Friday, October 15, 2010


Starting points...

So, how do you start off your writing project, be it a novel or a short story? Does the idea come first -- thoughts of a murder, dear to your heart, that you must work through in fictionalized form? Or maybe some disturbing social issue you'd like to address and feel a mystery is the perfect vehicle? An item in the daily newspaper trigger an idea?

Maybe it's're walking along a street and your imagination takes over, you hear footsteps behind you and you veer to the left, knowing your attacker will be led right to a sheer cliff and over he goes. Okay, that's unlikely, but you get my drift. I'll bet every mystery writer has given some thought to murder while vacationing in a sublime dream spot.

Or do you start with character? Is there a police detective or an amateur sleuth who has been invading your dreams? Someone so compelling, you'd like to share him or her with your readers and have this character right the wrongs you'll imagine?

Character is my starting point, especially character names. I puzzle over them, write them down and sound them out. And from that, the substance of this person starts to form. Which provided one of the major challenges when writing my first novel for the Berkley Prime Crime line. It's a 'house series', which means it's their concept, even the names of the characters are theirs. Which is also why I'm writing it under a pseudonym (Erika Chase).

So back to my challenge. I had to create this main character, an amateur sleuth named Lizzie Turner. Not a name I would have chosen. But I loved the concept so this ghostly outline of a person saw me through the initial couple of chapters. As I re-wrote it, she started to flesh-out a bit more. At some point, I could actually visualize her, then hear her voice. And now, after first draft and revisions, she's my constant companion, a friend who visits every day. And then we go on this adventure. And she ends up solving the case. (that's not a spoiler!)

I'm still revising and I'm sure my friend Lizzie will evolve even more. It's been a terrific writing exercise in itself, forcing me to approach the process a bit differently. And I believe, the more we challenge ourselves to do things differently, the more growth occurs. Here's hoping!

What works best for you?

Linda Wiken/Erika Chase


  1. Now you've made me think, Linda. Every story has its own genesis - something that catches my attention or creates and emotional reaction. Sometimes I am just dealing with a situation from the past that really needs me to kill someone to get past it. Just sayin'


  2. Sometimes it will be a situation that I read about or hear about. I think, what if? And sometimes it's a place that cries out for a murder.

  3. i start with a news item, google to discover similar news items, most involving southwest, and border of US/Mexico at Nogales, Arizona - since we (i) write about crime, right now that geographical area is rife with crime and criminals