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My Secret for Creating Twists and Turns

Readers say that my books are unpredictable, with lots of unexpected twists and turns, and tangled plots that keep them guessing. Each author has their own way of achieving this. Some use intricate plotting networks where they plan each scene in advance. My writing method is exactly the opposite. I don’t plan at all.


I start with a vague idea and a blank page and I write one sentence.


This first sentence may not stay in the finished book but it acts like a launching pad into the unknown. Not knowing what’s going to happen is my secret formula because it gives the words on the page an unpredictable edge. And each piece in the invisible puzzle I’m creating spins out into scenes that form the tangled plot of the book. Some taming is needed later but all the surprises and plot twists are there.


How I Started A Scrap of Silk

In my latest release, the first book in a new series, I set out to write a traditional British mystery. The first sentence I wrote was: “What do you mean you’ve been arrested?” (Then I had to work out what the answer was.)


1. Vague Idea: Start with a well-known mystery trope

The protagonist inherits a property in a foreign place from a relative they never knew.


2. Twist the trope into something fresh and unexpected

Tiggy Jones inherits an old boathouse that was lived in by the grandmother she never knew.



3. Let the elements from the trope begin to shape the story

  • The boathouse determined a coastal location. After finding this newspaper story, I imagined a fictitious boathouse in Topsham on the Exe Estuary in Devon.


  • Mysteries involve history, uncovering secrets from the past. An old boathouse in England’s south could date back centuries to the smuggling days.Smuggling involved cellars and tunnels for storing and moving contraband. Hmmm.
  • Tiggy’s boathouse has a cellar. What if it hides a secret from the past? The cellar is locked and Tiggy can’t find the key. The search for the key forms a thread through the book.
  • The cellar’s secret involves a long-term resident of Topsham who wants to stop Tiggy’s investigation. This leads to a series of menacing threats, forming another thread through the book. I had to keep thinking up new threats!

Creating Twists

Once I knew the premise of the story and I had a couple of strong threads to move the plot forward, I employed my twist-creation secret.
When an idea pops into my head I say one word: yes! I don’t judge it. I accept the idea and put it in the manuscript even if:
  • it’s weird
  • it doesn’t fit with what I’ve written
  • I have no idea why it’s there
I leave the ideas in the manuscript to niggle away at me. The twists and turns happen when the purpose of each comes to me, usually in a blinding flash and often in the middle of the night. (A notebook lives by my bed.)


Examples of weird ideas from A Scrap of Silk & A Missing Signature:

On page one, Tiggy is attacked with a brass candlestick that she’s just bought at a jumble sale. Why was she at the jumble sale when she’s just inherited a boathouse full of bric-a-brac? Is it a random attack or is there a story behind it? Spoiler alert: there’s a story! I had to discover what it was.


As soon as she arrives in Topsham, Tiggy finds a page of hand-written cryptic clues inside a book she’s just bought. What clues? Who wrote them? What’s their game? (No idea, but I had to create the cryptic clues to find out.)


Tiggy is Australian and her new home is located in a very different culture: she’s a stranger in town. How could this culture clash be a thread through the book? What if she’d just finished walking across the Simpson Desert with 11 other people and sixteen camels to celebrate her 30th birthday – and returned to find a string of emails from an English lawyer regarding her surprise inheritance? (My hubby has done this camel expedition so I could keep the research inhouse.) How could I weave a camel expedition into a story set in Topsham? You’ll have to read the book to find out.


During the story, Tiggy is staying in the house of the friend of a friend. As she lies awake at night, I wondered what would happen if she heard footsteps in the hall. When I put this in the manuscript, she decides to follow the footsteps to a room with a very large keyhole. She does the only thing possible. She presses her eye to the hole.
Who in the household is creeping around in the dark? To do what? I had no idea, so I made something up – and kept it like another weird idea – and it threw the ongoing story into turmoil, creating a series of unplanned twists that continued till the end of the book.


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