Thursday, July 17, 2014

The Process

I, Donis, am working on a new book right now, and am very interested to see how it's going to turn out. I never know what the entire story will be before I begin. I learned early on that you may think you have it all figured out, but you don't. However, in all my previous mysteries, I at least had a murder in mind before I actually began writing. I knew who was going to meet his or her doom and how, where the body was going to be discovered and by whom. I usually knew who did the deed, though I'm flexible about that. Before I start, I always think I know why the killer did it, but to date, by the time I reach the end I discover I was wrong. The motive seems get modified every time.

Thus far I have written about 135 pages for the nascent Book Eight. I know which characters will be involved, I know where the story will be set, what the season will be, what historic events will unfold, what the side stories will be. But I haven't yet discovered a body!

A murder mystery isn't really about the murder, of course. It's about the mystery. But without a murder, or some other incredibly compelling reason for your protagonist to get involved, it's mighty hard to create the mystery. Not long ago, I told someone she should "trust the process" with her writing. Even if you don't know where the story is going to go, just start writing and trust that all will become clear as you go along. Have faith that the answer will reveal itself in time.

I should pay attention to myself.

My Alafair Tucker series started in 1912 and has moved forward years or months with each book. Book Eight has finally reached the spring of 1917, and World War I. I've done tremendous amounts of research. For each of my books, I keep a notebook and file full of information that I read up on as I need it.  I’m maybe one-third of the way into this new book, and just before I sat down to write this entry, I was perusing the file, and was interested to see how much information I’ve collected about the American home front during WWI.  Much of my research won't be used, for as a book advances, some of the ideas I started out with fall by the wayside.   

As I write on, brilliant new ideas for advancing the story will occur to me, and I’ll find myself looking up things I never would have thought of, otherwise.

Is this a "writing process"? I don’t know. Ideas come to me from the oddest places–from something I’ve read, or some off-hand comment someone says within earshot of me (be careful what you say around a writer). Once or twice from a dream I’ve had. In any event, the idea gets in my head one way or another and wiggles around in there for a while. Eventually it begins to take shape and I think, “That might make a good story.” I choose a narrow time period, such as April of 1917, and start reading the April 1917 newspapers from anywhere in eastern Oklahoma to see what was going on in the world and what Oklahomans were thinking about it. This usually adds layers of story to my basic idea. Then I ponder some more, make a few notes, and then start writing. Where the story ends up is as big a surprise to me as to anyone. It usually turns out better than I had planned, so thus far I have no reason to complain.

Mickey Spillane, when asked how much research he does in the interest of authenticity:  “None.  My job is not to tell the truth.  My job is to make you believe.”(Note:  I’ve used that quote for years, but when I looked it up for this entry, I see that it’s actually “I don’t research anything.  When I need something, I make it up.” However, I like my version, so there it is. D.)

1 comment:

Eileen Goudge said...

Your writing process sounds a lot like mine, Doris. As for research, I generally hold off until after the first draft is written, so I don't waste time compiling notes on something that'll end up on the cutting-room floor.