The Way Writing Works

I am no artist, but I do find it helpful when writing a novel to sketch out the main area of action for easy reference. Location in mysteries is important. Where was the body found? Where do suspects live? In my case I can’t keep an entire condo community that includes a bayou and nature trails and who can see what from their condo window all in my head.

I use watercolors my artist friend Ali sent me for Christmas a few years ago for two reasons. One, the use of color quickly locates the pool, for example, or shows orientation from one building to the others. I only put four condo blocks in my imaginary community just to keep things simple. The other thing is color cheers me up, no matter how sloppily applied to the paper.

At times, it’s nice to just switch over from writing to drawing. I spent a bit of time on the above masterpiece, as I used Prisma colored pencils as well as a regular No. 2 pencil before the final wash of watercolor. The Prismas make colors and shapes step a bit boldly to the forefront of the watercolor. Can you find my gator in the bayou? Top left corner. LOL this is NOT what I was going to blog about today!

So, back to writing and how to do it book after book year after year. You have to start and it won’t be pretty. I read an interview with Jerry Seinfeld and he said looking back on his early jokes, they weren’t very good, but those early words were the bridge to get him to where he is now. (Rich and famous.) He actually has a new book, a memoir, and he calls it a writer’s book. Because he shows how the placement and construction of his words make the jokes work.

So you need to start on one side of the bridge to eventually reach the other. Every day, writers open their notebooks or laptops and start at the beginning of the bridge. What helps is to have some little sliver of something in mind. I often wake up with a sliver and bring it to the bridge. It can be anything. Part of a conversation. An image. I usually know a little bit about where I’m going, and that’s all I need to cross that bridge.

Because when I start with that sliver, there is some kind of mechanism I don’t understand (maybe magic, grace, imagination, or all of them) that takes my fingers and types words. 3-5 pages a day on my very good days. The more you show up with your sliver, the more good days you will have.

This bridge/sliver/magic feels like flying. Not in a plane, or even like Superman, but just sort of your floating mind zipping along, keeping pace as your fingers cross the cosmic bridge. Does that sound fun? It is. That’s why I do it. It is SO fun. After 3-5 pages I blink and feel a long rush of deep pleasure. I did it again! And then it happens again and again, as long as I show up with my sliver and laptop.

It’s more complicated than it sounds. You should have a plot map of some sort for mysteries. Mystery Writing Plot Map may even even pop up on a search engine. If not, many many books show you how to make them. Characters, setting, murder details, clues help you dream up the sliver.

Then there’s the other thing. Every scene has to have a purpose. Either move the plot forward or show character development. Twists are good too, but not too many. I don’t worry too much about my scenes having purpose in a first draft. Reading through a completed draft, I check every scene. Does it need to be there? Why? I am sorry to say that you must do this on the sentence level and the word level too. How does this sentence contribute to the story? If it doesn’t, but it’s beautifully written or uses a cool word, you have to cut it.

Some famous writer called this revision process at the sentence and word level “killing your darlings.” Because sometimes you can write things you really love but they just do not serve the plot. Or, you could be a poet and not a mystery novelist at all. You get to decide. Everything is within your power. It’s your world, you made it. Maybe you even made a painting.

Seinfeld’s book is called “Is This Anything?” The interviewer, Mara Reinstein, asks why his fans might want to read his jokes instead of listening to him tell them. He said he wanted to show the crazy amount of time and work he spends crafting his jokes. Then he said “I think this is a book for writers.” I’m buying it.

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