Sunday, July 26, 2020

My Characters Talk to Me: Guest Post by Abby Collette

Abby Collette:
My Characters Talk To Me 

I’m a pantser!

Everyone has a writing style. Mine though isn’t prearranged, which is actually quite opposite of how I do everything else. Some writers are plotters. They scope out most, if not all of the story before they even get started. Beginning to end. Outlines. Notecards. They’re very organized when it comes to how their story will be constructed. And it’s true, detailed outlines do help to keep the story on track. It’s helpful for some to follow a road map, usually intended and often much needed, to help keep the writer from going off on a tangent.

But not me.

Some writers write by the "seat of their pants." They’re called pantsers.

That’s me.

When I was growing up my mother always said, “there is a place for everything and everything should be in its place.” I kind of live like that. I like to have everything organized—a drawer for this, a cabinet for that. But my writing process is completely different. I write on napkins and receipts when ideas pop into my head (and I tell you, it’s no easy feat trying to keep up with those scraps of paper). That’s not to say I don’t outline some, usually just to organize my thoughts, so I do keep a notebook, but it isn’t always very helpful. I’ve been told it looks like the diary of a mad woman. I write up the side of the page, across it on an angle, some sentences in all caps, some with circles around words and asterisks next to them. And once my writing has gone cold, I’m not even sure what I’ve written. It looks like chicken scratch. So mostly, I just basically wing it.

My writing process is a mess. And that’s probably not a good thing seeing that I write mysteries. (When people ask advice on writing and are interested in my writing process, how I can churn out a book in less than a month, I warn that my process is not one to follow!)

Cozy mysteries, the kind of stories I tell, where readers like to follow the clues to see if they can solve the whodunit right along with the amateur sleuth, must have organization to it—some logic. And while there's not graphic violence, readers do like a touch of drama to the story—yes, they still crave a page-turner. Logic and a story that will keep a reader turning pages is not something anyone can do willy-nilly. It’s easy, when you don’t have a plan, to get bogged down in unnecessary and irrelevant details and lose track of plot points, forgetting to add the clues that your readers crave (and what will make your story believable) and be unable to provide tension and edginess needed to keep that story moving.

The plot of any story is just a series of scenes deliberately put together. The scenes, no matter the genre, are filled with drama and conflict that the writer weaves their characters through. And then those scenes, strung together, build up the anxiety and anticipation that will pull your reader down the rabbit hole, keeping them up all night to finish reading your story.

Having no plan ahead of time can make arranging those scenes hard, making it easier to get stuck, making the writer either have to revise or restart their story.

But not me.

For me, I like the freedom in being able to take my story in any direction I want as I write. Writing by the seat of my pants gives me they flexibility for my imagination to take flight with every word, every scene, every chapter. And it gives me the opportunity to let my characters talk to me. Often characters and situations enter my writing without me ever knowing ahead of time that they were going to be there. Without being stuck to a pre-set plan, if I don’t like the way the plot is going or how characters feel, think or act, things can change. My story and the characters in it can evolve all on their own.

Recently, I was working on one of the subsequent books in my new series, An Ice Cream Parlor Mystery, (the first book, A Deadly Inside Scoop, is out now), and I decided I needed a subplot. I thought of including it as I neared the end of the book and so I just dropped it in there. But I knew I’d have to go back and make reference to it near the beginning so it wouldn’t appear to have been thrown in at the last minute (although it was). After doing that, I realized that I needed to expand on that subplot a little more. But as I did that, a new character popped up on the page. I never saw him coming! But Win, my main character, was so enamored with him when she found him at the front door of her ice cream shop, Crewse Creamery. Butterflies. Blushing. Befuddled. (Believe me once I introduced the character, I had no idea she was going to react that way!) That totally surprised me because I’d never seen her get so flustered. Win’s reaction took everything, for that new character, in a different direction from that point on.

I wholeheartedly agree with Terry Pratchett’s quote about writing characters. He says, in part, when writing your characters all you need do is “wind them up, put them down, and simply write down what they do, say or think.”

My stories are murder mysteries so of course there’s a body to be found in all of them. But, in my books, the characters (who drive the story) drive themselves, and there is no way I can know what they are going to do to solve the murder beforehand. When writing a story all I can do is hope that my characters can figure it out because most times I have no clue.


Abby Collette loves a good mystery. She was born and raised in Cleveland, and it’s a mystery even to her why she hasn’t yet moved to a warmer place. Along with the Ice Cream Parlor mysteries, she is the author of the Logan Dickerson Mysteries, the southern cozy mystery series featuring a second-generation archaeologist and a nonagenarian who is always digging up trouble. She is also the author of the Romaine Wilder Mysteries, set in East Texas, which pairs a medical examiner and her feisty auntie who owns a funeral home and is always ready to solve a whodunit. Abby spends her time writing, facilitating writing workshops at local libraries and spending time with her grandchildren, each of whom are her favorite.

1 comment:

HonoluLou said...

Great post and proof of that old adage, "Genius is seldom tidy." As to why we stay in CLE...who knows? I moved here from HNL~!