I'm about to start a new book and as usual I'm in full panic mode. If I were a sensible author I'd start with the outline, plot out every scene and then feel confident that I could deliver a sound, enjoyable story. But I can't work this way. I wish I could, but I can't. If I wrote an outline I'd immediately lose interest in the story. And frankly I work best with the element of surprise. I start off knowing very little--usually a setting. For example: how about if I send Molly Murphy to one of the "cottages" in Newport R.I or how about if Georgie goes to winter on the Riviera with the wealthy Brits.
And then I start, plunging blindly ahead until she meets someone--in Naughty in Nice it's an encounter with a handsome Frenchman on the boat and then Coco Chanel on the train, and then the whole future of the story hangs on these encounters.
In the upcoming Hush Now, Don't You Cry--the next Molly Murphy book, due out in March, it is the character of the house and the family that owns it that creates the story--much more a story created through atmosphere than many of the Molly books. I also had to make sure that Molly, now married, still has a good reason to be a sleuth.
So the first 100 pages are, as I said, full panic mode. I'm taking baby steps, not quite knowing where plot twists might lead. And then I find a body, a character I didn't expect shows up and things liven up. I begin to see where we're going and the whole thing picks up steam. By page 200 I'm charging along, enjoying myself.
This is probably a stupid way to work, but it works for me. You see, I don't really know where my heroine is going. I'm following her, just watching and waiting, and thus I'm as surprised as she is when something happens to her. I'm not the puppet master, pushing her into a situation and I think this makes it more fun for the reader too.
In every book I've been surprised at what my heroine does, what she uncovers, whom she meets. Plots always go in directions I haven't expected, and remarkably, after 27 mystery novels, they all seem to come to a satisfying conclusion and there has never yet been a story where I've gotten myelf horribly stuck or written myself into a corner.
So now I start Molly book 12. And what do I know? Molly is pregnant and someone in New York is kidnapping babies. Sounds good, huh? I think there must be a good story there, waiting to be uncovered. More about my methods in a couple of days.