Tuesday, March 29, 2011

"To Prepare or Not to Prepare..."

Today's guest poster is Michelle Gwynn Jones. She is an attorney, and her background in law informs her creative writing. She writes legal mystery fictions, and explains in this post the process she undergoes when plotting one of these mystery novels. Please welcome her to Lit Legs and give her a shout-out at her group blog, Columbia II Writer's Workshop!

To Prepare or Not to Prepare…
By Michelle Gwynn Jones

I have found a way to combine three of my favorite things: an enjoyment of researching just about anything, the ability to write, and my fondness for the law. As a writer I hope to entwine compelling who-done-its with unique legal arguments. I have been a licensed attorney since the 80s. I am a member of the Columbia II Writer's Workshop, a great group of creative writers, who are not only very supportive in their critiques, but can be so much fun to be around. My recent blogs can be read there.

I belong to a few writing groups, on and off the net. Recently there seems to be a lot of discussion about how much, or little, plotting one does before they begin their story. Some writers start with a blank screen, just hitting the keys, letting a story fall where it may. One friend of mine writes an outline, when done she expands on it adding subcategories, she does this 4 or 5 times until she has a complete skeleton, then she finally puts words between the outline until it is fleshed out to form a story.

My process falls somewhere in between. I can’t start writing a novel until I have certain things worked out. Who the main characters will be is just the beginning. I am working on a series which features attorney Rachel Shorte. It wasn’t important to me what her ethnicity was or how tall she was or whether she was a carnivore or herbivore when I began. I did have to decide if she worked for the government, a private firm or for herself and stick to that decision.

My goal is to be a successful legal mystery writer. The novels I envision have a central issue surrounding a loophole, misinterpretation or oversight in the law. For me a novel starts with a simple question such as when it comes to a police officer, how far is too far undercover, how to deal with the collateral damage when the line between appropriate law enforcement and moral behavior is crossed. That is the premises of my novel In the Defense of Another. I can’t just open up a word document and start typing. Before I can write about the inappropriate, I have to know what is appropriate. I have to start with research.

Unfortunately no legal argument is one sided. Once I decide what the issues are that the character will face, I have to be prepared to present the case from at least two sides, often the prosecution and defense. Each attorney must be able to put forth sound reasoning for their position, that means I have to leave evidence enough for everyone.

Doesn’t that sound like the makings to one boring novel? It does to me, too. Good thing there is always room in a novel for some secondary characters and some subplots dispersed throughout. I also outline these, but with less structure than the main plot, which leaves room for my main character to grow into her life as the work unfolds on the page without the restraints of having to be perfect. Really, who likes perfect people?


  1. That's a lot of work. I just write what comes to me, let the story tell itself.

  2. I haven't actually read much in your genre but this post has intrigued me a great deal. I would love to read your books! I especially love it when authors combine fiction with what they have experienced on a professional basis.

    - Lauren

    Ladaisi Blog

  3. So far I've started and abandoned two novels. One was overplanned and overcritiqued, which slowed my process and stifled the fun, and the other was just the opposite. I dove right in and wrote until I hit a wall and needed to do some planning, and by then the whole thing was unredeemable (it was NaNoWriMo). This time around, I'm meeting myself somewhere in the middle. I like that you are leaving room for the character to develop and the subplots to wind through. Thanks for sharing your process!



Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...