I read last night at my writer’s group and someone asked what does this scene accomplish? What’s the goal? What’s the motivation? It had a number of goals—a clue was discovered, a relationship was strengthened, an important conversation happened—but for me the most important thing that happened was the mood changed.
I’m rewriting a mystery I wrote years ago, back in the days when I loved Elizabeth George, PD James and I watched PBS’s MYSTERY every Sunday night. I stopped reading Ms. George after she killed Lynley’s wife and the last PD James I picked up I had a hard time slogging through. Even though in junior high I set and accomplished the goal of ready every single Agatha Christie novel somewhere, somehow since then I’ve lost my love for mysteries. I’m not loving this book, but I do think it has its moments and because I think it’s worth resurrecting I spend a few hours on it each week.
But not all of those hours can be murder and mayhem. Sometimes I have to throw in the Boy Scouts, maybe string one or two of them up from hooks in the slaughter house (just for fun) and push them around. And if somebody’s hair gets tangle in someone else’s zipper—that’s all good, because sometimes the purpose of the scene is to change the mood.
From THE RHYME'S LIBRARY
Please, don’t let the boys be at the river, Blair prayed as she instinctively walked toward it. She glanced back at the house—no sign of Alec. Maybe the boys were with him. Still, she followed a path through some long grass toward the river—the worst case scenario.
Muffled voices and scuffling came from behind an outbuilding. She rounded the corner. A low fence surrounded a slaughter house. A beam studded with hooks ran above the boy’s heads, and from one of these hooks they had hung the boy by his feet. He swung wildly from a rope and the boys took turns pushing him. His face turned toward Blair, his mouth hung open, and he crossed eyes.
His distorted face loomed toward her, and she rushed toward him. “Boys -” she began, as his head swung ominously close to the slaughter house wall. He hurtled at her, his head hitting Blair in the belly and lifting her off the ground. She screamed and fell to her knees. The swinging boy twirled around her head, her hair tangling in the teeth of his jacket zipper. He balanced on her head, his legs and arms kicking and flailing while the boys laughed. Blair’s shoulders sagged under his weight.
“My hair!” Blair called out while the boy twisted, trying to free himself. Every movement tugged on her hair. With one hand she tried to keep the boy from swinging, while the other clawed at her tangled hair. “Hold still! Ow!”
Someone gave an outraged gasp and another burst out laughing. She knew that she had to look ridiculous with a boy attached to her head like an elaborate hat.
“What happened here?” Blair recognized Alec’s voice. She tried to knee-hop so that she could see him.
“We weren’t doing nothing-” a boy said.
Blair still couldn’t see Alec, but she cried out to him, “Get this boy off my head!”
“I think her hair is stuck,” a boy offered.
“How-” Cheryl began, but her words were lost in laughter.
Blair tried to wrench her hair free and immediately her hair tightened in the zipper’s teeth. “Help me!”
Alec stepped forward to clasp the boy. It helped to have the him still, but Blair couldn’t think of a time when she had been in a more uncomfortable position. Cheryl began to tug Blair’s hair, but her hands shook as she laughed. Blair considered hitting her.
“Stop,” Blair told her. She struggled to keep her weight on her uninjured leg. “You’re hurting me.”
“I’m just trying to help,” Cheryl said, working at the jacket. “Jacob, can you get out of the jacket?”
“We need some scissors,” Alec said.
“You can’t cut my jacket,” Jacob said. “My mom would kill me.”
“We’ll have to cut her hair,” Cheryl said.
“I’ve a pocket knife,” a boy said.
“That’ll work,” Alec said.
“You’re going to cut my hair with a knife?” Blair’s voice rose to a squeak.
“It’s my knife,” the boy said. “So, I get to do it.”
“No,” all of the adults said at once.