Monday, September 14, 2009

Look Who’s Talking

This week at The Stiletto Gang, we’re exploring the writing process. Four authors, four different approaches to producing mysteries.

I’m Marian, the Northern half of Evelyn David. In the five years that we’ve been collaborating together, Rhonda and I have often had this same conversation.

Me: So then what happens?

Rhonda: I don’t know until I hear the characters talk.

It’s taken me years to realize (and I confess that I’m slow in gaining these insights) that my writing is plot driven; for the Southern half, and she’ll speak for herself on Thursday, it’s character driven. I have to start out with a general idea of the whole storyline; whereas Rhonda insists that the characters will tell her what happens next once she gets them down on paper. Actually, that’s not a bad combination. It’s probably why, despite repeating the exact same conversation at least a dozen times in every book or story, our collaboration works so well (that and the fact that the Southern half has a wicked sense of humor).

I suspect my approach is the result of 20+ years of writing nonfiction books. Publishers insist on seeing a detailed Table of Contents, as well as a sample chapter, before forking over any money. There should be no big surprises when you write a nonfiction book. Of course, you’ll learn new things as you delve deeper into the topic; the emphasis may shift a little from what you proposed. But basically you know the ending before you start.

As with any successful partnership, both halves of Evelyn David have learned to compromise (early and often). Before we start writing, we talk through the A, B, and C plots of the book, know who our villain will be and what is his/her motivation. But it’s a loose outline subject to change – which is exactly what happened in both Murder Off the Books and Murder Takes the Cake. Rhonda was right. As the characters talked to us, we learned that the murderer we thought had done all those dastardly deeds couldn’t have killed a fly. About halfway through each mystery, the characters told us who was the “real” killer. I had to put aside my careful outline and listen to these chatty characters. They knew what had really happened.

As for my daily writing process. It involves a least a couple loads of laundry, maybe an online game of Spider Solitaire, two or three tournaments of online (no money involved) Texas Hold ‘Em – and then yes, procrastination finished, I write a couple of scenes that I’ve plotted out in my head and discussed with the Southern half. But I’ve learned to listen to what the characters are telling me to do. Sometimes they say, chuck the outline, here’s the real skinny…and then I hit the delete button and start over.

Rhonda would be so proud.

Evelyn David

Murder Takes the Cake by Evelyn David
Murder Off the Books by Evelyn David


  1. Your daily writing process sounds just like mine! Knowing other writers work the same way, relieves me of a lot of guilt! Going to check out your books now!

  2. I'm a character driven gal, myself. It is sometimes a negative, as all approaches are.

    I really like how you talked about non-fiction writing having shaped your approach and methods, too. As a journalism school graduate who has worked for dollars in text publishing and then print journalism and then technical writing, etc., I have to work hard to make my writing be more character driven and less "factual" and lead paragraph driven.

    Thanks for the good post, M.

  3. I'm character driven as well, which is why I didn't like a recent blockbuster about Jesus and his supposed love child (no names please :-) To my mind, the action didn't sustain the plot. That's why Evelyn David is such a fabulous team--thanks for letting us in on your secret, Marian! Maggie

  4. On tomorrow's blog I've explained my writing process--but did want to say that often my characters also do something I didn't expect. Fun, isn't it?


  5. An insightfull post. Will definitely help.

    Karim - Positive thinking

  6. Very thoughtfull post on mind .It should be very much helpfull.

    Karim - Creating Power