Monday, September 3, 2012

Questions from a book club

I am scheduled to speak at a book club later in the month, and in preparation for that they have sent a list of questions that would be of interest. These are book readers, but some of them also write stories. When I finished answering the questions I thought perhaps other readers would also be interested. Below are the questions and my replies. Hope it's helpful or at least interesting.


· How did I get interested in writing?

I’ve always been a reader and a writer of stories. I used to write fairy tales when I was a kid, they never ended well. I’m better and braver when I’m writing.

· How do I do research?

Google is my friend! I do a lot of on-line research, talk to experts in person or on the phone and visit places I want to describe in the book. Even after the book is started I do mini-research forays each morning as needed for the plot, setting or dialog.

· How do I keep going?

The story and characters drive me forward. They haunt my sleep and creep into my every day activities demanding to be brought to life.

One valuable thing I have learned from other writers is that there comes a point in the manuscript, for every author, when the whole thing seems like garbage. The characters lack depth, the plot is too thin, the writing is just plain bad and the setting is unrealistic. When you reach that point, and you will, the temptation to toss the whole thing in the trash is strong. If you can push through it and keep writing, you will go through that point, complete your book, and it will seem brilliant to you once again. The trick is to anticipate this point in the writing process and not let it paralyze you. Easier said than done.

· How do I develop characters?

I imagine them from bits and pieces of people I have known, seen in movies and on television, government figures, etc. I give them a name, describe them, find a picture in a magazine or advertisement that looks like my idea of them, and write a biography of each major character - a short sketch for minor characters. Once the writing starts and the characters begin to speak and interact with each other, a funny thing happens. Somehow they become more than I had imagined them to be. They sort of take on a life and personality of their own, and sometimes I breakout laughing at some of the crazy things they say or do. No, I’m not really crazy. I’m pretty sure.

· Do I get cooperation from other authors and groups?

No one loves talking about the craft as much as authors, and they love lending a helping hand to up and comers. Writing and critique groups are a great resource, and the writers in the groups give generously of their time and experience. This is in direct contrast to the corporate business world where information is power and to share power is a career killer. Authors love what they do and they want everyone else to love it too, and maybe even give it a try.

· Do I research in libraries?

Not even once, but it could happen.

· What is the flow, organization of a story?

This is what works for me, gleaned from many source books on how to write as well as advice from established authors on the web. Not every story will have every element within the main plot points, and no two authors use the same process.

Dead bodies are, of course, found throughout the story line:

     1. Introduction of the crime/mystery
a. Start with a main character doing something interesting - action
b. Describe a Major Change and Story Goal
c. Identify the crime
d. Establish the Villain and his Short Term Quest
e. Introduce Minor Characters
f. Insert Clues
     2. Rising Action
a. Begin Romantic Lead sub-plot
b. Introduce the Red Herring
c. New Disaster
d. Plausible suspects introduced
e. Describe the villain’s point of view
f. Mid-Point of book
   1. Romantic scene
   2. Re-examine evidence
   3. New Action Plan
g. Villain gets Upper Hand - disaster for Main Character
h. Romantic Lead’s or Best Friend’s back story
i. Red Herring is cleared
j. Violent Scene - Big Disaster
k. Showdown for various characters
l. Sub Plot question is answered
     3. Black Moment
a. Major Disaster
b. Romance is doomed
c. All is lost
      4. Climax
Major Action Scene, pull out all the stops and leave no doubt that this is the climax. The scene ends well for the main character.
     5. Final Resolution
a. Tie up loose ends
b. All questions are answered
c. Closing scene (frosting on the cake for readers)
· Some tips I’ve learned along the way

1. Start with an idea that’s big enough to sustain an entire book

2. Decide on the major characters early and get to know them well

3. Set a timeline and insert the major elements listed above onto it

i. Select the suspects - every suspect has a motive, a secret, and some plausible link to the crime

ii. Choose the clues – they should point to one or more suspects, or even (gasp) to the main character

4. Research when you are not an expert – ballistics, international law, foreign accents, police procedures, etc.

5. Write an outline of action scenes – a few words only

6. Expand these into short paragraphs – no dialogue yet

7. Begin writing descriptions and dialogue with a pattern of scene – sequel – scene - sequel: scene being dialogue and/or action; sequel being thoughts and plans of the point of view character. The sequel ends with a plan for action, which leads into the next scene.


That's pretty much it - see if you can identify these elements of story telling in the next mystery book you read.