Bouchercon panel discussion, October 8, 2015
The Mysteries of Plotting, Narrative & Voice (paraphrased notes)
James Hall (moderator), Sandra Balzo, Sarah Ward, Wallace Stroby, Sharan Newman
How do you plot your stories?
SW: I started with the premise, then wrote what I thought might have happened. The rewrite was a big project!
SN: I like writing with the 12th century as the setting, it’s easier than a modern setting.
WS: Planning the heist is difficult, involves a lot of research. The fun part of writing is the other stuff.
SB: I like writing character and dialog more than plotting. I start with a premise and with the characters in book. Who will be the victim? Who will be murdered? My editor told me, the character has to solve her own problems, rather than looking for outside help.
What about research, or other advice?
SW: Try to keep the mystery going as long as possible. You can add clues along the way in the second draft.
SB: I do tons of research and get many ideas along the way.
WS: You have to be careful, research can be a rabbit hole. What people remember about Chandler’s stories is Marlowe, not the plot.
SN: I started writing after I was laid off. Took me six years to be published. I have to write myself into a book. I make notes of what to research as I go along.
SW: Get a good editor.
Describe your writing process.
WS: I keep notecards—aim to write vertically not horizontally.
SB: Sometimes not knowing where you’re going is better than knowing.
SW: The only failure is when you quit.
SN: Get the bones down, a first draft of only 20 or 30 thousand words. Flesh it out in the second draft. I love editing.
Your final thoughts?
SN: It’s really all about voice, my stories bring out a braver, brassier me. Characters are composites of real people—more interesting than most real people.
SB: For historicals, make sure your characters speak in their era, be careful not to use contemporary idioms.
SN: Humor comes out of the situation characters are in.
WS: When writing is going well, you’re coasting. When it gets difficult, it’s probably slowing the pace of your story as well.