Guest Janet Cantrell: My Writing Process


FAT CAT AT LARGE coverI know. I don’t like those words either. Many interviewers have asked me what my writing process is. I wish I knew!

When I get that question, I can’t help but picture a giant food processor, sitting on the floor beside my desk. All I have to do is aim my thoughts at it, fling them in, put on the lid, and press the button. When I open it up—voila! A finished manuscript pops out, all ready to turn in.

If I stop to think about it, though, that’s basically what happens.

I choose what project I’m working on…wait, back up. It’s rare that I actually choose what to do that day. More like—what do I absolutely have to do today? OK, that’s settled.

Right now, I’m finishing up the second in a series, so the beginning “process” isn’t recent. Soon, though, I’ll begin the third one. I used to dither around when I started a new novel, especially when I started a new series. Now that I have four of them going, a new one may not get started for a bit. But I do have a folder full of ideas!

Actually, after having written six (the sixth is nearly done) publishable mysteries (and a few that aren’t), I have arrived at a sequence for starting out.

The first thing I do is fill out the character templates from a synopsis writing class I took from Mary Buckham. These help me begin to define the protagonist, antagonist, and villain.

The next thing I do is fill out the rest of the templates from that class. These make me think about plot points, internal and external conflicts (for my mysteries, the murder is always the external problem), and set up a possible beginning and ending.

I then fill out the templates from a plotting class I took, also from Mary Buckham. These help shape my plot further.

Next, I write out three things I learned from a Kris Neri class. These include what happened before my story began that led to the crime. It also includes spelling out the murder from the villain’s point of view.

Let me mention that everything is changeable. These are all actually brainstorming for me, setting down what I think might happen and why.

I do one more thing before I begin writing chapter one. I fill out a very simple form that I got from Janet Koch via her editor. This is one of my most useful tools and something I come back to again and again as I’m writing the story.

For the killer: who I am, my motive, my weapon, how I prepared for the crime (if I did), and how I slipped up.

For each suspect: who I am, my possible motive, fact that makes me look guilty, and a reason I could not have done it.

If I follow these simple statements and spell them out in the narrative, there’s my plot! It just needs shape and pacing and some subplots.

After I write the first chapter, I try to put the main plot points (which may have changed already) onto my plotting spreadsheet and range them over the time period of the story. Then, on to chapter 2!

If that can be called a process, that’s it!

Oh, one more thing. I sit down and write nearly every day. That’s my main process.


KG lores author photo by Ron WhitfieldJanet Cantrell is a pen name for Kaye George, Agatha nominated novelist and short story writer. She belongs to Sisters in Crime, Guppies, and Austin Mystery Writers. Her cozy Fat Cat mystery series debuts in September of 2014 with Fat Cat At Large, featuring Quincy, a pudgy, adorable cat who is an accomplished escape artist. Especially when he’s on a diet and hungry. Leave it to Quincy to lead his human, Chase, co-owner of a Minneapolis dessert bar shop, into trouble. Janet lives in Knoxville TN with her husband. Her recently departed feline, Agamemnon, is a source for some of Quincy’s antics. Visit for more details. Be sure to visit Janet’s blog. You can preorder Fat Cat At Large at Barnes and Noble or Amazon.




13 thoughts on “Guest Janet Cantrell: My Writing Process

  1. A giant food processor, Kaye…what a great visual!
    In truth, this is a concise journey through the architecture and construction of your novels…all of which I’ve liked immensely. Keep up the process!

  2. Your description of seeing a food processor in your mind — too funny, Kaye. That’s what I like about your writing, too. You have a way of describing things that makes me chuckle, or smile, or think.

  3. Kaye, thanks for the pointers! Your process seems quite logical to me, but this post also points out the value of taking classes from the pros. Thanks for hosting Kaye, Susie!

  4. Nice post, Kaye. I’m amazed that you’ve written so many series. It seems like yesterday that you were writing Choke, and here you are, a day later, with four series. I envy your very organized process. Keep writing. You’re doing great!

  5. Thanks for sharing your process. I have a food processor, but I toss in ideas and they come out all chopped up. You’ve described some techniques that I could use to prevent that.

  6. Thanks for sharing your process. I have a food processor, but I toss in ideas and they come out all chopped up. You’ve described some techniques I could use to prevent that.

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