I thought I’d do a series on my writing process as I write Murder on Morro Strand. I had someone say to me she couldn’t figure out how I wrote a book without even knowing how it’s supposed to end. Another writer thought that because I don’t use plot points or structure techniques (both outlining techniques), I didn’t have a plot.
Where does this stuff come from? Yikes!
One of the things I’ve immediately noticed is that while I was writing the ending of Rogue God, and then the ending of Soldier, Storyteller, I didn’t multi-project. I have an idea for a short story, but I didn’t touch it even though the magazine deadline was coming up. Yet, throughout the writing of the book, I had up to three projects at a time.
Now that I’ve started Morro Strand, it’s the same thing: No multiprojects while I’m writing the beginning. It’s just too easy to use that to procrastinate while I work my way into the story.
I picked Morro Bay, California, as a setting because my family went there twice a year when I was growing up. It’s a place I’m well familiar with, so I’m not starting cold and trying to make up the setting as I’m creating, or needing to do basic research to get setting into the story.
I’ve been sort of wandering around in the first chapter, trying to make it click. I had some initial problems where Left Brain wanted to create the character backstory. When I originally tried starting this story a year ago, I made the character a spy because spies are way cool, and Left Brain jumped in and had to explain why she was there.
The backstory was that she had been a CIA operative who was now retired. There had been an active shooter in a mall somewhere in Virginia who took out a lot of people. She grabbed a dead security guard’s gun and shot the shooter, but not before she got shot in the leg. The CIA didn’t want the publicity, so they retired her. She came to Morro Bay to reconnect with a home, and there was this whole military thing where her father had been the military and they’d bounced all over the place and she’d done the same thing as an adult.
Coming up with that backstory messed up the opening because I was trying to write to fit the backstory, not follow where the story needed to go.
When I started the first chapter this time, that pesky backstory started creeping in again. I had read a book on Erle Stanley Gardener, and it mentioned starting with a smaller mystery first to hook the reader. I started thinking that the main character is being followed, which would be the small mystery, and then it turns out to be a reporter who has tracked her down because of the mall shooting.
No, no, no. Left Brain is definitely misbehaving again, and the story was already starting to veer off track.
NO BACKSTORY. Do you hear that Left Brain?
So the only thing I came into the story with was knowing that she’s a spy. Spies are still cool, and I’d like to do a story with one. One of the things that got me out of thinking about character backstory for Rogue God was writing a story event with immediacy (that was chasing a monster), so I thought about what that might be.
The Pineapple Express hit the West Coast and dumped rain all over California. I remembered on one my visits to Morro Bay, we were headed home. It was pouring rain, and my father stopped on the freeway as a man in a yellow slicker emerged out of the deluge. It was a police officer. They had a conversation, and then my father turned the car around to head back to Morro Bay. “They had a mudslide,” he told us. “The road’s closed.”
Hmm. Storms are cool, too. Morro Bay is part a mountainous area. We’d have to drive on a road that cut through the mountains, and once I was there, I could look behind me and see cows grazing on the hills. One year, there was a brush fire and all of that was blackened.
Left Brain is still trying to insert a backstory, so I’m like in an alternate reality neutral zone wrestling with it right now.