Written by Saralyn Richard
I suppose I’m no different from any other artist. What inspires my writing is real life: people I’ve known or observed, settings I’ve lived in or traveled to, ideas and experiences I’ve had. The amalgamation of these, rolling in my brain, becomes fodder for stories. The thoughts that fascinate me most at any given time when I’m conjuring a new novel pass through the “what if” portal.
Ideas Coming From What If
Here’s an example. Once I spent the weekend at a country mansion in the lush Brandywine Valley, Pennsylvania, where many of America’s elite wealthiest one percent live. There was an elaborate party with a dinner menu fit for royalty. After consuming the nine-course meal with wine pairings, I turned to another guest and said, “This would be a perfect setting for a murder mystery.” I was struck by the fact that one would never expect a murder in such an idyllic setting. That “what if” became the inciting incident of my first mystery novel, MURDER IN THE ONE PERCENT.
My next mystery, A MURDER OF PRINCIPAL, takes place in an urban high school in the Midwest. Having worked for years in urban high schools all over the country, I’ve had plenty of opportunity to gather ideas for stories. A microcosm of society, the school is fraught with drama and emotion.
While everyone is supposedly there for a single purpose, to educate and elevate students, the individual students, teachers, administrators, and other staff members have their own motivations and rivalries, and that’s where things become interesting. I wondered what would happen if a new principal brought a student-centered agenda to the school, and he met with so much resistance that everyone wanted to kill him.
In both cases, once I had the concept, it was time to give flesh to the stories by creating characters, people who authentically represent the real-life people in each of the settings. The characters in MURDER IN THE ONE PERCENT were much less familiar to me, so developing them required a good bit of research. Who are these one-percenters? What do they do for a living and with their time? How do they talk and behave? Most importantly, how are they alike and different from one another? I knew from experience that rich people weren’t all alike, and their views about money and materialistic belongings differed, as well.
Fortunately, I was able to interview many people in Brandywine Valley and New York, people in finance and law enforcement and death services, people who enjoy horses, nature, wine, and cuisine. My characters took shape and began interacting in my imagination. Soon I had an intriguing story.
The Writing Process
The question I’m asked most about the writing process is whether I outline or fly by the seat of my pants. My approach to every book is slightly different, but I’m more of a pantser than an outliner. I always have the germ of the story, and I usually know how it will end, but I like to let my characters act out the story, chapter by chapter, scene by scene. Early on, I was writing a horseback riding scene, and I was completely in the zone of the story with my characters. Suddenly an unplanned accident took place. It thoroughly surprised me. And that accident became a pivotal plot point for the rest of the story. I learned how important it is for me to be “in the moment” with my characters, to be flexible with spontaneous ideas that make the story sharper, clearer, more genuine.
Another question I’m asked is whether a novel’s first draft is its final draft before submitting it to the publisher. The answer is a resounding no. Different authors approach revision of manuscript differently, but this is what I do. My alpha reader is my husband. His are the first eyes laid on each chapter, and he has a way of asking the right questions to help me understand whether my words convey what I’ve intended. After his comments, I revise. Next, I submit the chapters to my writers’ critique groups—I have two, one local and one international.
I pay close attention to each member’s critique, as he or she represents a portion of the reading community who will consume this book. I don’t change every single thing mentioned by a critique group member, but I do make thoughtful consideration of every comment. The revisions I make at that level are strategic, and they result in a tightening and polishing that I could never do by myself.
Getting Ready For Publication
When I’ve written the last chapter and passed it through all the various readers, I give the whole manuscript a thorough read-through from start to finish, usually reading part or all of it aloud. Reading aloud helps with the flow of the sentences and paragraphs, particularly with dialogue. As I conduct this read-through, I adjust timeline issues that tend to creep into the writing like weeds, needing to be pulled. I also pay particular attention to the beginnings and endings of chapters, making sure they carry the reader into the scene, from the scene, and into the next.
Once the manuscript is in the hands of my publisher, my participation in the project broadens. I now turn to the task of writing loglines, blurbs, and cover copy. I help with cover design. I help to enlist advance reviews. All of these require a global view of the book and its mission. What light have I shone on the issues and people in this setting? What will readers get out of reading this book? Things have come full circle, as whatever inspired me to write the book in the first place is still guiding these publication decisions.
A Love Of Writing
Because I’ve always had a writer’s passion, the writing process, from idea to publication, is sprinkled with fun. I enjoy every step, no matter how mundane. And, as I tell the students in the creative writing classes I teach, joyful writers produce joyful readers. Those joyful readers inspire me, too.
More from Saralyn Richard:
Social media links: https://twitter.com/SaralynRichard
https://www.facebook.com/saralyn.richard, https://www.twitter.com/SaralynRichard, https://www.linkedin.com/in/saralyn-richard-b06b6355/, https://www.pinterest.com/saralynrichard/, https://www.instagram.com/naughty_nana_sheepdog/
Buy links for A Murder of Principal: https://www.amazon.com/Murder-Principal-Saralyn-Richard/dp/1645991326/
Buy links for Bad Blood Sisters: https://www.amazon.com/Bad-Blood-Sisters-Saralyn-Richard/dp/1645993205/ref=
All books, including the children’s book, Naughty Nana, and the Detective Parrott mystery series, can be purchased on the bookstore page at http://saralynrichard.com.
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