Sunday, August 28, 2011

How Rett MacPherson writes her books.

Rett MacPherson wrote: "For me, almost always, always, always, my books start with characters, not plot. (Including the ones that never see publication.) Usually, a character just springs forth and I'll start thinking about what she does for a living or where she lives, or maybe she's at a particularly crazy point in her life, in which the story will then unfold. I'll use Torie as an example, since it's the only examples of my writing that you've read. I knew I wanted to write a cozy-mystery series, and I had just seen Stephen King on a tour and he'd said, "Write what you know, write what you're comfortable with."

So, once I realized that my mystery character would be a genealogist/historian, little things started to come, like she lived in a river tourist town, she had children, etc etc. Then the character starts to "talk" to me. I get little snippets of dialogue floating around in my head. (Take a notebook with you, write it down. You may or may not use that dialogue, but you'd rather have saved it and not use it than the opposite.) Then others start to talk to me, Sylvia, Colin, Rudy. Somewhere in there, the book sort of starts to take shape. Like, I know how I want it to begin, how I want it to end, and I usually have two or three major scenes (like how she'll find the body, strawberry festival etc) that come to mind. Or maybe it'll be two or three confrontations that come to mind. It all swirls and swirls and swirls and then I sit down with pen and paper and start scribbling and it might be something like this: --A shop owner asks Torie for help. Her father never came home after the war. Torie agrees to trace her family tree, only to find her dead a few days later.-- I'll add (since it's a mystery) suspects, major players, and I just hand write no more than a page.

Then I sit down to the computer and write Page One, Chapter One and start writing. So, to answer your question, I do NOT do extensive outlines. I do know writers who do. In fact, one is a fairly well-known sci-fi writer and he told me that he does a chapter by chapter outline, which is basically a rough draft. Each chapter in his "outline" is about one typed paged. He asked me, "If you don't do an extensive outline, how do you know what happens?" Clearly, if he didn't do an outline, he'd feel lost. For me, if I did a major outline like that, then I feel like I've already told the story, and it loses some of the punch for me. The actual writing then becomes more of a chore than an adventure. So, I do about a one page outline, but not until after the characters are really developed in my head and talking to me. The rest is more organic. And one of the beautiful things about NOT doing an extensive outline, is if a brand new idea springs to mind right in the middle of chapter 14 and I go with it, it won't mess up my extensive outline. The book is more free to take on a life of its own and be guided by its characters. I'm a combo-writer, I suppose. (One other thing I do is as I'm writing, I keep a notebook and each time I write some new tidbit of info about a recurring character or place, I'll jot it down. Like, under Rudy, I might write,' brown eyes, plumbing salesman, has a sister named Amy.' So that when I go back to write them in the next book, those facts are there so that I don't have to hunt through my old manuscripts etc. And believe me, if people are reading your books back to back, they will catch those inconsistencies.) I'm afraid, even with my trusty notebook, I still made errors.

Now, with some of my fantasy fiction that I've written, where I've created entire worlds, I do a lot more planning on how the world works, but still, not a major outline. Anyway, I hope this helps. Just remember, don't force anything. If extensive outline is what you need, do it. If no outline is what you need, do it. The process should feel organic and natural, even if it isn't. There really are no rights or wrongs. If that makes sense. -- All in my humble opinion, of course. :-)"

(Rett is the author of a series of cozy mysteries starring genealogist Torie O'Shea, and may be starting a new series--or at least thinking of it. She is one of my favorite writers. I suggest you check her books out at your local bookstore or library.) This information is printed here with permission from Rett, who answered my question on her FaceBook page. Ain't technology amazing?

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