Last night, I was working on The Deceived, the new Montana Wylde book, when it occurred to me that I was not just writing but putting together a complex jigsaw puzzle in which every piece has a purpose and that all of them fit together in one tidy mystery. The Deceived is the second mystery in the Montana Wylde series after the just release first mystery, The Purified. I think the puzzle analogy is a good one.
Every book, regardless of genre, has an element of being a puzzle: a writer wants to ensure you have the plot, the characters, and each of their own personal storylines together. All the details must fit into place. However, in a mystery, it is essential that all the characters, the plot lines (and usually in a mystery, there are many of them), all weave together so that it is clean and tight at the end. Using the analogy of a jigsaw puzzle, you have to insure that each unique piece fits together and that there are no gaps—because if there are, people will notice them.
When I wrote The Purified, I did eight revisions. Ugh! I had to rip up many virtual pages to go back to those points where the book started moving off track. That happened when I realized a character’s role didn’t make sense for the climax or that people would be able to guess the killer’s identity. There were just too many loose ends dangling and it’s a bad idea to give a frantic try of forcing them together at the end. If you do that, it looks forced and the story (which could have been great to that point), all of a sudden loses all its steam. I learned a lot writing that book. The Purified was an organic novel; I started with an idea and just let the idea take its form and grow. That organic style can work with some books but not with mysteries—at least not with this mystery writer.
Then a friend gave me a great idea. She told me that to first write an outline, which (Yay for me, I do listen), I did. Then she said I should take each character’s storyline and to do an outline within the major outline. Therefore, I did thorough job of writing out where I wanted that character to be at the end of the novel. In other words, for The Deceived, I have tried shaping each piece of the puzzle as much as I can before writing out the chapters. This way, I won’t have to go through the frustration of throwing pages of work away because I hadn’t thought everything through thoroughly enough.
Writing The Deceived is so much easier. Inserted into each chapter, is that section’s outline, which I refer to as I am writing. Another thing I am not doing this time is rereading what I wrote. In the first book, I bogged myself down by editing while I was writing the first draft, which is in fact, censoring yourself as you go. You want the story to just flow out of you—flaws and all. After all, there will be plenty of time to edit later. It’s during the second, third—and perhaps even fourth revision that you’ll have time to smooth out those rough pieces so they all fit perfectly in the end.
Writing out each character’s timeline and plot (and each character does have her or his own plot within the main storyline) is one of the best tips a writer has ever given me. All authors, new and old, improve with each new project. Unlike some people who become discouraged with criticism, I value it because I value anything that will help me become stronger at anything I choose to take on.