One thing Auntie M has learned is that there’s no one way to write. Each writer has to learn what works for him or her, and it’s as individual as snowflakes.

Please welcome fellow Sister in Crime, Ellis Vidler, who shares her writing process with readers.

The Way We Write

The writers I know work in all sorts of ways. Some outline in great detail, others just turn on the computer, start typing, and the story comes to them. Only one person of my acquaintance gets out his yellow legal pad and sharpens his pencil, but it works for him.

Me? I have to think about the characters for a good while, get to know them in my head first. Scenes come to me, and bits of the plot, such as a night fire (arson, of course), and then I wonder if anyone dies in it. If I let the story percolate in its own time, it will eventually take shape.

I do a LOT of reworking, which might be avoided with more planning, but so far that hasn’t worked. The eternal questions why and why not keep coming up. Why would she do that? Why wouldn’t she do that?

Maybe that’s plotting in a way, but the scenes are random, only connected through the characters. My characters are why I write. I love them. I have to or nothing else comes to me. I can imagine them in all kinds of situations, bad and good, as long as I care about them. My most recent characters, Madeleine Schier and Charlie Dance, are two of my favorites. I spent many nights dreaming about them.

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I spend hours online searching for pictures of their faces, their homes, settings for scenes, anything that catches my eye. Most of my “finds” are never used, but I keep them for a long time, just in case.

Now that Pinterest has come to my attention, I have a great place to store the pictures, and they’re easier to see on a board than in my photo files. I keep these boards secret until the book is finished. Then I delete the things I don’t want, add excerpts from the book to some, and make the board public.

For my current book, another McGuire Women Psychics, I started out to write Shallow Grave. I have the character, Niamh, bits of the story, and even the cover. But much of it is based on Niamh’s past. Finally I decided I had to write her mother’s story first, or this one would be all backstory. So this story belongs to Aurelia, most powerful of the McGuire psychics.

It’s set in the North Carolina mountains in 1981 when she’s nineteen. I’ve been thinking about her for a couple of months. As usual, this won’t fit neatly into any genre. It’s about vengeance and murder, justice and injustice, and love. I think it will be suspenseful. I don’t know how long it will be—as long as it takes to tell the story, whatever that is.
What I do know is that I’m wrapped up in it, and it’s hard to come out for everyday life. The main male character is Finn Youngblood, a member of a rough, clannish family. Finn plays a mean guitar, and I’m working on a scene in a blues bar, so I’ve been listening to the old blues greats—Muddy Waters, Jimmy Reed, John Lee Hooker—while I imagine the scene. The music helps me find the mood and the atmosphere. This was when cigarettes were in, so I see swirls of smoke wafting through the blue light highlighting the band, breathe in the thick air, smell the sweat and perfume and beer. The crowd is caught up in the music. Aurelia, at table in a dark corner, feels it too, until she senses intense rage. She turns, searching for the source, . . .

I’m still in the euphoric stage, the first third or so where I’m filled with ideas and images and in love with all of it. It’s the middle third that’s a killer. I get depressed, doubt the story’s worth, and don’t know where to go next or what works. But for now, I’ll enjoy the high and keep writing. This is how my writing goes.

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Ellis lives and writes in the South Carolina Piedmont with her husband and two wonderful dogs. All her stories have some degree of romance and a lot of suspense. Her first two books were traditionally published but now she self-publishes. Haunting Refrain and Time of Death are the two McGuire Women Psychic novels, and Cold Comfort and Prime Target are linked through Maleantes & More, a security firm. She co-wrote The Peeper, a police procedural/suspense novel, with Jim Christopher. Her collection of three short Southern stories, Tea in the Afternoon, is available on Kindle. There’s more about Ellis and her books at