With my upcoming September release, The Renegade, soon due for release I was privileged to be invited to write this blog. For weeks I pondered what topic I should write about. Last year, I wrote about a huge personal revelation that I discovered on reflection of my two previous novels, Secret Lies and Season’s Meetings. Both dealt subconsciously with the passing of my incredible grandmother, Mama Bridie. Both stories voiced my grief and helped me come to terms with losing her. Still at a loss as to what topic I should broach, my wonderful wife suggested I should write about my writing process, as I’ve been asked a lot of questions recently about how I go about writing by readers. Knowing that my wife is almost always right, I’ve decided to stick with that topic.
What is the first thing that happens? There’s a spark. And this spark can happen at anytime and in any place. It’s happened on a bus journey, in the shower, when I’m on the verge of falling to sleep, and when I’m in the middle of a conversation. I have a thought, perhaps ask myself a question, or see a mental image of a setting or scene, or sometimes even think from a brand new character’s point of view. From that inital spark comes a snowball affect. The story, characters, and settings quickly all fall into place. It becomes a new obsession. My head is filled with the story and characters and they are all I think about. Sometimes I even dream about them. It doesn’t matter what I’m doing in body, because my mind is constantly working out any plot holes and how to fix them. I live, eat, sleep, and breathe the story, setting, and characters. And I think this is why all three of my books are different genres; Young Adult, Traditional Contemporary Romance, and Speculative Fiction. I don’t choose one specific story or genre to write. I have to go with whatever characters or story is making the most noise at that time.
Most writers tend to fit into one of two categories of writer: the plotter or the pantser. The plotter likes to plot everything out and know exactly how each chapter and character is going to develop. The panster just goes with the flow and flies by the seat of their pants. Both types have positives and negatives. I consider myself to be somewhere in the middle, perhaps I’m a planster. I plot the general outline and story arc by initially writing a proposal and in-depth character and story arc outlines before I even start writing the manuscript. There are always parts that I don’t know and they tend to be the parts that occur between the main plot points.
Scenes play in my head like a movie clip. While I’m typing away on the keyboard and words appear on the screen, I’m actually writing what I’m seeing in my mind’s eye. Almost like I’m experiencing everything with the characters. I’ve always had an overactive imagination and I enjoy daydreaming these scenes. I can vividly imagine seeing, smelling, hearing, and touching things in each scene. The smell of rain or smoke from a camp fire. The sound of paws and boots on cold marble floor. The sound of crickets and birds and the eerie silence of a deserted street or block. The cold numbness that accompanies snow, the irritation of damp socks, the aggravation of a trickle of sweat on a blisteringly hot day. Taste is probably the only thing I can’t do accurately, but in all three book there are plenty of descriptions of various food / meals. The inspiration usually comes from something I’ve eaten recently or something that I’m really craving at the time.
It’s during the writing process when the characters take on a life of their own. This is for me, where the magic happens. The character’s ambitions, likes, dislikes, history, psychology, physiology, and dreams all contribute to a feeling of authenticity. The characters become real in their own right. It’s during these unknown parts of the story that little quirky gems occur and everything seems to fall into place. Humour is something that happens naturally during these stages and can come from out of nowhere. For me, this is the exciting and most enjoyable part of the process. Like the reader, I get to know the characters as they want to be known. I appreciate that this probably sounds a little absurd, but this is how my writing process works. It’s almost like the characters are in charge and call most of the shots. For instance, in Season’s Meetings I’d planned on only one intimate romantic scene, however Catherine and Holly both had other ideas. Begrudgingly, I ended up having to write the scene because they wouldn’t let the subject drop. With Nicola and Jenny in Secret Lies, I felt incredibly maternal towards them. When it came to poor decisions and big mistakes I wanted to protect them and intervene, but they wouldn’t let me. It’s their story and I have to go along with it. I become as emotionally invested as the readers do if not more. I feel frustrated, upset, and happy as I embark on their journey with them. The characters also insist on changing things such as a certain phrase or an item of clothing. If something I write doesn’t ring true, they don’t hesitate in hounding me until I fix it.
I read somewhere that writing a story and publishing it, is like putting a little bit of your soul out into the world. It can make you feel vulnerable. For me, it’s not just the time, effort, and sacrifices that went into the book, that make me nervous and perhaps sometimes overly-sensitive about the release. I truly do appreciate constructive criticism as it helps me develop my writing skills. It comes down to the fact I don’t want to let the characters down. They feel like family and friends. I’ve spent months, sometimes even years getting to know them and I feel protective of them. I want to do their stories justice. I want readers to like them and enjoy reading the books, as much as I enjoyed writing them.