According to plan…

C.E. Grundler

I’m ever amazed by the ways stories can mold characters, and characters can mold stories, and if, rather than fighting what is taking shape on the page you simply go with it, you may find yourself with unexpected and surprising results.  And one of the finest examples of this writing zen comes from one of my favorite authors, Donald Westlake.

Westlake was a prolific writer, turning out a wide range of titles and writing under many names, including Richard Stark. Through Stark, he wrote a series of gritty, hard-boiled capers featuring a character known only as Parker. Parker was a tough, remorseless, no-nonsense guy, and according to Westlake, one of the books he was working on, The Hot Rock, involved a heist gone wrong again and again, forcing Parker to again and again re-steal the same gem. It was turning into a comedy of errors, too funny, a laugh-out-loud chain of mishaps… and that wasn’t Parker’s style. In fact, the more Westlake tried, the more the plot and character refused to work together, until he eventually stuffed the entire manuscript in a drawer and moved on to other projects. Yet the story still called to him. It still begged to be written, and it led Westlake to create the equally determined yet far less successful John Dortmunder, a hang-dog, pessimistic fellow who is so used to things going wrong that he’s wary when they don’t. It’s not that Dortmunder isn’t a criminal mastermind – his plots are brilliant, his execution perfectly thought out and timed – it’s just that Dortmunder has the worst luck and nothing he comes up with ever goes as planned. And with Dortmunder and his cast of colorful cohorts, Westlake went on to write an acclaimed series of exceptionally funny and entertaining capers, which goes to show that even when things don’t go as planned, that might be just what you want.

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