I’m currently working through the second draft of Secrets to Die For, and I’m continuously reminded of, and grateful for, all the things I do during the first draft that help me create a story without any major glitches: In case it might help you, here’s my process:

1. Once I have a basic story idea, I create an outline. Some people (Stephen King) will tell you not to. (But he’s Stephen King). I fill in as much detail as I can, especially for the first ten chapters and/or plot developments (As info: I use Word, that’s it. No fancy creative writing software.)

2. Next I create a list of POV characters and generate a brief personality sketch and physical description for all. (My rule is never more than 5 or 6 POV characters telling the story, and some of those only have small speaking roles.) Eventually, for POV characters that reoccur in other stories, I add all this information to my long-term character database.

3. Begin writing. I don’t worry about perfect opening lines at this point. It’s important to get the story moving.

4. Fill in the rest of outline as I write first 50 pages or so. Once I’m writing, ideas for the second half keep coming to me, so I add to the outline.

5. Keep an idea journal. As I write, I constantly get ideas (Ryan needs to see Lexa earlier in the story, where?), so I enter them immediately into a Word file. Some of these never get used, but some prove to be crucial.

6. Create a timeline. A lot happens in my stories, which usually take place in about a week or 10 days, and some events happen around the same. I keep the timeline filled in as I write each scene. This way I can always look at my timeline and know exactly when the interrogation took place (Monday, 8 a.m: Jackson interrogates Gorman in the jail). It’s much faster and easier than scrolling through a 350-page word document. And the timeline keeps one POV character from referring to events that haven’t happened yet to another character.

7. Create comprehensive name/detail list. As I write, I keep a list for every named person in the story and include any details they have (physical description, phone number, address, etc.) That way, if I’m trying to remember what I named the morgue assistant, it’s right there in my Word file (morgue assistant: Zeke Plamers).

8. Stop after 50 pages. Then I go back and polish the first chunk of the story in case anyone wants to see the first 50 pages or 3 chapters.

9. Use the highlight feature to tag things I want to come back to, such as a street names for a scene in a particular neighborhood. I don’t let these details interfere with the flow of writing.

10. Keep a list of things to fix. As problems or questions come up (How does Jackson know about Conner’s vehicle?), I enter them into my Fix file, which I keep open at all times when writing. I also glance through it before I begin writing each day.

My first draft is usually lean, mostly dialog and action, but of course it includes some character development and all physical descriptions. In the second draft I fill details for scenery, add some scenes, and slow the story down in places. Never too much description, of course. I’m a big fan of Elmore Leonard, who says he leaves out all the stuff that people skip over and don’t read.

My process is in no way perfect, so feel free to share your writing process tips.

  1. Good stuff. I use a lot of the same techniques, but categorized (named?) a little differently. I also start out with a plot outline, but I will not hesitate to deviate from it if an inspiration worth its weight in gold tells me to. In fact, I don’t think I’ve ever finished a ms ending anywhere close to the original outline. Still, structure and paying attention to those details makes it easier to end up with a book that has consistency and doesn’t have you pulling your hair out during the writing trying to keep everything you’ve written remembered in your head.

  2. I keep the idea journal/word documenta and put snippets (words/sentences/paragraphs) in that either don’t work where I first try to use them or that I know I want to use later. My favorite tip of yours is keeping a list of the characters and all of their details. I scroll back all the time going ‘what color were his eyes?’ ‘What’s his last name?’

  3. Zhadi, I actually did a whole blog on keeping a character profile log – it really helps.

    Oh, and BOTH you and LJ! I am claiming you two as two of the three bloggers I’m passing on the honors of the peer-promo “Brilliant Weblogs” award that’s going around. You read it here first, no one else has the rights to either of you – you are MINE! lol

    Will post it up tomorrow.

  4. L.J. Sellers, whose going to be big as Stephen King one day… girl, that was wonderful advice. I do outlines too. I absolutely could not get much accomplished without them.

    I might link to this post sometime this week at Writer’s Paradise, if you don’t mind. http://paradiseforwriters.blogspot.com

  5. Wonderful list, L.J. Some writers may think all that is too much work, but it pays off later as you move further into the book and is a fabulous tool as you progress in the series!

    I do pretty much the same thing and I call it my Book Bible. If you balk at having to do the work as you write, remind yourself that if you hope this will someday lead to a series, how much more work will it be when writing book 4 to figure out which book you need to find info in, let alone where in that book!

  6. Wonderful advice–now if only the word “organized” would realize it really DOES belong in my vocabulary!!! Thanks 🙂

  7. Good advice, most of which I already follow. Use a calendar page with notes instead of a time line. Always pick a year, so I can pay attention to full moon, etc. should that become necessary. When I find something useful on the Web, I put it in a labeled “Favorites” folder for easy reference.

    My “notes” file is large, and I even store bits of dialog or good words there.

    For the characters, I alphabetize my list in order not to have a bunch of names that start with the same letter. I also make a note of the first page that character appears on.

    The bookmark functionality of Word can use useful. It’s a wee bit tricky until you get the hang of it, but it’s great for a big manuscript.

  8. Then there’s me with my mindmaps, but everything you mention will slide right into that, too. Good post. Would make a great download, for a mailing list sign-up, for example. Do you want to put this over on The Blood Red Pencil, too? Would be a good addition.


  9. I like the idea of adding page references where a character first appears! And I like the mailing list idea. So much still to learn.

  10. Hey very nice blog!! Man .. Beautiful .. Amazing .. I will bookmark your blog and take the feeds

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