Monday, January 10, 2011

Plotting for Success

Ah, my maiden solo voyage as a member of the ICFW blog team. First of all, a huge "Thank you!" to Ruth Ann Dell who interviewed me for this blog last October and then invited me to be part of this amazing group. And an equally hearty "Thank you!" to Lisa Harris for her patience in teaching me to use Blogger.

I thought I would introduce myself by attempting to answer that question so often asked of novelists, "How do you work? Do you have your whole story plotted out ahead?"

Oh, to be able to say a hearty "Yes, of course!" to that. Think of the security. But the best I can say is that I usually do have a general idea of where the story is going, major plot points, clues that absolutely must be found, questions that must be answered. And I have a pretty good idea of who are the baddies and who the goodies. I will admit, though, that when I wrote Grave Matters, book 2 in the Lord Danvers series, I truly didn't know whodunit. I never wrote a book so fast in my life. I had to find out who had been doing all those heinous things.

Two things drive the plan of the Monastery Murders: history and setting. Both of those elements must be planned ahead because they determine where I need to go on my research trips. When one lives 7000 miles away from the scene of the crime, one has to be pretty clear about that. Then I can, to some extent, let the facts of the actual history shape my stories. Seeing how events that occurred hundreds of years ago could possibly impact events today is always a challenge and creates many opportunities for plot points.

Also, because my books are thrillers, not cozies, that means the plot moves around a lot and various settings suggest their own opportunities for mayhem, but I want to keep it within the realm of possibility. For example, when Felicity and Antony visited St. Ninian's cave on the west coast of Scotland I knew no good would come of it, but I wasn't certain what the threat would be. I wanted the tide to rise and cut them off, but, barring a tsunami, I don't think the tides reach that high. I also thought a rock slide sealing them in would add a few thrills, but the mouth of the cave is huge. An act of God could have accomplished it, but it would have been beyond the reach of my villains. So I had to settle for something less dramatic. Having them caught by the tide leaving Lindisfarne, however, was a natural, since that's something that truly does happen to people.

And then there are the vicissitudes of research. I try never to write about a place I haven't actually been to. That means mishaps with public transport, meeting interesting people, tangles with weather and scheduling. I write it all down as it happens, then figure out what to do with it when I'm back at my computer. And the more that happens the less I have to make up.

For book 3 in the series Felicity and Andrew will be leading a youth pilgrimage in Wales. Of course I'll have to scope out their exact route from Llantarnam to Penrhys, but before that, for total emersion in verisimilitude I'll be joining the Youth Walk from London to Walsingham (126 miles) as an overage pilgrim.

Anyone know where I can borrow or rent a sleeping bag and mat in London?


  1. Welcome Donna, I enjoyed reading your maiden solo voyage.

    Your Youth Walk sounds like great fun, I wish I could join you--when there's no snow, of course.

  2. Welcome, Donna :) Good to have you onboard--or hiking alongside, as the case may be!

  3. Ruth Ann and Valerie, Thank you so much! I'm truly honoured to be part of this great group.

  4. Enjoyed the post, Donna! Glad you're now on the blog.

  5. Loved reading how you don't know 'whodunnit' yourself (almost) until it all unfolds, Donna! Welcome to the blog - and I hope you find your sleeping bag in London!

  6. The Youth Walk sounds wonderful. I'm all for "overage pilgrims." It sounds like wonderful background. I'm going to have to read these books! I love the setting.

  7. Donna, great post! Welcome to our blog and thanks for sharing your plotting and research tips with us :)

  8. What a great welcome! Thank you all for writing. God has not only provided a sleeping bag (well, I know where I can get one) but He has also provided a friend to drive through the Welsh portion of the research trip!