Historical Fiction, Research, Writing

My Chaotic Writing Process

I want to take you all on a journey through my writing process. I’ll get a bit long winded in this, but hopefully you’ll find some of it interesting. It may even give some of you greater insight when reading my novels. Proceed if you dare.

Any story starts with inspiration. Being a historical fiction writer, I often get my inspiration from different periods and events in history. It can be an event like the Salem Witch Trials or a time period like the late Victorian era or even places that have a long history like lighthouses and the shores they guard that give me inspiration. Sometimes I get inspiration from things that I think are fun like mythology or certain festive traditions. For instance, I plan on writing a trilogy of stories inspired by Halloween. Whatever the inspiration, it is the spark for what will become a full fledge book.

After I get inspired, I start thinking of a basic plotline. Then comes filling in the details of the plot by thinking of the beginning, middle, and end of the story. Oddly enough, I don’t always start with the beginning of the plot. Often I think of the end of the story first. Why? Perhaps Chuck from Supernatural sums it up best: “…endings are impossible. You try to tie up every loose end, but you never can… There’s always gonna be holes. And since it’s the ending, it’s all supposed to add up to something.” Yes, endings can be hard to write after you’ve preceded them with a fantastic story. You don’t want to let readers down with a disappointing ending that doesn’t equal the rest of the plot in quality. You always want to make sure you’ve resolved every conflict in the story in a satisfying way. And it’s also nice for the ending to add deeper meaning to the story overall. You don’t want readers scratching their heads at the end going, “What was the point?” That’s why I like to think of the ending first and work my way backward. I think of a story that logically leads to that particular ending.

The characters come next. I initially think of a few characters and then add more along the way. It’s important to think of characters as you’re thinking of the overall story because characters’ motivations and actions often drive the plot. Of course I don’t want my characters to be generic clichés. I need them to be more fleshed out than that; to be more complicated with fresh takes on old ideas. I like the main female characters in my story to be strong too. I like women that have their own agency and are not solely defined by the men in their lives.

Of course it should be noted that some plots and characters are already largely decided for me. For example, my Salem Witch Trials novel is based on real people and real events. In this case, it became an issue of doing thorough research first, then turning the facts into a narrative, and adding in some side plots and characters’ personalities and thoughts.  For other stories, it will be about building a fictional world around a real life event or within a time period in a way that makes sense and is true to history.

Next, unless you are writing about a world purely of your own creation, you’re going to need to do research. Because of my inclination towards historical fiction, I research any historic events and people that are involved in the story. Then I research more generic things like what people’s households were like during a particular time period, what was required of certain jobs back in the day, what a country or city was like in the past, and what people’s daily interactions and routines would have looked like. Sometimes the research is a bit more intensive if I need to know how people spoke or if I’m trying to figure out how certain legal or economic procedures worked in the past. When I write a story in the present, unless the setting and people are subjects I know well, I need to do research for that too.

Once I have my basic plot outline, main characters, and research all ready to go, I start writing the individual chapters. Sometimes the scenes will come to me chronologically and I will write from beginning to end.  Other times I resort to jumping around in the plot and writing scenes that I am able to think of at that moment. When I begin writing, I often think of a scene as if I were watching it in a movie. I feel like if I can visualize what I am writing, it makes the scene more coherent and vivid. I also think it makes it easier for readers to be absorbed in the story if they feel like they are right there with the characters.

The actual writing of chapter after chapter is where I run into writer’s block. The block usually comes when I need to write scenes that stand as bridges between the main plot points. It’s like I know where I want the story to go; I just don’t always know how to fill in the gaps to get there.  So in order to overcome the block, I go back to step one and get more inspiration. I find that adding some character development is often a good way to fill in the gaps. Sometimes I can also add some “explanatory scenes” that help to explain a plot point better.

Finally, I do revisions once the story is all written. I read over the novel and certain scenes several times. I go back and add in more dialogue, character descriptions, internal thoughts of characters, and scenes that enhance the story. I also take things out that don’t flow well and change awkward phrasing. Sometimes I might even change the placement of scenes because the story will read better when the scenes are in a different sequence.  And when the revising is all done, I give myself a nice pat on the back and kick up my feet!

So that’s my somewhat chaotic writing process. Despite obstacles like writer’s block, it’s a lot of fun to put your ideas down in words to share with the whole world.

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