At a Sisters In Crime chapter meeting yesterday I moderated a panel discussion about plotting. It was really interesting to hear how four different writers start at four different places when they write a book.
Suzanne Arruda, author of a history/mystery series with an African setting told us that since she already has her heroine, her starting point for each new book is the villain. Once she has him/her, she can begin to write. Then she plays a sort of devil's advocate with her villain, in effect forcing the villain to prove to her that he did it and that nobody else could have done it. She says there comes a moment when she discovers one clue which points to the villain and only the villain. But up until then she's willing to consider any of the other suspects.
N.M. Kelby, whose most recent novel is Murder at the Bad Girl's Bar & Grill, said that because she was a reporter for years, she always starts with the scene of the crime. She acts like a reporter, coming onto the scene, seeing what's there, and branching out from that center. She's not interested in the crime so much as she is in its effect on the community around it, essentially going up to all of her characters and asking, like a reporter, "Your family just got killed. How do you feel?"
Juliet Kincaid, who was an English professor for 24 years, explained how she uses classic theory that dictates that every novel has to have six essential scenes--beginning, plot point 1, midpoint, plot point 2, climax, denouement.
Joel Goldman, who is an Edgar and Shamus-award nominated author of "lawyer mysteries," talked about plot in relation to how the author connects a series of seemingly random events. He recommended a book, The Drunkard's Walk, by Leonard Madinow, and he also recommended reading, "Why do good ideas come to us when they do?, which is an article in the July 28 issue of The New Yorker magazine. He quoted Albert Einstein: It is a magnificent feeling to recognize the unity of a complex of phenomena which appear to be things quite apart from the direct physical truth. Joel praised what he called "the discipline of the undisciplined mind," which refers to a writer's insistence on creating time and space for Not Thinking, so that epiphanies and ideas can pour in. He makes that space when he takes 3-5 mile walks every day.