Plotter-Writer & the Golden Gate Murders

A Plotter-Writer Confesses

plotter-writer confessesI am a writer. Plotting is part of my business. Which makes me a plotter-writer. Only — just sometimes — I forget it isn’t other people’s business too and they Don’t Want To Know.

When I got my first flat, I would go home every three or four weeks for a weekend. It was my one big opportunity to communicate with my father, who thought the telephone was for emergencies. Even face to face he didn’t chat much. So, after my mother had gone to bed, we would end up watching a late-night movie on television in affectionate but largely silent companionship.

The Golden Gate Murders

Golden Gate Bridge, fog

Late-night movies were a variable lot but, one night, we found a mystery that was very promising. Large numbers of people appeared to be killing themselves by jumping off a fog-shrouded Golden Gate Bridge. Gravelly-voiced David Janssen (the original Fugitive) was a disillusioned cop who wasn’t certain they were suicides. The last jumper was a visiting foreign priest and his amanuensis, a South African nun, cancelled her flight home in order to supply the San Francisco Police Department’s deficiencies and prove that he would not have endangered his immortal soul by self-slaughter.

So far, so classic. OK, the bridge looked a bit rickety. Apparently they couldn’t get permission to film on the real one, so they built a mock-up of sections and used a lot of studio fog. But the atmosphere was filled with menace, the acting was real first-division stuff and the plot was intriguing.

Character is Plot

A Dirty Harry catFor these characters are remarkable and their growing relationship is complex, mature and totally believable. Janssen, already the Thinking Woman’s Loner and now coming to the end of his career, inhabits the disillusioned cop as if he knows him to the core. The character lives alone in a shabby flat with a cat called Dirty Harry, allegedly a tribute to Janssen’s mate, Clint Eastwood. So I am more than ever convinced that this role was special to him.


Susannah York as nun

Susanna York’s determined nun is a wonderful contrast to the grumpy cop — well-travelled, highly educated, articulate, passionate in her convictions and marginally less streetwise than a San Franciscan eight-year-old. She runs out of money, so ends up flat-sharing and grocery-shopping with the cop. And when he refuses to take her to the waterfront with him — because her nun’s habit will scare off the down-and-outs that he needs to talk to — she makes him take her shopping for ordinary clothes, too.

Millisecond clue

From what I recall, across the gulf of many years, he takes her to a department store and steams ahead impatiently. (Sound familiar?) She hesitates for a tiny moment at a strappy silver sequin numbera strappy sequin number, and you see all the silly fun things she hasn’t done in an otherwise full life. Then she laughs and follows him to buy her sensible navy skirt and jacket.

It is a touching, truthful moment. “Ah,” I said, misty-eyed and knowing a set-up when I saw it, “he’ll be buying that for her, then.” My father harrumphed. She was a nun. There’d be no point. I was talking nonsense.

Pay Off

hooded killer


So the hooded horror who throws people off the bridge is identified and caught in an exciting, fog-swirling climax. Job done. Cop justified. Nun proved right. Also, these two are now definitely in love. Only nobody’s saying so.


Nun goes and books her flight home to Johannesburg. Cop takes her to the airport. Their conversation is both intimate and awkward. And neither of them even mentions the possibilities.

By now, I am on the edge of my chair. I would be screaming at the television if my father wasn’t bristling with expectation that I will do just that.

Her flight is called. Janssen rushes off, comes back with a crumpled grocery sack and thrusts it into her hands as she heads for passport control. No, no, no, he’s given her doughnuts, this can’t be happening.

He starts to walk out of the airport. She finds her seat on the plane, the attendant tries to take the grocery sack from her . . .

doughnut bag

Not doughnuts


“Of course,” I say, “it won’t be the same silver dress as the one in the department store. But he’ll have found something approximate on the concourse . . .”

My father arose in his wrath. “I am never,” he said, “watching a movie with you, ever again. You spoil everything.”


Make sure your inner Plotter is on silent running, at least until the movie’s over.



12 thoughts on “Plotter-Writer & the Golden Gate Murders

    1. Sophie Post author

      I’m so glad it shows, Beryl. We could be pretty prickly together, but the fundamental affection was solid and I think we both knew it.

  1. Louise Allen

    This did make me laugh. I do it all the time and drive DH mad with cries of ‘Aha! Now, that’s just been introduced because 3 episodes later he’s going to want to…’ and then make things worse by trying to explain about not introducing a gun into chapter one if it isn’t going to be fired before the end (yes, I’m misquoting and I’ve forgotten who that was) at which point DH is in a huff and we’ve missed 5 minutes of vital plot.
    On the other hand I’m always finding when I’m writing that something I put in 10 chapters ago and wasn’t sure why ties up beautifully by the end. Either I’ve got a superior subconscious or , more likely, I’m a shocking plotter.

  2. Sophie Post author

    I seem to remember that it was Chekhov, Louise, but I could well be wrong. Not a lot of guns in Chekhov.

    I still do it with drink taken, which is often in the company of other writers, fortunately.

    I agree about the subconscious dropping in clues you don’t notice until you need to use them. I do sometimes wonder is there’s a ghost in the attic doing the driving. In which case, I’d have a bone to pick with him about sodding writer’s block.

    1. Joanna

      I had a vague idea it was Raymond Chandler? But may be mixing it up with his dictum that, if he was ever stuck in his plot, he had a man enter with a gun…

      1. Sophie Post author

        OK, I’ve checked. (Anal? Moi?) You’re absolutely right in one way, Joanna. It SHOULD have been Chandler, who knew a thing or two about guns. But it looks as if it really was Chekhov, though the source seems a bit confused.

        I remember the ‘pistol on the wall’ gag i.e. don’t have it on stage in Act 1 unless you’re going to fire in Act 2, which seems to come from a third party: Gurlyand’s Reminiscences of A. P. Chekhov, in Teatr i iskusstvo 1904, No. 28, 11 July, p. 521

  3. katyhaye

    I did that at university one time with a Stephen King film. “Such and such will be killed next.” (It wasn’t subtle). When it happened, my (engineer) flatmate looked at me open-mouthed. “How did you know?”

    I do try to keep my mouth shut now I know not everyone can see the scaffolding…

    1. Sophie Post author

      I think it’s more that they don’t wan’t to see the scaffolding, Katy. Part of my father’s pleasure in the movie was that it provided a series of surprises. He wanted to keep his expectations deep in his subconscious, so that he could feel he’d been given a present when they were realised.

      I can’t blame him – I’m inordinately pleased when something happens in a story and I didn’t see it coming!

  4. AnneGracie

    I LOVE this story — and I love that you wanted the happy ending too. Yes of course it was the silver lame dress. Add me to the list of people who rewrites the endings of movies — why are they so afraid of happy endings? Bah humbug!

  5. Elizabeth Bailey

    Love this. Laughed like a drain at the end, though I can sympathise with your father. My friend in the house drives me mad by saying “Oh, I know this one” or “I know what happens” when I’m watching my favourite crime series. She gets a swift shut up!

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