Wicked Wednesday-The Unexplained

Jessie: In New Hampshire, where there are more leaves on the ground than on the trees.

As we finish up our month of discussing The Unexplained, I wanted to ask a craft question. For my latest Beryl and Edwina , which released yesterday, I had to research the answers to a wide variety of questions before I felt ready to explain many of the story details to readers. Which parts of the writing process can you not leave unexplained in order to begin a novel? Do you have to know the murderer? The victim? The sub-plot?

Julie: Jessie, huge congratulations on Murder in an English Glade! I can’t wait to read it. I suppose it’s good that I’m starting this conversation. I spend a lot of time on my outline and plotting before I start writing. During that process, I figure it all out. There are times (like during writing Wreathing Havoc) that I stop and change my mind. But I don’t forge ahead until I settle my mind again. During the writing, there are changes, nuances, and subplots that take on more substance, but I need to explain the story to myself before I start writing.

Edith/Maddie: Congratulations from me, as well, Jessie! My copy is waiting for me at my local indy bookstore. I’m about as opposite a writer from Julie as you can get. I have to know the victim and the means of murder, and I always know the season. And that’s about it, at least for second and subsequent books in a series. I discover the suspects as I go along, and sometimes the true villain doesn’t reveal his or herself until well into the story. I write into the headlights on a foggy night, and I like it that way.

Sherry: Yay, Jessie! A new Beryl and Edwina novel to read! It’s been different for me with every book. Sometimes the murderer presents themselves first, sometimes the person who dies, sometimes a plot idea like wanting to write about a deserted sailboat that comes ashore like I did in A Time to Swill comes first. I love how it doesn’t always have to be the same and is one of the many fascinating things about writing. I don’t think a subplot has ever come first.

Liz: I usually start with the victim and work backwards from there. I figured out along the way that knowing the murderer before I start is going to help me stay on track, so I usually figure that out too. The rest is often up for grabs as I go along! Congrats on the new book!

Barb: Congratulations, Jessie! I’m so excited to see Beryl and Edwina again. I usually do general research around the theme of the book, by which in this case, I mean clamming, oyster farming, pottery, digital gaslighting, etc. (To name the last few.) And if I think the plot may turn on a particular type of law–property, insurance, inheritance–I will do enough research to determine if what I’m thinking about is even possible. When I start writing, I generally know what time of year it is, the “theme,” the victim, and how the body is discovered. From there on I am scaffolding all the way.

Jessie: Thanks for the warm wishes, everyone! Like Julie, I am a plotter. I start books with an idea of time and place and work from there. But before I start in on the actual writing I have an entire plot outlined. It isn’t fleshed out very much, no more than a line or two about the point of each scene, but I have to have it in place. I tried on my second to most recent novel to wing it and I ended up scraping 75,000 words! I went back to the plotting board and ended up selling the novel as the first in a new series!

Readers, are there things you have to know before you can embark on projects of your own or do you like to dive in and figure it all out as you go along?

16 Thoughts

  1. Always fascinating to learn how the writers whose work I admire get those stories on paper. Sometimes I wish writing were like Arthur Murray dance lessons. Instead, it’s like trying to herd cats, and when all those cats are going in the right direction – nirvana!

    My own writing has evolved. I was a pantser – sometimes still am, but now I’m more a plotster starting with a crime, a victim, a theme, and from there I write the reveal scene to give me a destination. It all changes along the way, and that’s fine. Kinda like life.

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  2. I’m a steadfast plotter in the daylight, but in the waking hour, I’m a pantser. For me, it all starts with turning an idea into a premise. Teachers I admire, such as James Scott Bell, K. M. Weiland, Blake Snyder, and John Truby, have written on using the premise as a strategic compass. Do I let my pantser-muse change course? Yes, but only after recalibrating my premise. Thanks for the excellent questions!

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    1. I love hearing about your process, Grant! I use a strategic compass sort of attitude in my life overall and as I thought about your comment, I noticed that my outline serves as just such a thing. It provides me bearings without an ​exact prescription.

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  3. Congrats on the new Beryl and Edwina, Jessica! If you would have asked me before I started writing a book, I would have said I was a plotter through and through. I love plans and schedules! But once I started writing- knowing only the premise of the book, who was killed, and who did it, it was amazing to see details, subplots, and plot twists just emerge from my brain as the words ended up on the page. Thanks to all the Wickeds for their insight into their process. It’s fascinating to see how different it is from writer to writer.

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  4. Congratulations, Jessie!

    I’m more like Edith. Friend Annette Dashofy called it a “flashlighter” and that’s me. I start with the victim, the crime, and possible suspects – then I plot as far as my “flashlight” can go, write, do a little more plotting, rinse, repeat until The End.

    In non-writing projects, I like to have at least a loose overview before I start.

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  5. As a young person, I was more impulsive with starting projects, but now I plan more. So excited for your current series and the new one starting up!

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  6. It depends on the project. Sometimes, I jump in to sink or swim. Other times, I am slower to make a decision.

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