This is part of the September 2014 Sisters in Crime (SinC) Blog Hop. Authors answer one of several questions. I chose to write about what part of the writing process I enjoy most.
The writing process breaks into three parts: coming up with the idea, writing the first draft, and revising until ready for readers.
Each part of the process delights and frustrates me because each one stimulates a different part of my intellect and emotions. For plain old fun and excitement, though, nothing beats that first step of choosing a story’s building blocks—usually who, what, and where.
Any of the three may spark an idea, but most sparks soon go out. Writing an 85,000-word mystery takes real commitment. My enduring ideas integrate characters, plot, and setting into a story I can’t resist telling either because I can’t imagine how it will end or, more often with mysteries, because I can imagine the ending but not how the characters will get there. Whichever it is, if I don’t think the journey will entertain and satisfy me, I won’t put words on paper.
Here’s how the three building blocks came together for my Show Me series. The idea for the protagonist sprang from a news story about an outed CIA covert operative, drew on my personal experiences in living abroad, and crystallized as I planned to move back to my home state, Missouri, after being away for decades. I had my major ongoing characters and the setting in a struggling rural county.
What took more time was working out a plot that fit the major characters and the setting. I don’t know either the people or where they live thoroughly until I’ve written many pages, of course, and they change somewhat from book to book, but I had to acquaint myself with their goals, flaws, and major personality traits before I wrote the first words of Show Me the Murder.
Some writers know their characters instantly because they and their friends are the characters. I don’t find myself interesting enough to appear in my fiction. While some of my friends and family members would qualify, I wouldn’t expose what makes them so interesting to the world. I create my characters from scratch, blending pieces of hundreds of people I’ve known to create complicated beings who intrigue and amuse me. I revel in exploring the motivations, reactions, and attitudes of those who come to life on the page.
I approach setting in much the same way. I don’t stage a crime in a real place, but I try hard to reflect the region’s cultural and economic environment, including speech patterns and attitudes.
Ideas for plots often come from conversations with people around me and the local news. That includes not just crimes (e.g., meth cooking and importation in Show Me the Murder and rustling in Show Me the Deadly Deer) but economic and social problems (e.g., elder abuse in Show Me the Gold and racism in Show Me the Ashes, the upcoming books in the series).
Another factor to consider is whether the characters and setting will foster plots that will interest me, and readers, over several books. A part of the challenge is to find an idea you can expand on with pleasure and for profit for years.
For other SinC Blog Hops, go to Judy Hogan’s http://postmenopausalzest.blogspot.com (posted September 21, 2014), and Maya Corrigan’s “Writing While I Sleep” at http://mayacorrigan.com/smorgasblog (postied September 21, 2014).