Friday, February 20, 2009

How do you start a book?

I’m in the process of working on the plot for my fifth Greg McKenzie mystery. So far it has been mostly ideas stirring around in my brain. That’s been going slowly, I suppose, since the brain deteriorates with age. Doesn’t it? To paraphrase an old folk song, "the old gray matter, she ain't what she used to be."

Oddly enough, the first idea out of the box did not deal with character or setting or plot action. Well, setting, in one of its narrow aspects. We're talking about time. The series has been moving at a leisurely pace through the calendar. Designed to Kill took place at the first of November, Deadly Illusions followed with the first blush of spring (does spring really blush?), and The Marathon Murders sweated out the steamy days of August. So, I reasoned, the next adventure should occur at Christmastime.

Wouldn’t you know, in Greg years, it’s still 2004. If I could do that, I wouldn’t be quite 80 yet.

Okay, back to the plot. As all my fans (both of them) know, I am a seat-of-the-pants plotter. I don’t outline the whole story in advance. I take a basic idea, brief my characters on it, and shove them out the door. Heck, why should I do all the work?

The problem is I have to come up with more characters than Greg and Jill McKenzie, my indefatigable pair of senior sleuths. That’s where the fun begins.

With a one-paragraph plot summary on paper, I quickly came up with job descriptions for four possible bad guys. And just as quickly I spotted the one who really “did it.” I started out by giving him an age, then began to delve into his background. What about his early life would make him an interesting character? How did he become what he is today?

Okay, this is a mystery, and I’m not giving you any clues. I did a lot of Googling and bounced around the Internet quite a bit to track him down. I even used one site to pick his name. Hmmm, come to think of it, when I first began searching stuff online, Yahoo was the big thing. But you don’t hear of people Yahooing. They’ve been sort of left in the dust, haven’t they?

The subject of the plot is not one in which I’m particularly well versed, so I also searched about for some basic information on the business. I’ll give you a little hint there. It concerns professional sports. I decided my best bet to start my research in that field would be with a TV sportscaster. Interviewing one of the local guys will be my next step in the process.

I haven’t decided how Christmas will fit into the plot, but I’m sure Greg and Jill will be able to handle that. They’ve carried the day through four books so far. I have unlimited faith in them.

Sometimes I start a book before I’m ready with a full-blown plot by sitting at the computer and writing a first page. It may not be the same first page I end up with, but it gets the window open and the curtains blowing. I’m close to that point now. I’d better wrap this up and get me a cup of hot coffee. I think I here the Muse plodding up the stairs.


Cat Connor said...

I'm a seat-of-the-pants writer too. I like giving my characters enough room to hang themselves... I mean tell me their story. :)

Morgan Mandel said...

I confess to also being a non-outliner. Makes it tough at times, but also more exciting. At least I like to think so.

Morgan Mandel

Chester Campbell said...

Glad to see I'm in good company. I'm not knocking the outliners, though. Everybody goes at this writing game a little differently. As our French brethren (and sisteren) say, vive la difference.

L. Diane Wolfe said...

I confess - I am an avid outliner! I know the basics of the story before I write the first word, especially the details of the characters.

As you say, what works for one writer does not always work for another.

L. Diane Wolfe

Jane Kennedy Sutton said...

I'm another by-the-seat-the-pants writer. For my first book, I started off with a definite idea of where I planned to go but my characters had their own ideas, hijacked the plot and took over!

Jane Kennedy Sutton

Sharon Reece said...

Sounds like a very interesting thought process. I'm not sure I could ever tackle fiction and especially not mystery so I take my hat off to you!

Thanks for your comment on my blessing (empowering to prosper) blog post. I'll be praying for your stepson. And I plan to add more posts about blessing but I need some thinking time - which has been very scarce around here lately!

Sharon Reece

Anonymous said...

I like this post, to see how your puzzle pieces come into being. My stories come together in non-sequential scenes that the characters play out in my head when I'm not thinking about -- most often while I'm brushing my teeth.