Writing Book #2: A Post-Mortem
By Paula Munier
Posted on 6/5/2019
Nearly a year ago I wrote a blog post here called Writing Book #2: It’s the Process, Stupid. In which I outlined the challenges I faced writing the first draft of the second novel in my Mercy Carr series—and how I knew that I had many more drafts to go. Just how many more I did not know. (A good thing, just like it’s a good thing I didn’t know how many hours of labor I’d endure before I gave birth.)
Now that the book has at long last gone into production, I’m taking a hard look at how I wrote—and rewrote and rewrote and rewrote—this story. There’s got to be a better way. And I need to find it, because Book #3 must be—please God—a kinder, gentler writing experience. Not to mention that it’s due, like, yesterday.
Nail the title
When I was a young reporter back in the Dark Ages, I always wrote my headline first. If I couldn’t write my headline, I knew I didn’t really know what my story was about yet. Headline, sub-head, lead: One led to another, one built upon another.
The same is true when I write novels. When I first read the Pablo Neruda poem October Fullness, I knew I had the title for the first book in my series: A Borrowing of Bones.
But I was never crazy about A Quiver Full of Bones, the working title for Book #2. The idea was to stick with the “bones” titling convention, but my pal Carolyn Haines had already used most of the best ones I could come up with. As it turned out, the publisher wasn’t crazy about the working title either. So I came up with a list after list of alternate titles, and finally we settled on Blind Search. A K9 search-and-rescue term that really worked for the story. And which I liked very much. But it would have been so much easier had I had that title from the beginning.
Write the backstory first
In a mystery, there’s: 1) the story you tell the reader—the story about how the protagonist solves the murder; and 2) the story of how the murder happened—in effect, the backstory of the crime. I had a heck of a time making the backstory work this time around, even though I’d done it fairly easily with Book #1.
I always write a beat-by-beat outline of the story I tell the reader—what’s actually on the page—but I typically don’t write full backstories of the murders. I ended up writing one for my editor during the revisions of Blind Search, the better to help him understand the clues and red herrings. In so doing I clarified the details—and if I’d done that from the beginning, I could have saved myself some grief, not to mention a couple of drafts.