Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Guest Post with author Rebecca Lee Smith

Some writers possess that effortless gift for weaving story lines, themes, and character studies together in just the right way, until a plot emerges fully developed. Like magic. Some writers can do this without breaking a sweat.

For me, plotting a novel is like pulling teeth, only not nearly so pleasant. When I have a tooth extracted, a good dentist (unless he’s Dr. Scrivello from Little Shop of Horrors) will shoot me full of Novocain to ease the pain. No one shows up with a feel-good hypodermic when I’m stuck in the weeds with great people, a wonderful setting, and no plot. Plotting is a tricky business when you’re writing a mystery. The suspects must have a reason for the reader to suspect them, the clues must be legitimate, red herrings must be planted to keep the reader guessing, and it all has to make sense in the end. Throw a believable romance into the mix, where the hero and heroine have internal and external conflicts they must resolve while falling in love, staying alive, and solving a crime, and you have a bloody nightmare. Or, at the least, a fairly intense six months of pounding your head against the keyboard.

Developing a plot is not easy for a writer (me!) who is a hybrid, that weird combination of a plotter and a pantser. I’m never fully satisfied with either approach. Part of me longs to make neat color coded charts and graphs instead of a shuffling through a pile of notes scribbled on scraps of paper. The other part wishes I could sit in front of the computer screen and let my imagination soar by the seat of its pants from beginning to end. But that, of course, would take forever, so I end up doing an odd combination of both.

I like making things up as I go along; I think it keeps my manuscript fresh. But the genre I’ve chosen doesn’t always allow me that freedom. Mysteries are usually plotted backwards, so before I start writing, I have to figure out the nuts and bolts of how the crime was committed, who is guilty, and why. Once the characters’ personal conflicts are created, I play the “what if?” game. Endlessly. Some of the questions I asked myself while writing A Dance to Die For were: What if the hero’s brother was engaged to the victim? What if the hero had also been engaged to her, and she two-timed him? What if the hero had trust issues with anyone associated with theater, a world he was born into (traveling with his mother on a third-rate dinner theater circuit) and hated? What if the heroine was aware that the victim was a rotten person? What if the victim’s death really was an accident?   

Once, while writing a previous romantic mystery, mostly as a pantser, I realized near the end that someone other than the person I had slated as the killer committed the murder. So much for plotting backwards. It actually worked out well, because I had provided this character with a motive, means, and opportunity (like all good suspects), but had kept him flying under the radar. The character was funny and charming, and right up until the moment he revealed that he had a much stronger, secret motive, I expected him to be innocent. It was such a cool surprise. That’s why I like not knowing everything beforehand.

When I get bogged down trying to develop an interesting plot, or hit several dead ends along the way, I look at a quote by E. L. Doctorow that I keep in a little frame beside my desk for inspiration. “Writing a novel is like driving a car at night. You can see only as far as your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way.”

Rebecca will be giving away a $20 Amazon GC to one randomly drawn commenter during the tour as well as to the host with the most comments (excluding the host's and the author's). The tour dates can be found here:

About the Author:

Rebecca lives with her husband in the beautiful, misty mountains of East Tennessee, where the people are charming, soulful, and just a little bit crazy. She’s been everything from a tax collector to a stay-at-home-mom to a house painter to a professional actress and director. Her two grown sons live nearby, still have the power to make her laugh until she cries, and will always be the best things she’s given back to the world. It took her a lot of years to realize that writing was her true passion. When she’s not churning out sensual romantic mysteries with snappy dialogue and happy endings, she loves to travel the world, go to the Outer Banks for her ocean fix, watch old movies, hang out at the local pub, and make her day complete by correctly answering the Final Jeopardy! Question.

Visit her website at


  1. When I read A DANCE TO DIE FOR I just know I will remember laughing as I read this post.


  2. It's fascinating to learn how mystery writers plot their stories...and gratifying to know it isn't always easy!


  3. As I read your interview, I giggled as I had a vision of you beating your head against your keyboard. not too hard, I hope. The story sounds really great.

  4. Thanks, marybelle,
    Sadly, everything I said was true. LOL

  5. @MomJane Thanks, momjane. I have a pretty hard head (in more ways than one, probably).

  6. Plotting a story sounds extremely painful. I am glad I am a reader only haha. Thanks for the giveaway

  7. I really liked that quote comparing writing a novel to driving a car at night! That is probably a fair comparison for a lot of things we do in life.


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