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  • Writer's pictureCatherine C. Heywood

My Writing Process -- so far

Updated: Feb 10, 2018

The other night I was commenting with some authors about writing process. I know some people, writers or not, find this interesting, so I thought I'd share mine.

I'm usually given the first scene whole cloth. In a dream or when I'm doing something mindless (like making lunch for my little boys). Charlotte in her prison cell or Jack and Faye at breakfast, it comes in full technicolor detail. The sounds, the dialogue, the tension, everything is complete. Then it's up to me to ask the right questions. Why is that girl in prison? Why does that couple hate each other? I ask a TON of questions. That's how each story begins to unfold.

Of course, some of the first questions I ask when I know who the main character is in my story are: More than anything, what does he FEAR? And more than anything, what does he WANT? This helps me to create the central tension that drives the story.

Before I start writing, I have a vague idea of how the story will end. I create a Word document to do a rough outline of the story. What's the inciting incident at around 10%? What's the change of plan that occurs to start Act II at 25%? Etc. It's rough and these tend to change a bit as I write.

Then, because I write historic fiction, I begin by doing research on the time period - vernacular, clothes, food, social mores, etc. So, for instance, when I moved from 1798 and Ground Sweet As Sugar to 1935 and The California Limited, I switched from reading Lady Nugent's journal from her time in Jamaica and watching Jane Austen films to reading John O'Hara and watching Pre-Code films.

I may do some intense research on a main story topic. Like sugar cane planting! But, for the most part, I do story research as I write. Just like when I was a little girl writing my first stories, whole scenes and dialogue will begin to float through my mind and that's how the story is written.

I'm very visual and Type A, so there needs to be some order and visual stimulation as I write. My primary organization source is my storyboard - the 4' x 8' artist canvas pictured with this post.

I do two boards per story. The first is organized for story structure and devoted primarily to plot development. Each scene written on a yellow index card. In that way I can see my story at a glance and can move or delete scenes as necessary. I use real life muses for my main characters, so there are always pics of those actors with character bios on the board.

If nothing's coming, there's always more research to do (I use whatever I can as metaphor - scents, clothes, alcohol - so I might select the perfume my Heroine wears or the scotch my Hero drinks). Or I go back to my outline, or I watch YouTube video of my muses. That helps. I don't know why.

For my recent story, WHIMPER, KNOCK, BANG. I had to build some family scenes and I needed to know a bit who those siblings were to each other so I could make their banter believable. So I took a tip from another writer and created an Excel spreadsheet for my Hero's family to keep track of birth years, marriages, spouses, children, and other pertinent details. Generally not a huge fan of Excel, but it was necessary and now I love how that family of 30 (and counting!) is organized.

After I hear back from my editor and betas, I clear the board (always take a pic and store index cards) for my final draft board, which focuses on character development. Answering questions on things like identity, essence, belief, wound. Making sure that the main character/s motivations and decisions are believable and consistent. All of that on pink index cards. Responding to editor and beta suggestions.

Then the story is as ready for primetime as I can make it, whether self-publication as in The California Limited or being sent to agents to secure a traditional publishing contract.

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