I’m preparing my notes for a crime fiction workshop I’ll be running at the NSW Writers’ Centre in May – The Criminal Element. The focus is on writing detective fiction, and, coincidentally, I have just completed the first book in my new fantasy crime fiction series and sent it to my agent. So did I plot? You bet I did. But as I began writing, I let it take its own course and develop organically, no matter if it took me away from my original plan.
In her book Talking about Detective Fiction P.D. James says a detective story is:
‘… differentiated both from mainstream fiction and from the generality of crime novels by a highly organised structure and recognised conventions.’
James goes on to clarify:
‘There must be a central mystery, and one by the end of the book is solved satisfactorily and logically … by intelligent deduction from clues honestly if deceptively presented.’
Of course, some present day detective fiction authors might challenge the simplicity of this, but crime fiction is all about the reader’s enjoyment of solving the puzzle and watching the detective work through the process. The necessray plot twists, clues and red herrings require some planning, whether it is simply in the author’s head or a detailed documented process.
Australian crime fiction author, Gary Disher, plans his novels in minute detail. He ‘interrogates’ his characters to establish their motivations and ensure they are credible, and then ‘investigates’ police procedures and locations (his research).
He is from the James Ellroy school of plotting. Ellroy is famous for his very detailed synopses, which are sometimes two hundred pages long.