Monday, October 6, 2014

How Do You Do It? Three Authors Reveal the Seeds of Their Stories

One of the perennial questions authors are asked is, "How do you think up your stories?" Sometimes we even ask ourselves that. There's never any one answer for any writer, but I think each one of us has a favorite way of working or a favorite story source.

I almost always start with background, the historical events I want to portray and the places I want to visit, then I put my characters in that time and place and build a plot around that. Plot elements often come to me when I'm doing my on-site research and a building or bit of landscape suggests a mysterious or even dangerous happening.

I asked three of my favorite mystery writers to tell me  how they 'get' their stories. After you've read their replies, please leave a comment and tell us how you do it. I expect no two answers will be alike. It will be fun to see.

Veronica Heley:

How do I do it? I read the papers, I listen to people, I wonder 'What if . . .' and I pray a bit. Somehow or other, the stories pop into my head. After which the real work of getting them down onto paper begins. Sometimes I think up a character from scratch. That takes a lot of thought; no one person is absolutely good or bad, are they? Suppose they have this flaw, which negates all the good they try to do? Or a talent, which they misuse? Do they have any particular mannerisms? What sort of clothes do they wear/car do they drive? It takes time and thought to create a believable character.

Veronica's latest— Murder in Time— Ellie Quicke has her work cut out when past wrongdoings put the future of a child she loves at stake.

Fay Sampson:

The well-spring for my books is almost always a sense of place. This is particularly true of my native West Country of Devon and Cornwall and the Celtic fringes of Wales, Scotland and Ireland. I look at these wonderful landscapes and seascapes and think "What could happen here?" It helps that many of them come with their own evocative legends or colourful history from the Celtic past. A bonus is that I get to visit or revisit this soul country, to recreate the experience of my characters in that setting.

Fay's latest— Beneath the Soil— Suzie Fewings is stalked when she investigates a mysterious shooting.

Dolores Gordon-Smith:
How do I get the idea for a book? I like to start with an intriguing situation. There's often an element of mystery, a sort of magic trick about the set-up. For instance, in After The Exhibition poor Betty goes into a supposedly empty cottage in the dark (she's not TSTL or Too Stupid To Live – she has a good reason for being there!) and, by the light of a match, sees the body of a strangled woman. However, when she goes for help, the cottage is corpse-less and seems untouched. I'd thought of that situation ages before the solution of the how, why and who came to me.

That coincided with a background I thought had a lot of richness to it, that of church art. That setting allowed discussion about the difference between supposed piety and genuine devotion. And, of course, the characters take on a life of their own....

Dolores' latest— After the Exhibition—  Jack Haldean investigates when a church art exhibition turns deadly.

Claire Dunn:

It all begins with a good story, something I would want to read and as tempting as fudge. Stories are everywhere - in the news, a half-heard conversation, a memory - but the best are often supplied by history. Even my contemporary novels have a large dose of history, for where would we be without the past? 

It’s less a question of where stories come from, rather the process of sifting through an endless stream of thoughts and images to select the bits that will work as a whole. I’ll be quite happily chopping veg or pulling weeds when an idea drifts out of nowhere and plants itself in my imagination. I might ponder it for a while, turn it over and examine it from all sides, before developing strands of a story like roots that stretch backwards to a beginning and forwards to a conclusion, giving me the plot. In fleshing it out it has to grip, but be more than mere entertainment, and it must have enough depth or risk being as vacuous as cotton candy. 

I enjoy language - words are a writer’s crotchets and minims making prose sing. More than anything, I’m fascinated by individuals and their past. History is largely the result of choices, driven by motivation. Motivation derives from people’s experiences and shapes the future.  Stories are people. I like stories.

Claire's Latest— Rope of Sand Emma unravels Matthew's alarming past and meets his sinister family. Can the lovers have a life together?

Posted by Donna Fletcher Crow— A Newly Crimsoned Reliquary— Murder stalks the shadows of Oxford's hallowed shrines.


  1. Veronica, Fay, Dolores and Claire, thank you all so much for sharing this insight into how you come up with your great stories!

  2. Oh what a great interview, Donna. So interesting to hear how we all come by our tales of mayhem, murder, mystery, and magic!
    I believe I'm closer to Claire with her "endless stream of thoughts" process. This usually happens at night when all is quiet. And once I begin, my characters seem to nudge me in the direction they want to go,

  3. Wonderful post and intriguing look at some books which need to be on my TBR list. So many riches, so little time. Thank you all for participating.

  4. Veronica had troublegetting her comment to post. She said:

    Thank you for taking the time out of a busy day to let us know how much you enjoy our stories. Writing is a solitary business and it cheers us up no end when we hear from our readers.
    Veronica Heley

  5. Lovely insights into how mystery writers think and write--thank you, Donna, and thank you to your writer friends.