Author Liz Fielding talks about Developing a story from an idea. She has a new book out this month, Murder Among the Roses.
Developing a Story From an Idea with Liz Fielding
It's one of the most common questions an author is asked. "Where do you get your ideas from?"
The answer is always the same. Ideas are everywhere. In every headline, news broadcast and glimpse of a house through the trees.
The problem is that an idea is not a story. It's just a stepping stone onto the page.
I had a big idea many years ago after watching a documentary, Forgotten Lives, about women who were locked up for "moral delinquency". These were girls from poor backgrounds with very little education and possibly learning difficulties who were, in the main, the victims of men who'd taken advantage of them. Many of them spent half a lifetime in mental institutions.
So I had the idea for a cozy crime novel. I even wrote a few thousand words that I was pretty pleased with, but it wasn't going to be a fit for the books I was contracted to write, I had deadlines, so I put it to one side.
Every so often I'd take it out and look at it. I still liked it, but I had a contract with a publisher who wouldn't be interested in that book, and deadlines.
And then came lockdown.
I'd delivered the last book on my contract and, since the idea was still burning a hole in my brain, I decided it was time to throw some fuel on the fire and gave myself six months to see if I could write it.
Murder Among the Roses was still only an idea, but I'm an into-the-mist writer so I thought, no problem. I'll write as far as the headlights reach. It's always worked before....
That works when your story is focussed on two people falling in love, usually against their better judgement. (If there wasn't a problem, there wouldn't be a story.) Even if I didn't know how I was going to get there, I knew the destination. I usually had that scene in my head.
This new book was different. It wasn't going to be a short romance. This was about some terrible things that had happened in the past and a murder. And I realised, quite soon, that by the end of chapter two I was in serious need of more characters. Preferably with motives for killing the victim.
This was a whole new experience. When writing short romance, you don't have room for lots of characters. It's tightly focussed, with just enough interesting (and three dimensional) characters to provide the world.
This was a much longer book and I needed a lot of characters. And names. I was grabbing names out of the air, just so that I could keep writing. Here are a couple of really useful #writingtips.
• Before you start writing, create a list of names suitable for the ages and education of the characters you think you're going to need.
• Before you start writing, create a spreadsheet and add the name, and at least a few details, about each character as they appear.
If you do that, you won't end up, as I did, with three minor characters called Steve and a Dolly, Polly and Olly...
Back to the flying into the mist thing. When I was writing romance I often didn't know exactly what the problem was until quite near the end, but as long as I was delivering on the romance and giving them a black moment or two, the characters would finally take pity on me and let me into their secrets.
In crime, you don't have to know who did it when you set out. It actually helps if you don't – if you don't know, you can't inadvertently give it away - but you do have to have a number of suspects, all with a good reason for wanting the victim dead.
I'd like to be able to say that I have that one nailed, but I'm still working on it, although I'm just about to embark on the third Maybridge Mysteries and I do have a list of suspects. (I still need to make that list of useful names.)
I was still finding my way on the first book and quickly discovered that once you have suspects, you have to give them a real motive for killing the victim.
But the real fun of writing crime (with some romance and a lot of emotion – don't panic, this a Liz Fielding with bodies) is that when I set out I don't know the destination. I'm on the same journey as my amateur detective heroine and we uncover the murderer's identity together.
Murder Amongst the Roses, the first Maybridge Mysteries cozy crime, is published on 18 April 2023 by Joffe Books.