Sunday, October 24, 2021

The Agenda of Writing Novels by Joan Donaldson-Yarmey

The Agenda of Writing Novels

Some people believe that there is an agenda or blueprint for writing books and as long as the writer follows that blueprint, they can write a book. However, that is not really true. Authors have different ways of writing their novels. Some outline each chapter. Others wing it just going where their characters take them. Some start with a plot and add characters and some have characters around whom they build a story. A few take an event or an idea and build on it putting in characters and settings as the story develops.

     I have never worked with a solid outline, or arc as it is sometimes called, for my novels, whether they are mystery, historical, or young adult. And this is mainly because I find that my characters seldom end up the way I first pictured them and the plot never takes the route I thought it would. I do start the story with a character in his/her everyday life so the reader can get to know them then I put in the trigger or problem that is out of the control of my main character or that starts the mystery. This puts the main character on his/her quest for a solution.

     I do have scenes pictured where characters are going to have a certain conversation or be at a certain place but unexpected conversations or character twists surface as I am writing the story. Some of these are surprises or mishaps or glitches that get in the way of my character’s quest. I strive not to make these predictable, nor so far out that they don’t make sense to the story. They should leave the reader with the thought that (s)he should have figured that would happen. Personally, I find that it is no fun to read a book in which you can foresee where the story line is headed and what is going to happen.

     If I get writer’s block or get to the end of an event and not really know what to write next, then I pick up one of the encounters that I know a character is going to have and I write that. Sometimes I will have two or three of them waiting to be put into the manuscript where they are needed.

     For the climax my character goes through the action of resolving the problem or solving the mystery. This has to be fast paced and sometimes at risk to my character. By this time the reader should be rooting for the main character and wanting him/her to succeed without injury. Hopefully, too, this is where the surprise comes in, where the reader goes. “Wow, I didn’t see that coming." or "I never thought it would be that person.”

     I have even been surprised or saddened or happy by the ending of my books. When I was nearing the end of writing one of my mystery novels I still hadn’t figured out which of two characters had done the killing. Suddenly, a different character put up their hand and said, “I did it and this is why.” I was surprised but realized that it made total sense.

     I believe that if my emotions are rocked by the ending so, too, should those of the readers. When the book was published I had readers tell me that they had also fluctuated between the same two characters as I had and they, too, had been surprised by who was actually guilty. Something a mystery writer is always happy to hear.



  1. I write pretty much this way too, Joan.

  2. I'm a planner and when readying a new story, I've told it to myself as I'm falling asleep for weeks so the story and characters have become part of me. Keep doing what you do in your own way

  3. Everyone's writing process is different, and mystery is a very specific genre with its own rules. I like it when the culprit comes as a surprise. Thanks for sharing your process.

  4. Good explanation of how authors can create. No matter how much I plan the characters always take over and tell the story their own way.

  5. Yes, that mirrors the way I write too. There's just a certain amount of planning I can do before my characters take over the storyline LOL


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