Monday, September 3, 2012

The Writing Process

My current office character sheets.

Yesterday Matt from ZOVA Books asked about my writing process. You know, how the books come together, where the ideas come from, how I'm "organized". I thought this was an awesome question, especially since I've never really written about it before.

Inspiration and the first steps of writing
The first thing is inspiration. It comes from an idea usually out of nowhere. I can be talking to someone and, poof, I'll think, "Hey that sounds like a fun idea for a book." From there I start thinking about basic world settings, is it real world, fantasy, real world steampunk... it could be anything depending on the story idea. At  this point I'll also start writing down notes in composition notebooks. This is a fun part because my mind is pretty energized and I'm excited to be getting into something new. I usually take my time here, I like to think about the story and what will happen in the first few chapters. At this point I like to figure out if the story will be linier (told from one perspective or bi fractal told from a good guy one chapter/bad guy next chapter sort of thing.) I'm a big fan of villains so I kind of like the two way story better.
Some original notes for Thomas Riley
Some original notes for Tribes.

How I begin a book
Next I'll start the first chapter. I like to start with a bang. (Thanks Southern California Writers Conference!! You changed my writing in a good way forever.) So I like to start with action or something nice and grim from the villain) Spoiler alert: That's how Thomas Riley and the Maelstrom starts. ;) The first chapter of Thomas Riley 3 will also start by answering a stunning question. And in my new horror story I'm toying with (Tribes) you get a gnarly beginning as well.

Character sheets
From there, I'll make character sheets. I'll usually pick an actor that I think looks like the character or someone who I well. I absolutely write like a movie. I see it all in my head and I see it like a film. I tape the actor's picture next to a sometimes short bio on the character. These are a paragraph or two of background info and personality traits for everyone. I add way more information than I'll ever use. I find that having a bunch of information on someone will come out in cool ways in the books. Many of the character sheets will have middle names, schooling, fears, shortcomings, life accomplishments, personality traits, even favorite foods. the information in the book but often little things come up that give the characters extra life and dimension. I have my lovely wife, Elizabeth Valentino and Science Fiction author Linnea Sinclair for their inspiration with this. I cut out the sheets and put them on the wall in front of my computer. This is a big step because it gives me constant inspiration as well as handy information reminders on each character. (I even do them for characters that appear in only one scene.)

Close up of Cynthia's character sheet.

The character sheets will grow. I'll add more information as new books are written. For instance, the characters sheets in Thomas Riley 2 doubled if they made it through the first book and Holy cow, there are a bunch of new characters for the second book, so my wall is totally covered. This enables me to keep up with everyone and need info on them, it's right in front of me. I can;t tell you how many hours I've wasted looking up something silly about a character. Like what was the name of the island they were from...

The Body of the book
First, I find some music that I can blast while writing that fits the mood. My current faves are Ben Steed, Cradle of Filth and Hans Zimmer. I like to write in bursts of three to four chapters. I don't really like to have a full map of the story until I am getting close to the middle/end of the story. I do this because if I made a map, it would change drastically. The characters literally change the story as I write. In TR2 Cynthia did something quite rash that I wasn't expecting until it happened. Thomas does something quite rash at the end as well... They would have never done these story twisting actions if I was abiding by a hard and fast map. In my opinion, it gives them life and lets them make heroic and bad decisions like any real person would.

Toward the end, I make a map, which is a page or five with arrows and boxes and stars that makes a sort of timeline or treasure map of the book. Think of it as a sloppily drawn index with a few words that I can follow the story with.

That's kind of the nuts and bolts of how I write and what my process is like. If you have any questions or comments, I'd be happy to answer them.

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