The writing process never stops if you're an author... or at least it shouldn't. As I am always telling my sister I am constantly on the lookout for new story ideas, new thoughts about characters or scouting out new locations, whether online or by travelling there in person. The writers' senses need to always be on the alert for new thoughts or situations that can work in the next book. Sometimes I like to think that life is just one big story.
This week the idea for a new way of looking at things came to me as I was listening to mystery author, Suzanne Young, talk about her book, The Wrong Coat. She is the author of the popular Edna Davies mystery series and now she has started a new amateur series based in Colorado. She was speaking about how she developed her mystery stories. When I mentioned to my sister the ideas she presented, my sister asked, "why are you so excited about that? You know that already. You teach that in some of your classes."
This is one of the reasons I like to attend book talks by other authors or go to sessions where authors are presenting programs. We can not only learn new material, but we can also get a refresher course in those things that we already know or might not be using.
When I go to a conference or just to a book signing I always find myself taking a notebook along with me. I remember once attending a Harlan Coben booksigning and finding myself without any paper to write on -- I had forgotten my notebook. When a bestselling author starts talking about how he writes his books, you want to pay attention and before long I was writing on the back of every single receipt I had in my purse and even on the back of my parking ticket.
And that was how I felt about listening to Suzanne talk about writing her characters and how she decided what might happen next. Luckily Suzanne gave us a little notebook that I began to fill up with her thoughts so I have them now. Among her suggestions:
1. Really get to know your characters -- don't just to write down who they are but get to know them, and how they might react. Learn about them to the point where you know exactly how they will act in different situations. Then she suggested thinking of 20 things that could happen as you develop those characters to see what might happen next so that you can continue to more fully develop your plot.
2. Let the characters come out. Each character is going to be different and is going to react in a different way. Know who will react how and use it in your story.
3. Think about the pacing as you develop your plot. Too much movement and you are going to wear out the reader. Give some breathing points that slow the plot down.
4. Try a twist or two. For instance she used an example where there was so much action I was getting breathless just hearing all the bad things that could happen. Her suggestion -- try a twist that is the opposite of what the reader thought might happen.
5. Stay ahead of the plot. She says she knows what will come next in the plot before she writes a scene, but she also pays attention again to how she knows the character might react. She says that also helps her in her editing as well.
Her final tip was to know the plot so that by the time the author is finished writing the book the editing will be much easier.
Again, these were things that I have known, but as I told my sister, yes, but they are also things we need to be reminded of every so often as writers. And we also need to know that other writers out there are going through some of the same things we go through. Just listening to her talk about working on her book gave me new energy to come back and re-introduce myself to my characters and to once again dive into the writing process. Sometimes just hearing from someone else can make that sort of difference. Yes, we know it, but we can always stand to get a refresher course. And that was just what I got from Suzanne Young! The end result was a new resolution to put some of those writing processes to work again. And I got introduced to a wonderful sleuthing duo in the process!
Beryl Fishen and Nadine Rodd live in a Colorado retirement community. After attending a performance at a community theater, Beryl mistakenly receives the wrong coat. An initial search of the pocket reveals only scraps of paper but a closer examination leads Beryl to suspect that the tattered garment was purposely swapped for her much newer wrap. Furious at the injustice and temerity of the act, Beryl enlists Nadine's help. Armed with the clues found in the coat -- a grocery store list, a fast food receipt and a library slip, the two widows hunt for a thief and catch a killer.
Here is the buy link at Amazon:
The Wrong Coat
Thank you, Suzanne, for the refresher and for introducing me to a new mystery sleuth!