By Vicki Delany, guest blogger
Every writer has a different approach to how to structure their novel. Some outline extensively; some do almost nothing in terms of planning. Some concentrate on plot, and the characters follow along; for some character is almost all they have.
Me, I build a story this way: setting-characters-plot. That is, I decide where to set the book, who’s going to be the main character or characters and then come up with a plot. Now that I’m working on a series, steps one and two are pretty much defined before I even begin.
My newest novel is titled Winter of Secrets, and is the third in the Constable Molly Smith series, from by Poisoned Pen Press. This book was a total departure from my usual style of writing, and I’d like to tell you about it.
For most of my adult life I was a computer programmer and then a systems analyst. I write books like I designed computer systems. I start at the end – I know who did it and why – and then I go to the beginning and create an outline that will, hopefully, chart a course to get me to that end. Like designing computer systems: you really should know what you want to achieve (i.e. is this programme going to credit the client’s account or debit it?) before you begin. I have met some computer programmes that I don’t think were ever intended to achieve anything, but that’s another matter.
I was spending Christmas 2007 in my favourite place in the world, Nelson, B.C., the inspiration for the fictional town of Trafalgar. It was snowing, quite heavily, but as is the norm in those mountains, there wasn’t any wind and the snow was falling straight down and not drifting. This, I thought, would be a mess if they had winds like we get in Ontario. And then the opening scene popped into my head.
What a great idea, thinks I. I started writing the first chapter and carried on typing frantically away from there. I knew who died, but I didn’t know who killed him, or why, or even if anyone did! It was quite a strange feeling; a pure leap of hope, that I would find some inspiration down the line.
I was nearing the climax – I knew what I wanted to happen there – but I was still unsure between two possible candidates for the role of villain. Over the course of the writing, I had several people in mind, but as it evolved only two were good prospects. I felt sort of like a real Constable Molly Smith, judging the suspects and juggling clues until, with a burst of inspiration, I solved the crime!
My second drafts are usually a lot of work, but with this book, it was even more so. Because I didn’t know that X was the guilty party, I had to go back and make X know more than they seemed to and Y know less. The personality of X didn’t change much throughout the book, but it had to be tweaked a bit to make the crime more plausible, and to drop a few clues here and there. And all the clues that pointed to Y had to be toned down.
It was a fun way to go about it. Will I do that again? No. It worked because I had a very definite idea for the opening of the book and I was prepared to work my way forward from there. But all in all, I prefer to have a good outline before beginning. When I started working on the next book in the series, Negative Image, I put that net up first.
Visit the author's web site at www.vickidelany.com.