Lately I’ve been seeing and hearing a lot about how writers write, and I’m always astounded at how everyone’s process is at least a little but different. There are a few major divides, like whether an author is a plotter or a pantser.
Most of you probably know that a plotter creates an outline before starting to write, and a panster just writes the story with little or no idea where it might go.
But beyond this broad definition, there are a near infinite number of variations. Recently I was doing a library event with a couple of other writers, and an audience member asked us about our processes.
Three mystery authors; three different methods
One of us (not me, that’s for sure) creates a meticulous outline before beginning to write her book. This particular author writes both fiction and non-fiction, so maybe that’s why she uses an outline even her for fiction. It’s her method, and she’s comfortable with it.
The other author said she doesn’t use an outline at all. That’s brave.
My process is somewhere in the middle. I only know my logline and occasionally the opening scene when I start writing. But two or three chapters in, I pull out the yellow sticky pad and create a bunch of scenes I’ll need to get from those opening chapters to the ending. Which I know will be my main character identifying the bad guys and bringing him—or her, since I’m an equal opportunity author—to justice.
Both of the other authors know before writing who the bad guy is. I never know until at least two thirds through the book when I suddenly realize ‘who dunnit.’
It goes beyond just the way we write our mystery novels
The three of us also had different publishing models. One author had a mix of indie published, big five traditional published, and small press published books.
One author was with a hybrid publisher.
I am completely self-published, with my own publishing imprint and all the joy and pressure of being a one-man band. Not to say I don’t outsource things I’m not good at, like cover design. But at the end of the day, it’s still my responsibility to get it done.
There’s no one right way to write a mystery novel
As I contemplated how three successful authors arrived at three very different ways to create their books and deliver them to eager readers, I saw a parallel with the larger cosmos. None of us writers felt compelled to try to convert the others to their own preferred methodology. We took note of anything that sounded helpful for our future work, but otherwise, we merely nodded respectfully and moved on to the next question.
There are at least a million ways to write a book, and there are probably a million ways to do almost everything under the sun.
So why do so many people so often try to force others to think or do things in the way that they perceive as’ “the best?”
Sharon Ward is the author of the Fin Fleming Scuba Diving Mystery Series, which includes In Deep, Sunken Death, Dark Tide, Killer Storm, and Hidden Depths. Sea Stars, the sixth book, is coming out in October 2023. Sharon was a marketing executive at prominent software companies Oracle and Microsoft before becoming a writer. She was a PADI certified divemaster who has hundreds of dives under her weight belt. Sharon is a member of Sisters in Crime, MWA, ITW, Grub Street, the Authors Guild, and the Cape Cod Writers Center. She lives near Cape Cod with her husband Jack and their miniature long-haired dachshund Molly, who is the actual head of the Ward household.