In our How I Write series, our Crime Cymru authors share their insights into the writing process. This week, Cheryl Rees-Price gives a beautifully clear step-by-step guide to plotting and preparation and offers some great tips for aspiring writers.
When I wrote my first book I picked up a pen and started writing with no preparation. I ended up in a mess. Loose ends, plot holes, and a timeline that needed a Tardis. I learnt the hard way that I am a plotter. My everyday life is run by lists and my desk diary so it should have been obvious that this would be the best method for me. Now a great deal of planning goes into my work before I start. This takes the form of a physical file which contains locations, characters, research, and plot outline.
I usually start with locations. I find it helps focus my thoughts and I like to get a sense of place. I live in South Wales surrounded by mountains and small villages. It is here that I base my books. I change the names of the villages featured in my books. This gives me scope to put in extra buildings and roads and it also avoids causing any offence to residents. The villages are then anchored by real locations or landmarks. My latest book is set around Dinas Rock, a popular tourist attraction. It’s a beautiful area.
Once the location is set I create the characters. Each one has a profile with physical characteristics, back story, and status. Next is the research. This takes up the bulk of the file. I have a shelf of reference books covering forensics, police procedures, and weapons and poisons.
There is a lot of information available on the internet but for me I find you can’t beat a good reference book or talking to people. When I wrote Blue Hollow I wanted to convey how it felt to be raised in a children’s home as well as the experience of serving a lengthy sentence in prison. I was fortunate to be able to conduct interviews with people who had experienced one or both. These people’s stories were often heart-breaking and as well as giving me an insight they helped shaped the characters and story. Some of the scenes in the book are taken from real life accounts. I’ve found that mixing fact with fiction makes the story more believable.
The final piece of my preparation is the plot outline. This is where I work out the how, where, why, and when. Red herrings and sub plots are worked out followed by the police investigation and clues. I’m now ready to write. Once I’m into my first draft I write every day. I set myself wordcount goals which keeps me motivated.
My tips for aspiring writers.
- You will find loads of books giving advice on how to write. There is no right way. Find out what works best for you.
- Buy some good reference books – Your writing will be more credible if you research your topic.
- Listen to people – first-hand experience is invaluable. If you can’t find suitable candidates to interview then documentaries are the next best thing. As well as giving you ideas they can help build characters.
You can see Cheryl’s books on her Amazon page.