© Marta Stephens 2008, all rights reserved
Long before I decided to write fiction, my first love was art, so I can't help but compare the writing process to the method I use when I oil paint. In both instances I begin with a white surface that begs to be filled. I start with an outline of the shapes (my plot), determine the perspective points (point of view character), and then decide the direction of the light and shadows (those wonderful subplots, twists, and turns). Obviously there's more to consider when we write, but all the same, it is a layering process of writing, editing, and letting the prose rest. If you were to paint an object in the foreground of the canvas before the background was dry to the touch, you'd end up with a muddied mess. Writing is no different. It can't be rushed.
When I start working on a new novel I consider the crime first. What happened, who did it, how, when, and why? It's essential to the development of the plot. Next comes the cast of characters. Several of the characters such as Homicide Detective Sam Harper and his partner Dave Mann appear in all of my books, however, the villains change and I usually introduce two or three other protagonists. I write back stories on each new character to understand their motivation. A brief synopsis will give me a rough idea of the storyline; the order of the events and how I want the book to end. Details don't play a role at this point of the planning, all I'm trying to do is understand the big picture rather than the individual scenes and of course, all of this is apt to change as the story evolves. I also find that making a list of the chapters along with a brief 1-2 line description of what happens in each helps me keep an eye on the timeline. The characters and deciding how their paths will cross is the next critical step -- developing the subplots.
The second and most important thing for me to do is to get inside the character's head. I have to understand his motivation, what has led him to this point, how does the character feel physically, mentally, spiritually, and what external factors are affecting his behavior or decisions. Without a clear understanding of these things, it's hard to know how the character will act, react, and cope with the situation he is in. I also try to get a feel for what good or bad things are going on outside of the character's control that may affect him emotionally (i.e.: friends, family, job, relationships, weather, etc.).
Of course, nothing is written in stone and several factors may come into play, but once I'm comfortable with the direction the manuscript is going in, I can usually type a chapter a day, let it rest for several days and then go back and work on the edits. I may go through this process six or seven times a chapter before I'm ready to move on to the next one. Eventually I'll read the entire manuscript and start tweaking the prose and adding details.
My method certainly doesn't guarantee that there won't be rewrites. There are always plenty, but regardless of the process used, there are no fast and easy solutions or magic wands to completing a novel. It's a never-ending process that takes patience, practice, and perseverance.
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I'm an author of crime mystery. My debut novel, SILENCED CRY (2007), is available from several online shops like, Amazon, B&N, Borders, MAM. The second in the Sam Harper series, THE DEVIL CAN WAIT (yup, changed the title), will be available fall 2008. I'm currently working on the third book in the series and hope to have it out in 2009.
You'll find more of my writing posted every Wednesday on MURDER BY 4.