How do you develop your stories?  Do you plot in advance, complete with outlines and maybe index cards, or do you drive the book by the seat of your pants, letting the characters sort of lead you around by the nose?

I'm in the latter category.  I have no idea in the world how a book will turn out, or where it will take me during the process.  I started my current one with nothing but an image: a six-foot, feather-winged angel walking down a crowded street in a Bangkok slum.  I'm now almost 90 pages in, and I still don't know exactly who he is, but I'm having a wonderful time.

I'd love to hear from you, and also to suggest (if the subject interests you) that you look at my blog at, where some really good writers are addressing the question.  So far we've had Stephen Jay Schwartz, Bill Crider, Rebecca Cantrell, and Gar Anthony Haywood.  Up right now is Helen Simonson, whose first novel, COLONEL PETTIGREW'S LAST STAND has had amazing reviews by everyone from Oprah to Publisher's Weekly and the NY Times, and which entered the Amazon rankings, two weeks before its pub date, at 126.

I'd love it if you dropped by and took a look at the way these folks do it, but I'd also love some replies here.  This is a topic I can read about and discuss pretty much any time.

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Many of my novels have been licensed fiction, in which the writer has to have an outline approved by the licensor before starting work (and then has to cleave pretty close to the outline as approved). So I'm kind of in that habit. I'm working on an original crime novel with a lot of twists and turns right now, and my outline is 60 pages long. Still short compared to some writers I've known, but my longest by far.

To me it's a road map for a long trip--and like a real trip, if I see another road along the way that looks interesting, I'm free to ignore the map and go exploring. Sometimes I do that, and have to either ignore the outline or go back to it and make adjustments to where I've been and where I'm going.
That's fascinating, Jeffrey. I really don't know whether I'd be capable of doing it. I'm presently hitting my head against a book proposal, required by the terms of my contract, and what I'm pretty much having to do is write the first third of the book and then outline it, plus a bunch of vague promises about how it's all going to come together brilliantly, blah blah blah.

I envy you the capability to outline like that.
Oh, I can imagine having the same problem. I just couldn't do it. I can't even write a decent blurb after the book is finished, and I hated doing a synopsis. Fortunately, so far, I'v been ahead of my publishers.

On the other hand: being offered a contract on a proposal is an extraordinary compliment. My congratulations.
As an absolute beginner, I have a series of episodes, or parts of chapters with my characters emerging, first in thought, then I write it all down, until it feels like the emotional images I had. As it is a crime story, this is usually when the crime is happening, or is discovered, or the crime scenes are being investigated. That's the easy part, I can see and feel all this quite clearly. It is the in between narratives and daily backgrounds that tie it all together that eludes me. ie the everyday life of these characters. I guess that is what separates people who can write and others, who think they can. Any hints or pointers would be greatly appreciated..
You might try to give your characters stories in which they interact and a past that influences their actions.
Good advice, IJ -- Gaile, I think it's essential to create the characters as fully as possible before you even begin to drop them into the crime story -- they all have lives that are rich in experiences and other people and aspirations and fears, etc. Give one of them an enthusiasm you share and maybe a relationship or two based on in part on shared interests, and see what happens. Character is pretty much everything as far as I'm concerned -- I'm much less interested in the crimes than I am in the way the characters respond to is and how it affect them.
Thanks Timothy and IJ, I think I have a little of that going on, each of the characters are people with lives and family, neighbours, work colleagues etc, they interact and react according to who they are, their experiences etc. I guess the everyday part of their lives is what I am grasping for. eg Baldacci's 'The Camel Club' ...He combed down his hair, shaved off his five o'clock shadow, dressed, chewed a couple of breath mints and decided the big, somewhat weathered lug staring back at him in the mirror would have to do.... You see in a couple of lines of mundane activity, there is a whole portrait of the character. As you said Timothy character is pretty much everything, I guess it's like golf, you keep practicing, one day that ball just sails down the fairway. I'll just keep practicing - cheers
That's all any of us do, Gaile -- just keep putting one word after another.


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