Monday, February 12, 2024

"What If" Stories

 Q: What hooks you into an idea enough so that you want to write it? Character, setting, plot, genre? Or …?

-from Susan

What grabs me is anything that tickles me and sticks in my head. If it fires my imagination and begins to grow on its own into "what if?"  my job is to keep feeding the idea to see how well it grows. 

Character?  The language, tone of voice, perspective someone in my head speaks to me. The way they begin to look so that I see them in three dimensions. Their quirks, vulnerabilities, and sources of joy. One example, the slightly cynical voice of the character of Dani O'Rourke, perhaps a bit like me. She's unlikely to take someone at face value given her experience of the world.

Setting? Some place I know, usually, and that takes on details quickly. If not, somewhere I have fantasized about being. I love Santa Fe, New Mexico, which I relished making a major part of my first mystery. I'm a native of Manhattan and had the privilege of staying there on business often and putting on a black-tie gala in the elegant Metropolitan Club one year, so that worked its way into my second Dani mystery. Everyone knows I love France, but I wanted to share the quieter delights of rural Burgundy since so many wonderful crime fiction authors set their work in Paris.

Plot? Ah, here, I have to rely on "what if?" and "What comes next?" Some of my reader reviews grumble that my plots are slow. For me, murder, trauma, danger don't come flying at my characters in a rush. It's my belief in verisimilitude. I also don't include magic, fantasy, and aliens. What can I say? I create works in which what happens feels to me like it could happen.

Genre? Well, all of my books are mysteries, and lie somewhere on the scale between traditional amateur sleuth and cozy. It's what I saw wonderful authors writing when I decided to try it myself, and it's probably my comfort zone, although right now I have two very different manuscripts partially done. Neither one is cozy and both include humor.

Writers bring a big part of themselves into what they choose to write and how they do it. The best create a voice and style is distinctly theirs no matter what they're writing about and what they choose to write, don't they?



Brenda Chapman said...

So true, Susan. We all put a bit of ourselves into our characters and stories.

Harini Nagendra said...

Such a great piece, Susan. Writing your favourite setting into the book is a bit like daydreaming yourself into a fantasy world, isn't it - minus the minor aspects of the dastardly crime :-)

Susan C Shea said...

Brenda, as much as we deny strenuously that our characters aren't us, it's really hard not for a bit of our DNA not to creep in!

Harini, I dreamed myself right into your debut novel!

Josh Stallings said...

Great post. I love "what if?" and "What comes next?" I will happily borrow these tools from you. Thanks for your clear concise thinking about writing.