Wednesday, June 30

How I Write: Week Three – Research

strand books We’re talking about research this week. It can be interesting, daunting, overwhelming, or a time suck. Either way, an author that foregoes research may be leaving their readers behind. There’s nothing worse than reading a great book only to be stuck on a point so improbable or plain false, you can’t let it go. I remember reading a suspense novel when I was in college. It was intriguing. The entire story hinged on one major question. Was the main character, a defense lawyer protecting a dangerous sociopath or a misunderstood victim? Unfortunately, the author didn’t do the appropriate research into psychological disorders and used the term Schizophrenia rather than Multiple Personality Disorder (later known as Dissociative Disorder). It drove me nuts as a reader and I never want to find myself in the same scenario.

My goal on the first draft is to get the words down so I leave research until revision. As I write and come up with something I want to look up, I put a little note in my ‘handy dandy’ ever present notebook. On occasion, when it’s a quick google search that could save me time later, I’ll do it immediately. I try to keep it to a five minute search for an answer if I’m in the middle of writing. For example, when my hero decided to propose and plan a wedding within twenty-four hours, I looked up what he needed to bring with him for the marriage license. Seconds later and I had it and was ready to move on.

There are three great resources for research: the internet, books, and people. Internet searches can be a great way to get a quick answer to a quick question. Searching on Google and Wikipedia can net you a lot of information and you’ll have to be sure to target your search and stop once you have what you need. Books are better for primary sources, like accounts by people who lived in a particular time or through a specific event. The library would be a great place to start on your search. People can be an incredible wealth of information. Writing about a police officer, become friends with the community liaison at your local police station. Have your character going to the emergency room, be sure to run your scenario by someone with a medical background.

Click on the How I Wrote Logo above to find a listing of the other writers participating in this blog series.


12 Quick Tips to Search Google Like an Expert a few tips on how to get the information you’re looking for on Google.
Confessions from a Research Geek – Some helpful info on research from Lisa Gardner
Eight Ways Research can Kill Your Novel – Lisa Gardner lets you know when research gets to be too much.
Writers’ Research Pages – A TON of links on almost everything a writer might need to research when writing their books. This site is compiled by Charlotte Boyett-Compo (Please note: This site is for those visitors over 18.)
Image of ‘strand books’ courtesy of ricoeurian.

Wednesday, June 23

How I Write: Week Two – Developing Character, Plot, and Setting


This week’s topic is all about the work that goes into developing your character, plot, and setting. Every writer deals with these pieces differently. Pantsers, or writers that like to write by the seats of their pants, spend little time planning out their stories before hitting the computer or pad. Meanwhile, plotters like to have their stories mapped out in outlines, diaries, and notes before starting. Even with my love of all things office supply (hold me back from the post its now), I’m mostly a pantser. I like to have an idea of where I’m headed but it might not happen until 1,000 words or more into my novel. This doesn’t mean I don’t spend time thinking about my plot, my characters or my setting. I do and I need to, if I’m going to have a cohesive, interesting, and well developed story.

  • Character. My stories are all character driven. Characters come to me at night in dreams or during the day in little flashes of insight. I learn about the plot through them and it is my characters that I hope will keep readers turning the pages. During the early days of a story, I think about my characters endlessly. I imagine conversations (Let’s keep that between us.) and play a lot of games of ‘what if.’ During this time, you’ll find me saying things like “of course” or  smiling to myself while washing the dishes or cleaning up toys. I run through their goals, the conflicts, and their motivations. I do not keep detailed character sheets but keep little notes about last names, family relationships and major physical characteristics.
  • Plot. As I mentioned before, the plot comes to me through my characters. I learn about their internal and external conflicts and how they came to be the people they are. I don’t write out detailed outlines but I do get down a sentence or phrase to describe the action I anticipate in each scene. I keep to it loosely, letting the story develop as I write. I’ve learned not to force the story and to let it unfold as I write. There are bound to be surprises, like when the hero proposes several scenes earlier then expected.
  • Setting. My focus currently is on contemporary novels set in small towns on the coast of New England. Not unlike the town I grew up in, the small towns in my novels are infused with ocean air and small town gossip. Living far from home and not even in the United States, I bring myself back with photos I find on Flickr and Deviant Art and music that reminds me of home. In my novels, setting comes alive through the eyes of my characters. As the author, I need to know the place as well as they do. That means knowing who the town drunk is, how to get to the grocery store, and what the name of the high school mascot is. I might not draw maps or detail the town’s history but I aim to know that town as well as any other citizen.

Click on the link above to find a listing of the other writers participating in this blog series.



Getting to Know Your Characters – Jenna Peterson’s take on character development

The GMC Wizard – Shawntelle Madison’s neato tool to help you develop your character’s goal, motivation and conflict

Character Worksheet - Visit Tatiana Caldwell’s blog (another writer participating in this blog tour) to pick up her character worksheet


Novel Outlining 101 – Lynn Viehl’s article on how to outline your novel

Notecarding: Plotting Under Pressure – Holly Lisle’s article on how to plot with notecards.

Outline your Novel in Thirty Minutes – Alicia Rasley’s article.


How Much of My World Do I Build – Holly Lisle’s workshop on worldbuilding

The Art of Description: Eight Tips to Help You Bring Your Settings to Life – a great article on how to bring in your setting without underwhelming or overwhelming readers

Wednesday, June 16

How I Write: Week One – Idea Creation

How-I-Write2-bannerThis week we’re talking about where our ideas come from. Before I actually came to write my stories down, I often created them within my mind. It starts with  a dream, a little piece of dialogue, and it goes from there. It’s like a short scene from a movie that I can rewind or fast forward at will. I cue it up while I’m trying to fall asleep or brushing my teeth or on long car rides. Initially the scenes amuse me and entertain but then I find myself asking questions. How did these two imagepeople come to be together? Why is she angry? What made him walk out of the room? I add on, run the tape in my mind again, and see if it works. I do all of this before I sit down to write it out. Sometimes weeks or months before I actually get to writing it all down.

Where do these scenes come from? I’m not really sure. In “On Writing,” Stephen King describes his muse as a “basement guy,” who sits and smokes cigars while he does the grunt work. I like the imagery but I’m not really sure it works for me. I think the human brain is an amazing thing. We all each have our own way of processing the events and stimulation we receive in our daily adventures. For me, I think my dreams or these twilight scenes are the ways in which my brain works through the stimuli I experience in the outside world. Maybe a couple walks by and my brain starts on their story without a conscious intent. Perhaps it’s the details of the people around me, their life stories transformed. I’m not sure but I can only hope they keep coming.

Click on the banner above to find a listing of the other writers participating in this blog series.

The Creativity-Portal – a great place to get inspired
The Frigtool – a random image generator that uses Flickr to pull photos. Searches can be done by tag words.
Write to Done – Leo Babauta’s article on 31 Ways to find Inspiration for your Writing.
Seventh Sanctum – a variety of creativity tools and generators for characters, songs, plots, etc.

Image courtesy of John Althouse Cohen.

Tuesday, June 15

How I Write: Blog Series Intro

How-I-Write2-bannerBefore I even started writing my first novel, I couldn’t get enough information on how others write. I wondered how they came to sit down and start writing, how they overcame the little demons of doubt and insecurity, and how they learned to get the people in their heads down on paper. I read books written by some great authors who shared their experiences and I delved deep into the internet to find incredible resources like blogs and forums. It was these accounts that helped me to begin.
I am so excited to announce that starting tomorrow I will be participating in a blog series with some of my fellow writers. We’ll be discussing our own writing processes and how we each experience the different steps in writing our different genres. Some of us our more experienced, while others like me are still early in our learning. We’ll discuss topics like where our ideas come from, how we plot or pants our way through our MS, and exactly how we get through the revision process. The How I Write Series banner above links to the other writers and their blogs. It will run from June 16 until August 25.