The plot is absolutely the 6th element of fiction, and the most important. Everything intertwines into the plot. It's the core, the soul of the story.
1. How do you create your characters? Do you have a specific method?
When I come up with the story line, the major character must be part of it. His/her story should suffer through the conflicts. The other characters are attached as required and sometimes show up unannounced. In The Barbers, Celia suffered her whole life from cruel rejection. Priscilla showed up as a periphery character, and at times, almost took over. I had to reel her in so that Celia could continue on as the main protagonist.
2. Do your characters come before the plot?
Sometimes. For The Barbers, I knew Celia’s conflict and how she would work through it. Before I wrote Twins, I had run into a little known superstition that a man can sire one child at a time. If a woman had twins, she was clearly an adulteress, or a complete wanton. In this case, the conflict came first, then I added the twins, fraternal – a boy and a girl – to make things more complex.
3. Do you know how the story will end before you begin? In a general way or a specific one?
Yes, I always know how it will end. It’s important for the cohesiveness of the story, a build up of the plot, development of the characters right to the end. Without knowing the end would put my story in jeopardy.
4. Do you choose settings you know or do you have books of settings and plans of houses sitting around?
It depends. When I wrote The First Apostle, which is of the French Revolution, I went to Paris. Much of what was during the late 18th century is still there, today. My stories of London deal with the time prior to the great fire of 1666. I went to London once and knew there was nothing really left of it that had been (the Tower and Westminster, perhaps, but little else.), not even a nook at the end of a narrow lane. Everything burned to the ground within the ancient walls of the city. The London I write of, even a half century later, was still Elizabethan London. I have an Elizabethan street map of London, and use that. It’s the type of map you see in old churches of a parish. It is an extremely handy tool, and gives me a real feel of the area, of the period, although by the mid-17th century, the fields north and west of the City were filling in with houses, taverns, the theatre district.
5. Where do you do your research? On line or from books?
Both. When I’m doing research from a source I like, I look at the Bibliography, go online to see if I can find it, then either try to download it or buy it. Some used bookstores are a wonderful source of historical information. I’ve even gone to Canada and England to find good resource texts. Once, while in England, I went into a university library, and found the perfect source for one of my novels. It sat bereft in the stacks; hadn’t been checked out since before WWII, but because I was not a student, nor a citizen, I was not allowed to check it out. I left the library and within a week or so, filled a sock with as many 5 pence pieces as I could. With those, at the photocopier, I made copies of every single page of the book, some 350+ pages. You cannot keep a determined girl down. ‘Where there is a will there is a way’ is my motto.
6. Are you a draft writer or do you revise as you go along and why? Do you sketch out your plot or do you let the characters develop the route to the end?
I’ll sit down to write with an idea of how it will go. Once a chapter is down, later, say the next day or so, I’ll reread it, make changes as I see fit. Working the previous chapter marks the way into the next chapter. Since I know how the story ends, I try to make the chapters weave together like a basket.
I’ve tried sketches, outlines, but they don’t work for me. During the writing journey, unexpected turns and twists take place that really quite surprise me sometimes. I’ll sit back and murmur, “I wasn’t expecting that, but I like it.” Those moments are quite the thrill of one's creative juices.
I don’t plot by the seat of my pants, though. I know what the conflicts are, who are affected by them, and the conclusion. The characters give their own personality along the route, but they must adhere to my final word.