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Great writing – art or craft?

Oh, how I envy those writers who can sit down to write a novel with little or no preparation! They just start typing and out comes a great work of art. They seem to be able to plot ingeniously, create interesting and compelling characters as they go along, and just rely on creative instincts to put it all together. I’m not one of those people, more’s the pity.

I have to put in 2-3 months of planning before I write a single word. First, I have to come up with an interesting idea for a murder or some other mysterious happening. Sometimes it’s the setting that prompts the idea. In the book I’m writing now, the idea came from a visit to a tiny town in the mountains nearby. My husband and I were riding our bikes in that area and stopped for lunch. As I looked around, I began to wonder about the people who lived and worked there. Then the idea for a murder came to me and thus began the journey I’m on now.

I thought of some characters based on the people I saw there. I came up with a hero/protagonist, an antagonist, a few red herrings and some minor characters. Then I wrote lengthy biographies of the main characters, and then created plot lines around them. (I use the ABC method of plotting, described here.) Then I created what is sometimes called a step sheet or a scene list. I call it an events calendar. Whatever you call it, it lists the main events that will occur from beginning to end. Of course this can change slightly as I go along, but it gives me a starting point for each chapter.

After all this was done, I took the first 2-3 events from the calendar and turned them into chapter one. Knowing the characters as well as I do from writing their bios, each character’s dialog is true to his/her nature. Knowing what the events will be, writing the plot is a piece of cake. I just follow the events calendar.

If you saw the movie “Amadeus,” you’ll understand when I say it’s all up in my noodle and the rest is just scribbling and bibbling. Remember the scene where Mozart is composing The Marriage of Figaro at the pool table and the music is playing in his head? Constanze comes in and the music stops. He was just writing down what he was hearing in his head. That’s what happens when I plan everything out beforehand. I hear the characters talking in my head. Writing it down is the easy part because it’s all in my noodle.

Yes, it’s a lot of work to spend months planning. That’s the craft part of writing. The artistry comes as you simply let your creativity flow and your prose sing without having to worry about what’s going to happen next and how your characters are going to act and react. It’s all up there in your noodle.

Published inadvice for writerscozy mysteriesmystery writingWriting


  1. DM, thanks for this piece. It is always a great subject and I suppose for some writers “arguable.” I hope you don’t mind, I shared it on Facebook, and reblogged it on my blog, I love the typewriter graphic too. HUGE.

    • dmobyrne dmobyrne

      Of course I don’t mind. The more people who read it, the better. Thanks for your interest!

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