How to Figure Out Where the Story Is Going

From Tom Nolan’s Wall Street Journal column on mystery stories:

Some authors of mysteries spurn outlines when they sit down to write. Others need at least a rudimentary map to show them where they’re going. It seems safe to say that no author does more preliminary research, profiling and story-planning than Elizabeth George, the writer of some 20 novels featuring British Detective Inspector Thomas Lynley and Detective Sgt. Barbara Havers.

In “Mastering the Process: From Idea to Novel” (Viking, 318 pages, 428), Ms. George gives a meticulous account of her preparation, from taking photographs to creating back stories: “I’d become my characters’ psychologist, social worker, historian, medical doctor, psychiatrist, religious adviser, guardian angel. . . . I would mold them into real people.” As practical guide or technical memoir, “Mastering the Process” affords a fascinating look at the methods of a prolific artist.

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