How long did it take you to write the novel? Did you plot it in advance?
In a way, writing is like playing a musical instrument — they are crafts that need to be learned in a disciplined way, and that takes time. Once one reaches a certain level, the understanding of the craft becomes ingrained, though the artistry, fortunately, always remains a wonderful challenge and needs to be constantly honed.
With Devil’s Trill, from the time I first put pen to paper until it finally found its way into print took 10 years. Danse Macabre took a year and a half. Death and the Maiden took a year. That’s about as fast as I want things to be because not only do I want to make sure I maintain the quality of the books, I want them to get even better.
The general plot for Death and the Maiden came quickly enough. The idea of each member of the ensemble mysteriously vanishing was the easy part. (That idea, no doubt, has entered the mind of most musicians who have ever played string quartets over the past 300 years.) Deciding upon the chronology was a challenge, because once one or two members disappear, how do you keep the quartet going so that the remaining members would have the opportunity to be offed as well?
If yes, how do you go about plotting your mysteries? Do you do a chapter by chapter outline?
I start out with the overall concept, and from there try to determine what plot would strongly support the concept and grab the reader’s imagination. Then I decide how I’d like to begin and end the story, gradually creating a straight line between the two. That doesn’t necessarily mean the chapters progress chronologically, because sometimes it creates more suspense to jump forward or backward in time, but I need to have an orderly progression in my head or else my brain can get hopelessly addled. Once I have that I add intersecting lines of plot and new characters that have organically sprouted up from the main story line. Finally, of course, I have to figure out how Jacobus is going to solve the mystery!
With my fourth book, Death and Transfiguration, which I’m working on now, I’ve taken to writing a brief summary at the beginning of each chapter, a service a lot of the English writers used to provide their readers back in the nineteenth century (“In which Jonathan is thrown from his Horse and discovers, quite by Accident, a fair Maiden”) but for me it’s simply a way to expedite my writing process and will be deleted in the final product.