It happened with my first book, and it’s happening with the second.
I plunge into writing my book gleefully, without an outline. I love creating an interesting cast of characters and putting them into painful, impossible situations to see what they do. And what they think.
I am a discovery writer to a certain point.
Then I get stuck. I can’t “pants” my way out.
I remember hearing author Louise Penny say once that she started with writing mysteries because they have an expected format. It is definitely easier when you sit down to write, to know you’ll have a murder near the beginning and a denouement at the end.
There are conventions you’re expected to follow when you write a traditional mystery, such as introducing the killer in the first third of the book (I played with that a bit on my first book and a few of you did notice).
Writing the first book, I forged my way through about seventy percent of the story, feeling good about my direction. Then, I got stuck. The ending I was foreseeing wasn’t a good payoff for the story I’d set up. I had to completely step back and look at what I had.
I set it aside for a week, then came back and tried to view it as a reader would. I also reviewed all my info on story structure, which I keep in my files and, since I teach literary analysis in my high school English classes.
I decided to create an outline of major events in my story, then chop it into three acts, so I had categories for beginning, middle and end.
It took me a while, and yes—it pulled me away from the writing part, which I love. But at this point, I was able to rearrange things strategically, according to where they would make the most impact in the story.
Taking time to do this helped me tell a better story.
Once I set up the three acts, I reevaluated how to lead into the ending. I discovered there was a better, more natural culprit behind the murder!
So I went back and did some rewriting and some seeding of clues. Then the way was clear for me to write a dramatic ending that I felt very good about.
With my second book, I’ve started this process earlier, at the halfway mark. It’s not gratifying in the short term to step back and not be writing! But I know from experience that it’s worth it.
Book two is moving along. Look for the cover reveal soon!