Thursday, August 14, 2014


How does a writer get from an idea to a finished book?

 There are hundreds of ways. This is mine. This process can occur at any speed although now I am a full time writer, it happens faster. I start with an idea plus a question and I build a complex story in about three months. The thing is—the complex story I create is the BACK story, not the book. Generating the first draft takes another thirty days, IF I stick to my schedule.

Writers discuss at great lengths the benefits of plotting or not plotting. I love organization. I like to know details. And yet I love the discovery that comes serendipitously with writing freely. It’s taken me two decades to find my process. I write mysteries and my process caters to both styles.

My journey involved trying different approaches. I wrote my first book with an idea, a cast of characters and a location. Turned loose on the page, I produced a story that worked even if the craft was shaky. I spent the next decade studying craft.

I wrote the next two books using what I call the “and then” list and various other plotting devices as outlined in numerous how-to books. I generated my story flow with a simple, but not necessarily easy, concept. And then....

  • -          Suzie got a letter from her aunt begging her to come for a visit.
  • -          And then...Suzie booked vacation and went to her aunt’s place.
  • -          And then...she found her aunt on her death bed...

Once I had my event flow, I expanded each into a scene, added GMC (goal, motivation and conflict) and built the book one scene after the other changing as needed. That’s the key point. CHANGE AS NEEDED. I believe that an outline, a synopsis, a plot plan—whatever you call it—is flexible.

Somewhere in the process, I read Robert Ray’s book, The Weekend Novelist Writes a Mystery. From that I garnered generic scene titles. Murder Occurs, Sleuth on Stage, Murderer on Stage, and so on. This focused my understanding of scenes that drive a mystery and my process came together. 

Now I create a complex back story but free-write the actual book. 

It all starts with an idea/event and a question. 

The basic idea of my current work in progress:

  •   A teenage girl learns her father is a robber about to be caught. She is given a new ID and a knapsack with $50,000 in cash and sent off on her own.

The question:
  • It’s now fifteen years later. Where is she, what is she doing and how has this impacted her life?

I start a notebook and a computer file. I list ideas. I ask the questions we were taught in high school English. Who, what, when, where, why and sometimes how. I write freely and without censure.

Underlying all creating is the major question: WHO CARES AND WHY?

For the current WIP I generated information in the following areas, collecting snippets and grouping them as they appeared.

  • -          The Historic Crime – who besides her father was involved—why, what when, where and what went wrong. And where is everyone from the heist now? Who has the money?

  • -          Plot line possibilities (Main and sub-plots) 
o    The murder and its solution (external)
o     Character 1’s quest (internal)
o   Character 2’s struggle to fit in (subplot 2) 
o   Character 3’s dilemma – does she come clean with information? Is she the killer?
  • - Characters
o   Who: A list of everyone who will be in the book (I have a series so some are a given.)
o   Why certain characters might be the killer.
o   What vested interest does each character have in what’s happening
o   What is their history, their hidden agenda...And more....

  • -          Clues
o   Physical evidence that might point to killers (forensics)
o   Story / history tidbits that might surface to reveal the killer (character story)

  • -          Possible key scenes (starting with Ray’s generic list)

o   Murder occurs/ discovered/ reported
o   Sleuth on scene
o   Suspects/ Witnesses on scene...and so on

This process occurs in lurches and unrelated tidbits. It finally reaches critical mass, and I’m ready to write. I pick a starting point, usually a scene or two before the murder. I turn my characters loose to tell me the story. I write asking what happens, who was there, what did they see, think, feel, tell and the story evolves.

In the beginning, I have no fixed plot. I know I need to identify and catch the killer. I know clues and reasons. I do NOT know who did it. Means, method, opportunity and motive appear as I write and each scene grows out of a previous scene. 

So do I plot? Not traditionally.  Do I write by the seat of my pants? Not exactly. I use a combination approach that works for me.


Writers can only write the way that works for them. What writing process works for you?