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?