Process? Was I meant to have a process?

I’ve just sent A Raging Madness off for proofreading, which clears my mental space for the other stories that are simmering on the back of the stove or still spread out across the kitchen table as raw ingredients.

Over the past three years, since I first began Farewell to Kindness, I’ve discovered I’m neither a plotter nor a pantser, but a weird amalgam. As the current state of said stories shows.

I figured I’d be a plotter. I am in my commercial writing life, starting with a carefully structured outline, complete with an assessment of audience and purpose. So before I wrote a word of Farewell, I had character interviews and questionnaires, a detailed plot outline, and acres and acres of research. Then I started writing.

It turns out that I write by watching the movie reel unroll inside my head. My characters had no idea what was going to happen, and as I soon found out, neither did I. The villain died before chapter 1. The slightly sinister neighbour turned into a major criminal. The hero wanted to seduce the heroine instead of courting her. I ended up more or less where I expected, but by a completely different pathway.

But nor am I entirely a pantser. If I try to write without at least some of that plotting work, my muse goes into a major sulk and I bog down.  Revealed in Mist suffered from that. I began a murder mystery with no idea who the villain was or how the murder happened. At some point I had to figure that out.

I am, I guess, a patterner. It isn’t so much that I make patterns, but I recognise them. Two or more disconnected facts suddenly come together in my mind, and all of a sudden I know where I’m going.

Take Concealed in Shadow, the sequel to Revealed in Mist, which is my book after next. I know Prue has been kidnapped and is in Napoleonic France, and I know David has followed her. I know that the story involves a secondary romance between a English detainee and a prisoner-of-war. I’m not sure of much else. But last night I realised that Prue will be handed over by her captors to a French spymaster, who will use her to try to force David to give up British secrets.

I’m currently reading about spy networks in England and France during the Napoleonic wars, and also about prisoners of war in each country. And something just clicked.

I don’t know precisely how my creative process works. But I know what makes it work. Research. When my mind goes blank, I start reading. Original material such as newspapers of the time, scholarly works, other fiction set against a similar background. Whatever works.

And I didn’t do this on purpose, honest, but The Realm of Silence, the next book in The Golden Redepennings also involves prisoners of war and spies, this time on the English side of the channel. And Luddites, because why not? What I was missing there was a MacGuffin, but I found one, so all is well.

Those are the main projects at the moment, but I also have three novellas (two for Christmas anthologies) and a short story on the go. And they all have plots! (But I don’t guarantee they’ll happen the way I’ve ‘planned’.)

So that’s it. That’s how I write. Someone compared it driving after dark. As long as you can see as far as your headlines reach, you can keep going. It’s a bit scarier than that. I start out not knowing what route I’m going to follow, and with only the vaguest idea of destination, and work it out on the way. I write the book so I can find out how it ends.

My friend Caroline Warfield has also posted about process.

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