We all know there are six elements of fiction. Who, What, When, Where, Why and How. I believe the first five lead to the sixth which for me is plot. What's your take on this?
I'd have to go with theme. The central ideas that dominate the work. I think the message of the story is embedded in the theme, and theme drives the characters as well as the plot. So yeah, that's my take.
1. How do you create your characters? Do you have a specific method?
I tend to create characters in layers. I think about the foundation of a person, head-strong man, for example. Then I give him vulnerabilities, traits he'd probably prefer to keep hidden. I think about when or why he'd have to reveal those vulnerabilities. I think about difficult situations characters could find themselves in and how they'd have to grow as a person to overcome obstacles. I have to be able to identify with each character in my book and they're always going to be multi-dimensional people, just as we all are in real life. It's important for me to feel like the characters are real and that their behavior, when placed in tough situations, is something readers can support and accept. It's disappointing to me when I read a book or see a movie and the protagonist behaves in such a bizarre manner that it just leaves me wrinkling my forehead in confusion. I don't need wrinkles.
2. Do your characters come before the plot?
Yes, pretty much always. I love plot-driven stories, but it's not interesting unless the people driving the plot forward are interesting. People are fascinating to me and I love creating characters.
3. Do you know how the story will end before you begin? In a general way or a specific one?
I'm definitely a plotter but not necessarily down to the last detail. I outline before I start writing, which mainly started because I have a time-consuming day job and I found myself spending way too much time trying to figure out where I'd left off from one week to the next. So outlining helps keep me moving and on track, but I leave plenty of flexibility for the characters to tell me where we're going in the story. They're the bosses, I'm just the worker in the trenches.
4. Do you choose settings you know or do you have books of settings and plans of houses sitting around?
I let my imagination do the choosing. In Hot Bayou Nights for example, Louisiana just came calling to me. It's hot and sultry and sensual . . . it seemed right, so that's where the book is set. But I don't have plans of houses sitting around, I just decorate in my noggin. :-)
5. Where do you do your research? On line or from books?
Both. Online is certainly handy, but you have to be careful. As everyone knows, there's a lot of misinformation on the web. I have a library of research books and utilize them fully.
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 do a general outline all the way to the end, then I start writing and really listen to my characters. They tell me what we're doing. I don't think I've ever written a book that ended up being exactly as I'd outlined when I started. Characters help the story evolve, and often new ideas will come to me as I'm writing that I realize absolutely must be in the story. So it's a process, but one that I love. There's nothing like the satisfaction of completing a book, followed by the excitement of beginning the next one.