Two methods are most often used for fiction writing. One is to outline or graph out the sequence of events that will occur. The writer sets the scene, creates a problem, brings that problem to catastrophic proportions, and then has the hero(es) of the story prevail in the end, growing and changing as a result of the experience. The second method is to start with a scene and a group of characters and a vague idea of the storyline and to just keep writing.
When I hadn't written very much fiction, I could not conceive of writing a book using the second method. I had come from a technical writing background, in which I would prepare an outline for a manual and then fill in the information. The idea that anyone could write a book that was actually any good without some idea of the plot and how all of the themes fit together before hand seemed ridiculous.
The more I began to write, however, my characters would sometimes do things I didn't expect. They would say things that came out of the blue, and they would head off in directions that weren't listed on my map. They met other characters whom I didn't know. I know this sounds strange – I mean, they all came out of my imagination, right? But it's true. And I've read that this happens to other writers also.
So it happened that one day, when I was stuck, trying to figure out how to get my characters out of a situation they had gotten themselves into, that I just let go of my plan and kept writing. Amazingly, and sometimes painfully, for one who had been so regimented, they made their way through the world, and the themes came together, and the plot thickened, and the conflicts resolved themselves. It was a much more interesting journey than the one I had planned.
In Murder in the Marsh, however, something odd happened as I was about halfway through. Bruce, Agatha, Milton, Carly, and Angie were all busy searching for clues that would lead them to the creature who murdered Cecil, Agatha's friend and mentor. Suddenly, Bruce asks Agatha what she would do when she found him or her. Agatha replies, "I'll make sure he gets all that's coming to him!"
If I had been writing a novel about people, there would have been no issue with this statement. The detectives would discover the identity of the killer, they would confront him at the climax, and eventually he or she would be turned over to the authorities, and that would be that.
In the bug world, however, there are no police. There is no system of justice as we know it. It's a bug eat bug world and none of the conventions that we make use of when writing detective fiction applied here. I almost abandoned the book when I realized that my premise made no sense in this environment.
However, I persevered (in part because I'd gone too far to want to turn back and also because my husband kept urging me to keep going, "just keep writing"), and eventually I was able to arrive at a means for justice to prevail in this world. What options were there? I didn't like the idea of any of them taking justice into their own pincers and claws. I didn't want a deus-ex-machina ending where the bad guy (or gal) would die by a flood or fire or some other accident introduced at random. The best I could think of was ostracism, where the bug community would banish the offending creature. But still that didn't seem enough. What did I end up with? You'll have to read the book to see how exactly what happened. :-)
Will I write another mystery? Perhaps, if I ever abandon Bruce and write about children instead of bugs and animals. Or maybe I'll forget how hard this one was and think, "I could do that again." My mind has a way of lulling me into forgetfulness of the hardships and I tend to only remember the good things. In the meantime, I'm fleshing out the start of a new series of books that are about people, while I think about a new book in Bruce's world. More to come on both of those.