iron-gray, clipped and casually waved; she did not use cosmetics, her features were plain and inconspicuous, and on her last birthday she was sixty-one.  Her activities were seldom spontaneous: she kept the two rooms immaculate, smoked an occasional cigarette, prepared her own meals and tended a canary.

Then she met Miriam.  It was snowing that night.  Mrs. Miller had finished drying the dishes.…

(My mentor Howard Pease continues) Notice the matter-of-fact prose which introduces the protagonist.  Mrs. Miller is an ordinary person; she might be any aging widow living alone.  Notice, too, that the second paragraph starts the story, the action.  From beginning to end, the prose is keyed to the first paragraph.  But the story itself is far from ordinary.  The interest slowly rises to a smashing climax in the final paragraph, an ending you’ll not forget.

“Power of Attorney” by Louis Auchincloss

Opening Paragraph:

No one of his law partners or clients, or even friends who considered themselves closest to him, knew the secret of Morris Madison. They saw a tall, thin, tax expert, at the height of his career in his early fifties … They suspected all kinds of lacks in his life, besides the obvious ones of a wife and children, and in the free fashion of a psychiatrically minded era they attributed his reserve and good manners to every kind of frustration and insecurity. But none of them suspected that he had a passion.

(My mentor Howard Pease continutes) Notice that the first sentence—again the author telling—catches our interest. Next comes a brief description of the protagonist, plus his place in life, and his age. Then we learn what his friends think of him. The final sentence, like the first, is a hook to hold our interest and lure us into reading the next paragraph. In this second paragraph, when the action begins, author’s statement shifts to the viewpoint located in the consciousness of the protagonist; and this Jamesian viewpoint continues throughout the story.

“Catbird Seat,” by James Thurber

Opening paragraphs:

Mr. Martin bought the pack of Camels on Monday night in the most crowded cigar store on Broadway. It was theatre time and seven or eight men were buying cigarettes. The clerk didn’t even glance at Mr. Martin, who put the pack in his overcoat pocket

and went out. If any of the staff at F. and S. had seen him buy cigarettes, they would have been astonished, for it was generally known that Mr. Martin did not smoke, and never had. No one saw
him.

(My Mentor Howard Pease continues) In analyzing this paragraph we note that the author is baldly stating what he wishes us to know.

First, by naming the protagonist Mr. Martin (and calling
him Mr. Martin throughout the story) we are nudged a short
distance away from him.

Second, the time and place are given at once, with the
noun Broadway a more subtle way of naming the city. Times
Square would have given us the same idea.

Third, there is certainly a hook that attracts our attention.

Why did Mr. Martin buy those cigarettes, mentioned by the
author four times in this short paragraph? And the last
sentence, No one saw him, further arouses our interest and
rightly leads us to expect to expect that these cigarettes will play an important part in the story.

“A Cold Potato,” by Peter De Vries

Dialog:

Sitting in a lawn chair tinkering with a broken bed lamp, Tom Bristol listened with half an ear to an account his wife, Alice, was giving of some neighbors with whom they’d recently become acquainted.  “Guess what the Twinings do,” she said.  She was sitting across a parasol table from him.  “When Bob is in the house, say, and Julia’s back in that studio barn where she does her clay modeling, they write each other notes.  And guess how they get them to one another.”  She paused, waiting for his response, but he was engrossed in his puttering.  He chewed his tongue and pulled faces as he worked.  “Do you know what they do?” Alice asked.  Tom grunted enquiringly, poking an electric cord through the back of the lamp base.  “They give them to Clementine—that cocker they have, you know—and Clementine delivers them.  And waits for answers!”  Alice laughed aloud.  “Isn’t that darling?”

(My mentor Howard Pease continues) Now, there is nothing wrong with this paragraphing—or, rather, lack of paragraphing—if you are quick at getting the idea that it is Alice who is doing all the talking.  However, let’s see what happens when we use the Henry James method.

Sitting in a lawn chair tinkering with a broken bed lamp, Tom Bristol listened with half an ear to an account his wife, Alice, was giving of some neighbors with whom they’d recently become acquainted.

“Guess what the Twinings do,” she said.  She was sitting across a parasol table from him.  “When Bob is in the house, say, and Julia’s back in that studio barn where she does her clay modeling, they write each other notes.  And guess how they get them to one another.”  She paused, waiting for his response.

But he was engrossed in his puttering.  He chewed his tongue and pulled faces as he worked.

“Do you know what they do?” Alice asked.

Tom grunted enquiringly, poking an electric cord through the back of the lamp base.

“They give them to Clementine—that cocker they have, you know—and Clementine delivers them.  And waits for answers!” Alice laughed aloud.  “Isn’t that darling?”

In using this method of paragraphing dialogue and using it consistently, the reader soon learns to know when one character stops talking and/or acting, and when another character begins.  From the reader’s viewpoint, this is a distinct gain.

The Opportunity, the fourth 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 opportunity?

It is a new or repeated temptation that fits into the plan, but is yet to be completely acted upon.

Given a good plan, when opportunity arises, the antagonist can be assured that the wheels of the plan will turn smoothly and lead to the fulfillment of motivation’s needs.

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

The who: All the characters are in their societal roles.

The what: All have convergent motivations.

The where: Here.  The stage is set.

The when: Now.  The curtain is about to rise.

The why: Pain is still near and relief is achievable.

All that is needed is for the antagonist to enact the plan.

The antagonist is under the subdued stress of anticipation of success or failure.  Thus, at the elemental emotional level it engages joy (because the motivation pay-off is possible).

Case of the Missing Plan

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.  
2.   Temptation
1.   Motive

What is the murderer’s ladder without a plan?

The opportunity is merely a second temptation, and thus falling to temptation, this must be the amateur murderer.

 

“The Feminine Mystique,” by Betty Frieden

Opening Paragraph:

The problem lay buried, unspoken, for many years in the minds of American women. It was a strange stirring, a sense of dissatisfaction, a yearning that women suffered in the middle of the twentieth century in the United States. Each suburban wife struggled with it alone. As she made the beds, shopped for groceries, matched slipcover material, ate peanut butter sandwiches with her children, chauffeured Cub Scouts and Brownies, lay beside her husband at night—she was afraid to ask even of herself the silent question—“Is this all?”

(My Mentor Howard Pease continues) Notice how the author mentions an unspoken problem, then gets down to specifics. The protagonist is the young married woman who lives with her husband and children on an income evidently not too small. The setting is any suburb. The hook is the question she is afraid to ask even of herself. Surely thousands of feminine readers will not only be caught on the author’s hook, they will also identify themselves at once with the protagonist, whose fixed activities are their own.

Case of the Missing Flight

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

What kind of murderer does not resort to flight?  This doesn’t include the subterfuge of going to jail on a lesser crime.  No, this has remoteness built in so that flying away is unnecessary.  Does that mean the murderer sticks with the corpse?

No, this could fit the role of the master criminal murderer accomplishing murder to their plan through others.

Removing the element of remoteness, necessarily brings the murderer back into the same room with the corpse, but with the murderer now straightening up—scene building—and roping in the False Suspect (now very necessary).

Erle Stanley Gardner’s “Murderer’s Ladder”

This discussion comes from the work Secrets of the World’s Best-Selling Writer, by Francis L. Fugate and Roberta B. Fugate, which describes the writing strategy of Erle Stanley Gardner through his novel writing phase of his long writing career.

The premise is that in writing the story from the protagonist’s point of view, the antagonist’s driving force is largely underdeveloped or developed just enough to only serve the author’s needs to propel the plot.  The unstated problem is that this can lead to complexity and elaboration that does not serve the plot or the reading.

Where does complexity and elaboration come into this, and why is it a problem?  These characteristics, which in any novel may be a qualities to hope for, often arrive unplanned in revisions and re-writes where clues and time-lines are backfilled in clumsily.  The appearance of a forced ending is also evidence of this clumsiness.

How did Gardner solve this for himself?  He codified antagonist character development programmatically in The Murderer’s Ladder.  Writers should recognize this as a back-story for the villain.  There are ten rungs on his ladder, the bottom-most is motivation.  At some point in the development of the antagonist’s side of the story, they will climb this ladder rung by rung until they reach the commission of an act that cannot be undone, and would reveal the crime in progress.  It is the point of no return.  The villain is committed even if the crime has not been fully performed.  Rather than describing the rungs fully (which I will do in succeeding posts), the following is the architecture where the entry point is at the bottom, with rung 1:

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

For the writer who is seeing this for the first time: although you are preparing a rough story out of these ten rungs, your own novel may enter anywhere—probably at step six, or soon before or after.

Although what I have offered is generally the substance of the topic, The Murderer’s Ladder, that is posted across the web, for me it is insufficient.  That said, I will embark upon posting an article for each rung to examine the intent of these ten key words and key phrases.

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

Opening Paragraphs:

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.

“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.

“The Autobiography of Malcolm X,” with the assistance of Alex Haley

Opening Paragraph:
 
When my mother was pregnant with me, she told me later, a party of hooded Ku Klux Klan riders galloped up to our home in Omaha, Nebraska, one night. Surrounding the house, brandishing their shotguns and rifles, they shouted for my father to come out. My mother went to the front door and opened it. Standing where they could see her pregnant condition, she told them that she was alone with her three small children, and that my father was away, preaching, in Milwaukee. The Klansmen shouted threats and warnings at her that we had better get out of town because “the good Christian white people” were not going to stand for my father’s “spreading trouble” among the “good” Negroes of Omaha with the “back to Africa” preachings of Marcus Garvey.
 
(My Mentor Howard Pease continues) If you study this opening paragraph you’ll find that the protagonist is the “I” person, Malcolm Little, born in 1925; later he took the name Malcolm X. The setting is the home of a black family in Omaha. The hook has the quality of shock, toned down by the mention of the teachings of Marcus Garvey.

“The Short Happy Life of Francis Macomber,” by Ernest Hemingway

Opening Hook Paragraph:

It was now lunch time and they were all sitting under the double green fly of the dining tent pretending that nothing had happened.

(My Mentor Howard Pease continues) This introductory paragraph, like Faulkner’s, consists of one sentence only.  While Faulkner’s is made up of fifty-seven words, Hemingway’s is twenty-four.  Yet note the carefully selected information in Hemingway’s sentence.  He does not overload it with facts.  Indeed, he suggests more than he states.  He deliberately chooses to limit himself by using the objective viewpoint. (More about this in the next chapter.) The curtain has gone up on his drama.  Like a theater audience we see the characters, watch their actions and hear what they say.  The author may suggest and give hints, but there is no delving into the mind of anyone, no effort made here to have us identify ourselves with anyone.

This one-sentence paragraph gives us the time of day, and the characters are mentioned, though they remain unnamed and unnumbered.  The word tent tells us that this is an outdoor story, and the double green fly and dining tent suggest wealth.  Knowing Hemingway and his fondness for big game hunts, we suspect that these people are on a safari.  Then comes the hook: they are pretending that nothing has happened.

“The Burning,” by Eudora Welty

Opening Hook Paragraph:
 
Delilah was dancing up to the front with a message; that was how she happened to be the one to see. A horse was coming in the house, by the front door. The door had been shoved wide open. And all behind the horse, a crowd with a long tail of dust was coming after, all the way up the road from the front gate between the cedar trees.
 
(My mentor Howard Pease continues) The protagonist, or main character, is named, and you see what happens through her eyes. You soon realize that Delilah is a slave, and the incredible hook is her picture of Sherman’s men coming to burn the plantation house. There is no mention or the date. In the simplest language, Delilah’s own language, the action moves forward with no comment from the author. You, the reader, draw your own conclusions.
 
(from a collection of opening paragraphs at www.secondroot.com)

The Flight, the seventh 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 the flight?

For the antagonist, flight (not necessarily escape) can vary from on-the-run if they become a suspect—to psychological distancing if the antagonist remains, but feigns innocence.

If all goes well, this is part of the antagonist’s plan that follows the commission of 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 flight contains the basic elements of who, what, where, when, and why.

The who: The antagonist and other characters.

The what: Distancing.

The where: Here or away.

The when: Following the killing.

The why: The antagonist’s apparent remoteness as alibi.

More that may be needed is for the antagonist to control the evidence.

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

The First Irretrievable Step, the fifth 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 the first irretrievable step?

This is the point within the time-line where the antagonist’s action cannot be taken back.

This step may not involve the actual commission of the act necessary to supply the needs of the antagonist’s motivation.  However, this step, if observed, will reveal motivation or the goal behind motivation.

The first irretrievable step contains the basic elements of who, what, where, when, and why.

The who: All the characters are in their societal roles.

The what: All have convergent motivations.

The where: Here.  The stage is set.

The when: Now.  The curtain is about to rise.

The why: Pain is still near and relief might be achievable.

All that is needed is for the antagonist to engage the plan fully.

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

Case of the Missing Murder

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

What is the murderer’s ladder without a murder?

This could be found in the realm of the missing corpse.  But what if there is no suspicion of there being a corpse?  Could it be a confession to an unknown murder?  Could this be a mystical murderer?