The Plot Thickens

post-itsI am frequently asked, “How do you come up with the ideas for your books?”

The short answer is, “I work with a great team.”

But here’s the longer answer:

I always start with some germ of an idea. For the LADY OF ASHES books, I might decide the book will dwell on some aspect of Victorian mourning or undertaking. For the FLORENCE NIGHTINGALE MYSTERIES, I am looking for significant events in Florence’s life. Then I search history for some other event (and sometimes I like really obscure events!) that I can marry to the idea germ.

Next, I make what I call the “read ahead packet.” This includes the germinating idea, plus information on what was going on historically at the time of the proposed book. I frequently throw in the bios of some real people I might like to weave in if I can.

I send the read ahead packet to my husband, my brother, and one of my brothers-in-law to review. Then we schedule a plotting session. This involves those giant post-it notes you can put on the wall, and a bunch of markers.

We start the session with me asking a provocative question. For example, for the session prior to the novel STOLEN REMAINS, I asked, “Why would someone steal a dead body from a coffin?” For THE MOURNING BELLS, I asked, “Why would a dead body spring alive out of a coffin?”

Then we spend an evening around my dining room table, with me making notes on the wall sheets while we all discuss and argue over points. My brother is affectionately known as “The Red Baron” for his ability to shoot holes in another person’s seemingly brilliant plot idea. The only ground rule is that I have final say over the plot.

With that done, I take what is hopefully a loosely-constructed plot (and sometimes the plot is complicated enough that it requires a second plotting session), and I create what I call my Scene Distillation. This is where I sit down and move Violet or Florence through the story, scene by scene. I do this in a program called Scrivener, and it enables me to put each scene on the digital equivalent of an index card. So, I jot down one scene per “card,” and can rearrange them in a click-n-drop fashion. When I have around 70 scenes, I know I have between 90,000-100,000 words, and I begin writing.

There you have it. Four or five months later a book is produced, and then it goes through my internal review process. More on that in my next blog post!

Interested in Scrivener?

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