Crime Pays: The Fall Mystery & Thriller Author Panel Discussion discussion

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Writing Process

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message 1: by Patrick (new)

Patrick Brown | 8 comments Mod
Hello everyone, and welcome to our mystery/thriller/crime panel. Today we'll be discussing writing process. I'm curious (as I'm sure many of our members are) about how you go about structuring your books. Do you have a clear idea of what will happen from beginning to end? Do you keep any part of it a mystery for yourself and just figure it out as you go along? Do you do any outlining?

And what about your daily writing process? Do you write every day? Where do you prefer to write and what time of day? I know people are especially interested in how Charles breaks up the work, since Charles is actually two authors.

Feel free to jump in with additional topics related to writing process, structure, and plotting. Really looking forward to hearing the authors' answers.


message 2: by Sandra (new)

Sandra Brown (sandra_brown) | 29 comments Mod
Patrick,

Once I know an idea wants to be a book, I write a very loose synopsis, detailing the main characters, the initial conflict, how that conflict gets worse, the climax, and the ending. This is as much for my editor as for me; it's very general. I don't know everything that's going to happen, and I don't want to. After putting the main characters in place, and hitting them hard with a catalytic event, I let them sort of lead me.

I write a first draft, just to get the plot on paper. Then a second draft, which is the crafting draft, where I take apart every scene, every sentence, rewriting it until I feel it's as good as it can be. I do just enough research to make things feel 'authentic' and the second draft is where this comes into play. The third draft is for pacing and continuity. Have all the loose ends been tied up? Are there any holes in the plot?

The fourth draft is for polishing before it's sent to my editor. This takes a year. I'm fortunate enough to have a 'real' office to go to every day, and try to keep regular business hours, but sometimes the business of being a writer interferes with the actual writing. That is to say, I write regularly and also try to go away a couple of times a year (usually for a few weeks at a time) for a writing marathon.

Looking forward to more questions!

Sandra


message 3: by Sharon (new)

Sharon (bishops1) | 4 comments Sandra wrote: "Patrick,

Once I know an idea wants to be a book, I write a very loose synopsis, detailing the main characters, the initial conflict, how that conflict gets worse, the climax, and the ending. This..."


Hi Sandra: You mentioned that finishing your 4th draft takes a year and you have many books published...do you write books in unison? Say you have an idea for your next novel...do you start your drafts while working on another draft?


message 4: by Deanna (new)

Deanna | 8 comments Sandra- My question is pretty much the same as Sharon's- Do you write more than one book at a time? I've read a ton of your works, but I gotta say- you don't look old enough for them to take you a full year to write and only write one a year. So one assumes that you do write more than one at a time. How do you keep them straight?


message 5: by Sandra (new)

Sandra Brown (sandra_brown) | 29 comments Mod
Sharon wrote: "You mentioned that finishing your 4th draft takes a year and you have many books published...do you write books in unison? Say you have an idea for your next novel...do you start your drafts while working on another draft? "

Sharon,

Sorry for being so vague, Sharon! It takes one year for one book. I usually turn in the final draft around March or April, give myself a little downtime, then get back to work! As for my backlist, early on in my career, I wrote category romances, releasing 3-4 new titles a year. Thus the 70+ novels in 30 years!

And I only write one book at a time so I can give it my full attention. The only (sort of) exception to this is Rainwater, which I worked on whenever I could between Smash Cut and Smoke Screen.

Sandra


message 6: by Sandra (new)

Sandra Brown (sandra_brown) | 29 comments Mod
Deanna wrote: "I've read a ton of your works, but I gotta say- you don't look old enough for them to take you a..."

Deanna,

See my reply to Sharon...and bless you! I'm expecting my fourth grandchild in two months.

Sandra


message 7: by Laura (new)

Laura Lippman | 20 comments Mod
For the most part, I've started with a single idea/central secret and written toward that, discovering the small secrets and side stories as the characters develop. I've sometimes called this the "distant shore" school of writing. I feel as if I have to cross a body of water toward what I think the ending is. But the route may be much different than I anticipated and the ending might look quite different once I get closer to it.

When life is normal -- that is, when I'm not traveling to promote a book -- I try to write every morning, Monday through Friday. I go to a coffee house. I like ambient noise and I like being away from everything. (The advent of ready wireless has made it harder to escape, but I try to ignore it.) Typically, I need about a year, start to finish. I usually send my third draft to my editor then plunge into the fourth before I get her notes, playing a game with myself in which I try to anticipate as many of the suggestions as possible.

Laura


message 8: by [deleted user] (new)

Laura wrote: "For the most part, I've started with a single idea/central secret and written toward that, discovering the small secrets and side stories as the characters develop. I've sometimes called this the "..."

I like that description: the "distant shore" school of writing. I always imagined you would have to have it all figured out in advance, in order to have any kind of coherent, believable story. Does the ending ever change dramatically, Lauren?


message 9: by Naomi (new)

Naomi (nblackburn) Thinking back to when you wrote your first book, what made you take the leap into writing the book? Did you feel "silly" in writing it? Then, what made you make the next jump in actually showing your book to a publisher?


message 10: by Jill (new)

Jill Sandra
I am a big fan - read every one of your novels. You are one of the few female authors that for me can make a bloke sound like a bloke - along with Diana Gabaldon and Lisa Kleypas.
Do you have to try especially hard to get the 'male' tone to your male characters? Or is it something that comes naturally? Or have you simply never noticed?
Many female authors for me make the male sound so over-the-top alpha neanderthal or soppily sentimental
metrosexual that it makes it difficult to find more great female authors.


message 11: by Laura (new)

Laura Lippman | 20 comments Mod
Dramatically? I wouldn't go that far, but things definitely change. One character changed gender along the way. I thought I was writing about someone who had been sexually reassigned at birth, an approach that was advocated by Johns Hopkins when children were born with male and female genitalia, or just immature/partial male genitalia. It was generally thought at one point that nurture would conquer all and children surgically reconstructed as girls and raised as girls would never know the difference. Didn't quite work that way, but it was way too much to be a secondary story in a crime novel. (An aside: John Colapinto write a terrific nonfiction book about this issue NOT AS GOD MADE HIM.)

And that's generally what happens. I find I'm trying to do too much, throw in too much story, too many characters, too many complications and I winnow it down.

The other thing that happens is that I discover that certain plot points can't happen if they're not true to the characters. It once took me multiple drafts to get all my characters to show up for the climax of the novel. Draft after draft, the characters would sort of look at me and say: "But there's still no pressing reason for me to go to Delaware." I had to keep rewriting until I found it.

In the latest, I knew it had to end with an encounter between two people. Making that credible AND suspenseful AND satisfying was difficult.


message 12: by [deleted user] (new)

Really great insights about the writing process, Laura. So funny to imagine the characters telling you they have no pressing reason to show up for the book's climax.

Do you find yourself "talking to" your characters sometimes? (coaxing, arguing?)


message 13: by Laura (new)

Laura Lippman | 20 comments Mod
I don't argue with them -- they're just reflecting my own intentions when they stubbornly refuse to do something that I haven't made plausible. I do have my characters (some of them, anyway) write me letters which begin: "Here's what you don't know about me . . ." I focus on the voice and the voice takes me deeper into them.


message 14: by [deleted user] (new)

It's like a little part of your subconsciousness revealing bits about the characters to you. I can imagine an author developing a relationship this way with characters much the same way we get to know our friends, especially in a longer-running series. I don't have any fantasies about ever writing, but hearing about the process is really interesting.


message 15: by [deleted user] (new)

Laura, which of your books should I begin with? I am not familiar with your any of your books, but I would love to give them a read.


message 16: by Kim_bab (new)

Kim_bab | 5 comments Sandra,
I have really enjoyed yours books,
i'm courious, how did the characters come up? from your imagination or inspired by someone you've known (give an example pls) thanks


message 17: by Donna (new)

Donna | 2 comments Hi Sandra, I have read several of your books and enjoyed them very much. I wonder though, some authors don't always consider their books to be in the category/ genre that they have been assigned to. As in they might not want their books to be considered a Romance Novel even if it is marketed as such. What do you consider your books to be and if you could name your own genre what would you call it? I just like to know how you look at your own books. Thanks.


message 18: by Charles (new)

Charles Todd | 26 comments Mod
It's always fascinating to hear how another author writes. Charles and I can't outline, never could, probably never will. So we start with the first page, get that right, and then simply follow the characters as they lead us through the plot and the plotting. Sometimes we know fairly early who the murderer is, sometimes he or she doesn't show up until ten pages from the ending. That's actually exciting, because we are not predisposed to any one character or result, and the surprise we feel is genuine. So far, the characters have done very well!
And an offshoot of that is that we never use real people in our books. All our characters come out of some dark corner of our minds, and stride into the light of day as if they own it. And that's what we like. A puppet who does only what the author wants him or her to do is never going to be a strong character. You have to trust them, let them go, and see what they'll get up to. And often they will surprise you with twists and turns you never expected.


message 19: by Jan C (new)

Jan C (woeisme) | 18 comments this sounds similar to a theory of writing i once saw espoused in an article by e. l. doctorow. he said that writing was like driving at night - you have to follow where your headlights take you. i've been reading the rutledge stories for years and i just got the first bess story.


message 20: by Meg (new)

Meg Mims (httpwwwgoodreadscommegmims) So how do you and your son collaborate? Do you split the characters, or the chapters? Research? etc.


message 21: by Meg (new)

Meg Mims (httpwwwgoodreadscommegmims) NEVER MIND! Sorry, I saw you posted the answer on a different thread. :-)


message 22: by [deleted user] (new)

Wow, so you have no idea where the story is going, seriously? The Rutledge stories are so detailed and mulit-layered, that I find it amazing that you don't have a rough idea in place about how you plan on getting to the end of the story.

And, as Meg asked, how do the two of you stay on the same trajectory, or this that part of the "organic" nature of the way you write?

Fascinating.


message 23: by Meg (new)

Meg Mims (httpwwwgoodreadscommegmims) I'm with you, Jeannette. I also believe the Rutledge books are detailed and multi-layered. Without an outline, I'd be lost in writing! Wow. Just wow.


message 24: by Laureen (new)

Laureen (reenawitz) To all 3 authors, do you spend more time getting to know your characters or focus on the plot first?


message 25: by Laureen (new)

Laureen (reenawitz) Sandra wrote: "Sharon wrote: "You mentioned that finishing your 4th draft takes a year and you have many books published...do you write books in unison? Say you have an idea for your next novel...do you start you..."

Wow that is quite the commitment! Do you ever get bored with the process during the year?


message 26: by Charles (new)

Charles Todd | 26 comments Mod
I think the headlights analogy is a good one. Remember, Charles and I talk where the next scene will go, so I think there's a lot of subconscious cataloging going on. For instance, we might mention a box on page 34, and realize on page 290 that that box is a part of the plot. Now, did we just realize that the box was useful, or did we sort of set it up that way long before we knew the value to the story it might have? As for the multilayers, when you listen to your characters and understand what they are hiding and what Rutledge is looking for, and know the setting, there's so much material to work with. I remember telling a beginning writer that it's important to look around, not just focus on the story. That a lot more is happening in a scene than just where you think you want to go next. And this is true. Of course you can't get carried away with the texture you are adding and make it boring. So you are walking a fine line here. Still, you learn to edit yourself early on and say, Hey, fascinating as this is, does it advance the story or help understand a character?? It's important to think about writing as a learned skill. You wouldn't just become a brain surgeon or an international financier or even a plumber just by deciding one day you want to do that. And a good author keeps on learning, book after book, because the how and why of writing are just as important as the plot and the characters. Does that make sense?


message 27: by [deleted user] (new)

It certainly sounds like an interesting and enjoyable process. It is like the box on page 34 was just lurking in the background, waiting to be noticed by one or both of you.

How does this process work on a practical level? How many drafts and how much time, roughly, does it take from page 1 to finished product?

Do you ever have a change of heart after the book is finished and wish you could go back and change something?


message 28: by Charles (new)

Charles Todd | 26 comments Mod
Good questions, Jeanette. We spend do much time working out each scene that we usually don't have to do too many drafts. But there's always room for improvement, so yes, we do at least one, often two. How much time? A year, if you count research and traveling to England to vet the setting. The writing process? A good 6 montns, and that's with two of us doing it. Do we have a change of heart, ever? Caroline doesn't like to listen to the books on tape because she wants to change a word here or a description there. I love to listen to them on tape and seldom feel I need to go back to change something. But you always know you could do better, when you reread something. That's what most writers feel, I think. If you wrote until you got it to what you feel is a perfect stage, you'd probably only publish every two or three years--and stil not be satisfied! I think that's a part of being a writer.


message 29: by Sandra (new)

Sandra Brown (sandra_brown) | 29 comments Mod
Naomi wrote: "Thinking back to when you wrote your first book, what made you take the leap into writing the book? Did you feel "silly" in writing it? ..."

Naomi,

When I first began, I thought it a trifle silly that I was even attempting to be a writer. At what point does one hang out one's shingle proclaiming that she's a writer? It was bit awkward. But I didn't let those misgivings stop me. I had a fire in my belly for it. I wanted to do it. So I did!

Sandra


message 30: by Sandra (new)

Sandra Brown (sandra_brown) | 29 comments Mod
Jill wrote: "Sandra
I am a big fan - read every one of your novels. You are one of the few female authors that for me can make a bloke sound like a bloke - along with Diana Gabaldon and Lisa Kleypas."


Jill,

I suppose of all the options you offered me, I've have to say I simply never noticed. I've recently been asked by more than one interviewer how I write from a male pov. It's an odd question, particularly when you think of books written from the pov of vampires, werewolves, ghosts, sharks, dogs, etc. Do those authors know how those characters think? Whatever pov I'm writing from, I try to be true to the character. And btw, thank you very much for the compliment!

Sandra


message 31: by [deleted user] (new)

Charles wrote: "Good questions, Jeanette. We spend do much time working out each scene that we usually don't have to do too many drafts. But there's always room for improvement, so yes, we do at least one, often t..."

I think I would most definitely enjoy the "research and travel to England" part of the process very much. I am still impressed that the two of you work so well together writing these books. It says a lot of nice things about your relationship!

That is very interesting that "hearing" the story makes Caroline inclined to change a word or expression. A good part of enjoying a book, and especially a series, is creating a mental image of the characters. That's where movies made from books fail a lot of times. Sometimes the director just casts the wrong person to play a character near and dear to the reader.

And writing the perfect book is a rather daunting task. I think writing a good book is a big job, and you can both be happy with the books you have written so far. They have been very good.


message 32: by Sandra (new)

Sandra Brown (sandra_brown) | 29 comments Mod
Charles wrote: "That's what most writers feel, I think. If you wrote until you got it to what you feel is a perfect stage, you'd probably only publish every two or three years--and stil not be satisfied! I think that's a part of being a writer. "

Amen!!! I totally agree with Charles on this one. We give it our all, and that's all we can do.

Sandra


message 33: by [deleted user] (new)

Sandra wrote: Amen!!! I totally agree with Charles on this one. We give it our all, and that's all we can do.

Sandra"


And that must be personally satisfying in itself. I have a lot of respect for all four of you!


message 34: by Naomi (new)

Naomi (nblackburn) Sandra- Thanks for your post. How did you make the jump, then, from writing to sending it to an agent/publisher? How did you select an agent to work with and/or deal with the potential rejection without giving up?

Thanks,
Naomi


message 35: by Charles (new)

Charles Todd | 26 comments Mod
People often ask us who we'd like to see play Rutlede if he's ever filmed. That's hard to answer, so we often ask readers who they would choose. Colin Firth has been a favorite. He's older now, but he had a certain quality that reminded us a little of Rutledge--as if he cared about what he was doing. Someone else said that Liam Neeson's voice would be their choice for Rutledge. We do worry sometimes about how filming Rutledge--or Bess Crawford for that matter--would turn out. Hathaway on the new Lewis series on Mystery is wonderfully cast, as is Lewis. But I could never get around the dark haired Nathanial Parker (good as he is!)playing the fair, aristocratic Lynley, although Havers is wonderfully played, even though the actress looks very little like the read Barbara. David Suchet has been a wonderful Poirot, and our favorite Miss Marple is still Joan Hickson. We wonder sometimes whether producers actually read the books they're about to cast for a film or TV. They get it wrong so often. Or else they like this or that actor/actress whether he or she fits the role or not. We're patient. But we would like to see Rutledge on Mystery. If we can have our say about the casting!


message 36: by [deleted user] (last edited Sep 10, 2010 09:13AM) (new)

Charles wrote: "People often ask us who we'd like to see play Rutlede if he's ever filmed. That's hard to answer, so we often ask readers who they would choose. Colin Firth has been a favorite. He's older now, but..."

I'm not a big Firth fan! lol Liam Neeson is probably too old now, but he has the look and the voice, even though I see Rutledge as a little slighter built somehow.

I would like to amend a previous post and say that Wings of Fire is my favorite of the series. And, will we (have we) see(n) more of Fiona?


message 37: by Naomi (last edited Sep 10, 2010 09:40AM) (new)

Naomi (nblackburn) Charles...

Hands down...Nat Parker. The funny thing is that if one looks at how Elizabeth George describes Inspector Lynley in her books, Nat Parker looks nothing like him-just as you mentioned of Barbara Havers. But there is something about him that he pulls off these roles impeccably.


message 38: by Charles (new)

Charles Todd | 26 comments Mod
Re Nat Parker. Yes, he's wonderful in the part, I must admit. I just tell myself that he's the TV Lynley and not the book Lynley. He was recently on a Lewis program on Mystery, and he's really a fine actor. Interesting to watch.

Ah, Fiona. She sort of appears again in THE RED DOOR. There's a reference there for those who know the series, but doesn't give anything away for those who don't. The boy Ian comes to London in that book, too. There are some characters who stay in an author's mind, and Fiona is one, O.A. Manning is another, and Caroline has a soft spot for Maggie in A COLD TREACHERY. She was very challenging to write.


message 39: by [deleted user] (new)

Ah, yes, Fiona and O.A. Manning, both very important characters to me. I would love to hear the rest of their stories. Now, I must read the books again so that I can meet Maggie.


message 40: by Sandra (new)

Sandra Brown (sandra_brown) | 29 comments Mod
Kim_bab wrote: "Sandra,
I have really enjoyed yours books,
i'm courious, how did the characters come up? from your imagination or inspired by someone you've known "


Kim...All my characters are products of my imagination. Most of the people I know are too boring to write about!!

I really don't feel that I "create" them, rather that they approach me and demand that their story be told. I'm sure this sounds like I'm certifiable--but that's how it is. And I don't cast them with an actor's face, as one would cast a movie. They look only like themselves.

Best,

Sandra


message 41: by Sandra (new)

Sandra Brown (sandra_brown) | 29 comments Mod
Donna wrote: "Hi Sandra, I have read several of your books and enjoyed them very much. I wonder though, some authors don't always consider their books to be in the category/ genre that they have been assigned to..."

Afternoon Donna! As I said in another post, I try not to let myself be limited by genre and I try to leave the labels to the marketing folks. That said, it's tough to walk into a bookstore and see a reprint of a 25 YO romance in the mystery section, or when I see Tough Customer in among the reprints in the romance section. It's been tough to educate booksellers to the notion that authors can and do write more than one kind of book. Rather than labeling myself, I tell the story as it unfolds to me. Some books have grittier elements than others. Some may have more sexual tension. And Rainwater was completely different from anything! I write from the heart, the head and the gut, not particularly by genre.

Best,

Sandra


message 42: by Sandra (new)

Sandra Brown (sandra_brown) | 29 comments Mod
Reen wrote: "To all 3 authors, do you spend more time getting to know your characters or focus on the plot first?"

Reen,

That's hard to say. Unlike Charles and Laura I don't have an ongoing series, so each book is different--new characters, new setting, etc. (As an aside, I greatly admire authors such as Charles and Laura who CAN keep a series going and keep it fresh!).

Sometimes I start with a character that I think is intriguing for one reason or another. Other times, the plot, or at least the catalytic (cataclysmic?! LOL) event, comes first and I go from there. I get to know my characters by how they handle the situation they're in.

Best,

Sandra


message 43: by Sandra (new)

Sandra Brown (sandra_brown) | 29 comments Mod
Reen wrote: "Wow that is quite the commitment! Do you ever get bored with the process during the year? "

Reen...Not bored exactly because the work it too hard to be boring. But am I glad when I send in a final draft? Yes!

Sandra


message 44: by Sandra (new)

Sandra Brown (sandra_brown) | 29 comments Mod
Naomi wrote: "Sandra- Thanks for your post. How did you make the jump, then, from writing to sending it to an agent/publisher? How did you select an agent to work with and/or deal with the potential rejection wi..."

Naomi...here goes...
At a writers' seminar, I met a bookstore owner who offered to read my first manuscript when I'd completed it to my satisfaction. I sent it to her, she read it, and in turn recommended it to an editor for a new romance line (keeping in mind this was over 25 years ago!). It was almost a fairy tale how everything fell into place. I was very fortunate to have had an acceptable product when the market for that product was hot.

When I decided that I needed an agent, I attended a panel discussion at a writer's conference. My agent was one of the speakers and she said what the attendees *needed* to hear, not necessarily what they *wanted* to her. Her candor impressed me. I approached her afterward about becoming my agent and we've been partners ever since.


These days, an agent is practically required in order to get a ms. to an editor. As for how to deal with potential rejections, as much as rejections hurt, (and we've all received them so we all know it hurts), always remember that rejection isn't personal and there (truly) are worse things than being told no. You really truly do want an agent who loves your work and is enthusiastic about it because their enthusiasm can help sell it to an editor.

Best,

Sandra


message 45: by Charles (new)

Charles Todd | 26 comments Mod
Do we spend more time getting to know our characters, or on the plot?

Good question. We don't do backstories on the characters, they sort of evolve with the plot. Sometimes we get it wrong and have to stop and look back to find out why a character is suddenly balking. We usually discover that we've missed something, and correct the problem, and then he or she is happy again. One of the interesting things is that character names are important. They sort of give us a clue about them. Odd but true. Once in awhile we have to change a character's name--too many beginning with G or it is too similar to another name or to a character in another book. And that really causes mental confusion, because somehow identity and personality seem to be wrapped up with that name.
Just a side note--we have to prepare for a library talk tomorrow morning, but we'll be back in the afternoon. See you then.


message 46: by [deleted user] (new)

It has been very interesting following your discussion posts! Enjoy your library talk!


message 47: by Kim_bab (new)

Kim_bab | 5 comments sandra,
thanks for answering my question. I feel very honored, because usually I just can read your book. but now I can interact with you directly. I'll show it off to my friends that you've given responds to my question. they'll be jealous :-). I really liked this discussion, I hope next time there will be a discussion like this again. I look forward to your other works.


message 48: by Naomi (new)

Naomi (nblackburn) Sandra-

Thanks for your advice. I appreciate it.

Naomi


message 49: by Susan from MD (last edited Sep 11, 2010 07:06AM) (new)

Susan from MD This has been such an interesting discussion -- thanks to all who have participated. I have a few questions for any of the authors.

1. How is it different writing a book that is a bit lighter in tone vs. one that is "heavier" or has a more serious aspect to it? Do you change the way you work on the book?

2. Actors sometimes talk about certain characters staying with them off the set or after a production wraps. Do you experience that as well -- a book or character affecting you (positively or negatively) in your down time or after a book has been published?

3. How do you keep your characters true-to-life and resist the temptation to have them be perfect? I've ready some books (by other authors!) in which the main character just seems too good to be true -- they are gorgeous, brilliant, street smart, atheletic, the perfect friend, knowledgeable about and proficient in almost everything, etc. That approach makes it a bit less enjoyable for me (I feel like such a slacker in comparison), but probably easier for the author, as they can introduce almost anything into the plot and the character has the skill set to deal with it!

Again, thanks for taking the time to participate in this discussion.


message 50: by Elisabeth (new)

Elisabeth Davis (harleythethrowawaypuppy) | 5 comments For Charles: I now have a question about how you chose the point of view for each series. The Rutledge books have a third person (limited) POV, but the Crawford books (which I am just beginning to read) have first person. How much of a conscious decision was this, or did you just begin to write on the first page, as you have described? In the case of Rutledge, I can see how a third person POV allows him his secret torments. As a former literature professor, I would love to hear what the process was to choose the POV. Thanks so much for answering all these questions.


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