Thursday, November 11, 2021

The Process

 I, Donis, am working on a new Alafair Tucker mystery 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 murderer 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 by the time I reach the end I often discover I was wrong. The motive seems get modified every time.

Thus far I have written about 50 pages for the nascent Alafair Eleven. 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 who killed the victim!

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.

I've taken a few years off from my Alafair Tucker series to work on three Bianca Dangereuse Hollywood Mysteries set in the 1920s, so working on another Alafair feels a bit like coming home. This series started in 1912 and moved forward years or months with each book. Book Eleven has finally reached the spring of 1921, a period fraught with racial tension after the end of WWI, especially in eastern Oklahoma. 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, 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 post-WWI Oklahoma history.  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 March of 1921, and start reading the March 1921 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.)


Anna said...

Donis, of course it's a writing process. Need you ask?

Tanya said...

Donis, thanks for sharing your process. I always find it fascinating to hear how writers go about creating their fictional worlds, and every writer I know has a unique path or system. Some need more research and structure (at least a rough outline) and others are more pantser, go-with-the-flow types. Some are very disciplined about their writing schedule and others hit-or-miss. Your method seems like a good hybrid of planning and giving yourself enough flexibility to allow the muse to show up and lead where it wants to. I think because of my work as an editor, I tend to do more research than I probably need to before writing. Need to push myself to jump off that ledge sooner!