Monday, July 18, 2011

Caution: Writer at Work by Sara Rosett

I’ve written six books (seven if you count the one that is in draft stage right now) and with each book my process has been a bit different.

I’m not a seat-of-my-pants writer, but not a compulsive outliner either. Thinking about making a neat outline with Roman numerals and indents makes me break out in a cold sweat. I need something much more flexible. I take a large sheet of white paper and write down what I know about the story. In the beginning, that usually involves the victim (I write mysteries, to there has to be a victim), the murderer (ditto), and the murder method (also ditto).

Then I begin to think about how my protagonist is connected to the murder (is it through a friendship with the victim? With a suspect?). I draw lines and jot down ideas as I consider who would be on the suspect list and how characters are linked—are they friends, neighbors, coworkers? The story begins to take shape in my mind and I sort out when events will take place. Sometimes I make a rough timeline on the paper.

By the time I get to this stage, I’m pretty sure where the first third of the book is going and I know how it will end (I already know who did it and why), but for that middle part…well, I have to write my way there. Once I get the first part of the book written, I’ve usually sorted out what happens in the middle.

For the first few books, after I completed my messy brainstorming schematic thingy, I wrote extensive character studies. I knew the character’s childhood, her favorite perfume, the color of her comforter, her hopes, dreams, and fears. I drew floor plans of homes, neighborhoods, and towns. I research absolutely everything. While writing Moving is Murder (the first book in the series), I learned obscure details about bee stings, wasp stings, off-shore bank accounts, and county record-keeping. I probably could have won a round of Jeopardy if those were the categories. After I knew every tiny detail about my characters, I used index cards to break out scenes.

But by the time I wrote Book #3, I realized that I was writing these loooong character studies, but when I was in the midst of writing the actual book the characters turned out differently than I’d planned. I thought one character was from Minnesota and had five brothers, but in the book it turned out he grew up in Georgia was an only child. I stopped doing the character studies after that.

Now I still use my crazy schematic, but I skip the endless pages of character background and index cards. I have no idea what I’ll be doing in a few years…whatever works, I guess.

That’s what I recommend to people who ask me how to get started on their book idea: do whatever works for you. There’s no set formula, no “right” way to do it.

Just sit down and do it. You’ll figure it out.

Rosett is the author of the Ellie Avery mystery series, an adult “whodunit” mystery series in the tradition of Agatha Christie. Publishers Weekly has called Sara’s books, “satisfying,” “well-executed,” and “sparkling.” Library Journal says, “...Rosett’s Ellie Avery titles are among the best, using timely topics to move her plots and good old-fashioned motives to make everything believable.”

Visit for more information or connect with Sara on Facebook, Twitter, or Goodreads.


  1. Great advice. Not to mention a cool pair of shades.

  2. Thanks, Karin. And the shades are still my favorite...gotta have them here in Florida!

  3. "Just sit down and do it. You'll figure it out."

    Well said, Sara! Each of us has to find what works best. We writers are like snowflakes, no two do anything exactly the same way! I just read an interview with George R. R. Martin who noted that he doesn't keep track of character traits so a character with blue eyes might have brown eyes in the next series book. There's something about that I love while the part of me that's "Monk"--as my hubby likes to call me--winces. In the end, the story's the thing. And there's no story at all if you don't, um, sit down and do it. :-)

  4. Yes Sara, this sounds a lot like the way I do things, though I never ever wrote those character studies even I might recommend them to beginners:). It does leave room for angst in the middle, which is of course why I'm over here commenting instead of writing...

    Love, Lucy

  5. There's some Monk in me, too, Susan! The story is important, but I do try and keep track of little things like physical descriptions.

    Good luck with the writing, Lucy. I'm sure you'll get through the middle. Thanks for dropping in.

  6. Great advice, Sara. I too, have found character studies to be pretty useless. My characters reveal themselves as the story evolves and I find they are much more interesting that way;)

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