In the Spotlight at CrimeFest - Pauline Rowson explains The Perfect System for Writing a Crime Novel

At CrimeFest 13  I appeared on a panel session  and also In the Spotlight where I talked about "The Perfect System for Writing a Crime Novel" it was standing room only and below is an article based on the talk I gave.

The perfect system for planning, researching, plotting and writing a crime novel

All writers have different ways of working and finding the ‘perfect system’ for planning, researching, plotting, structuring and writing a novel is often a matter of trial and error until something clicks. That’s how it was for me anyway.

Before I struck on my 'perfect system' I tried all sorts of ways of compiling my research, plotlines, and character outlines, from using note books to wall maps, from card indexes to ring binders. None of them worked. The ring binders looked nice and neat, all properly indexed, but because of my civil service training my mind told me that something in a file, was 'filed away,' and therefore actioned, finished with and a novel is a work in progress.

Notebooks worked for a while but I got tired of flicking through various pages trying to find the precise piece of information I needed, when I needed it. And they weren't much use for containing the research pulled off the Internet, and from other sources. Wall maps were soon a no,no. They looked messy and very rapidly got covered with notes pinned all over them. So what next?

I'm not really sure how I evolved my current system of working but gradually it came together so that now all my plot lines and character outlines are executed in pencil on recycled bits of paper.  Each plot line and character details are held together by a separate Treasury Tag. The individual characters have their names flagged up at the top in a coloured sticker, so that I can grab the right character in an instant (well almost).

The research from various sources is then tacked on to that character or plot line, and all this resides on my desk in a three tiered tray system:

  • bottom tier – maps, tide timetables, charts, police procedural notes, forensic research notes;
  • middle tier – regular character details i.e. DI Horton, Sergeant Cantelli, Detective Superintendent Uckfield and the supporting cast of police and forensic officers and other regulars;
  • top tier – chapter-by-chapter breakdown, plot and sub plot outlines and all the other characters and miscellaneous research
This all stays on my desk until the novel is finished and sent to my editor, when it moves to a table behind my desk and sits in another tray while I turn to writing the next novel. Nothing is filed away until the novel in question has been published.

And as to the actual writing tool? That is straight on to the computer for me.

Undercurrent, the ninth in the DI Andy Horton crime series is now available in hardcover and ebook format.


J.C. Martin said…
I'm glad you posted this on your blog. Was looking forward to attending your talk but was foiled when the hubby phoned for help with baby!
Pauline Rowson said…
Baby must come first, of course. Enjoyed our panel session.

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