They were a different species, seemingly unrelated to us, those creative writers who trolled the English building hallways. We literature and rhetoric majors steered clear of them for the most part, whether out of fear or awe, I’m not sure.
I know for myself, they were mystical beings I couldn’t fathom. They seemed to live in their own worlds, created from their imagination somewhere deep inside them. I feared what I didn’t understand. I wasn’t scared of them but was afraid I didn’t have their brand of magic in me. I had never been brave enough to register for a creative writing course. It was safer to stay in the land of reading and analyzing the tomes they produced.
After earning all the letters after my name, I still found them captivating as I worked among them.
Now, several years after leaving the world of academia behind altogether, I now understand that I did have the enchantment within me all along. I just didn’t know it at the time.
A couple of years ago on the suggestion of my daughter, I joined Nanowrimo for the first time. I needed a creative outlet in the worst way. On November 1st, I started writing down the story in my head. I didn’t worry that I didn’t understand how to structure a cozy mystery plot or how to flesh out a cozy protagonist that fans would love. I just wrote.
It was magical!
When I decided to take a chance and publish my first book, Blogging is Murder, I began studying how to write fiction.
The biggest surprise of the whole process was that it wasn’t unfamiliar to me at all—it was the same writing process I’d used for writing academic works.
The Magic Writing Process
I often get asked how I come up with the plots for my books. I can lay out the process, but I can’t explain where the magic comes from.
- I come up with an idea that I think might just work. I ask myself a lot of “what if’s.” My ideas often come to me in a dream, when I’m on the edge of sleep or in the shower. Magic, I tell ya!
- I research to verify the idea is indeed plausible. (Can a human body really be completely burned up in a pottery kiln? How quickly does hemlock paralyze a person? How long does it take them to die?)
- I write a zero draft, just letting the words pour out of me. Yes, I’m a “pantser,” (I write by the seat of my pants) though I do use a framework to guide me. Thanks, James Scott Bell!)
- When I get to a place in the story where I don’t know what will happen next, I pull out the “Murder Notebook” and jot down ideas until one of them “clicks.” (What black magic is this?)
- If needed, I research to verify the plausibility of the direction I now plan to go. (How would the room need to be set up so a killer could surprise someone sitting at a pottery wheel? How hard is it to cut the brakes on someone’s car? Could anyone figure it out or would you need to be a mechanic? Would the killer need to crawl under the vehicle?)
- I completed steps 3-5 over and over until I get to the end of the story.
- When I have a sudden burst of inspiration, I stop in my tracks and write it down in my always-present “Murder Notebook.” I have one for each novel. For some reason, I find it much easier to figure out a plot point or character arch when I’m physically writing, so I don’t use an app or online program for the messy bits of planning and plotting. When I need to see the big picture, I use one (or more) of my whiteboards.
- Next, I go back through the entire story searching for “holes” in my plot, inconsistencies, and things that need to be added or subtracted based on where my characters led me. This is the super fun part!
- Once the content editing is done, I spiff up the text, smooth out dialogue, and delete superfluous content. Since I’m a panser, this takes a while. 🙂
Halfway through the process for my first book, it occurred to me that there isn’t any charmed writing process for fiction. It’s the same one I’d used for years. What a revelation! Really, it was. And it made me feel more secure in my ability to write something other cozy mystery fans would want to read.
Of course, we all have our own writing process, and I’ve encouraged students for years to find theirs and then use it faithfully. But I would have never guessed that I’d need to remind myself of that.
Now that my third book, Murder Over Medium, is available to readers, I’ve started working on the fourth book in the Jade Blackwell Mysteries series. And I’m using the same “magical formula” I’ve had at my disposal all along.
If you’d like to see the magic in action, you can grab a book or two from the Jade Blackwell Mystery series here.