The Creative Writing Process

When we first learn about creative writing, we are taught one path to follow as the creative process:

  • Brainstorm/Research
  • Outline
  • Write
  • Edit
  • Revise

The exact wording of this list varies depending on where you were taught, but the bones of the list is inherently taught. For young writers, this is a good list as a place to start. The list gives them the structure and direction on how to get from point A (what do you want to write about?) to point Z (a finished story).

However, as we grow our creative writing skill, we eventually find that we don’t fit the mold we were taught as children. We have become, ourselves, a unique writer. One who blazes their own path forward in delivering stories. It’s a personalized approach that evolves as we become more seasoned.

You could be a plotter. You could be a pantser. You could be one who writes inspiration from a dream and only during the editing phase, figure out what the story is about. You could be someone who writes the ending first then goes back to figure out how to get to that end. You could be a mid-prose editor, who writes a chapter then edits versus editing when you have your story fully written. You could be someone whose process is what they were first taught.

There is nothing wrong with any of these processes. You are developing YOUR story through YOUR own creative writing process. There is no “one size fits all” process because we are individuals and our brains are wired differently.

How do you find the best writing process for you?

The only sage advice I can give is to experiment and find what feels right. Up until a few years ago, I was a pantser for all forms of creative writing. “Sit down and go” was my motto. Today, I am a psudo-plotter. What I mean by that is I write the ending first then write an outline starting from the beginning. Having my ending defined helps me build the plot and characters that will get the reader to that end. I am sure in another few years as my writing skill evolves, my process will morph into something new.

Thus, dear reader, I cannot give you any secrets to unlocking what your writing process because there is no grand secret. You have go out there and write! Your process will develop on its own to what feels most natural for you. Expect it to evolve over time as you grow as a seasoned writer and don’t worry if you notice that you have a different process for different story types. Your writing process for novels may look very different from your writing process for short stories.

What is your writing process? Have you seen your writing process change over the years? Do you have different writing processes for short stories, novels, poetry, et cetera?

Zwift – my new writing tool

Yep, you read that right. Zwift, oddly enough, helped me to conceptualize my second novel.

For those of you who are not familiar with Zwift, it is an app that takes you into a virtual world where you can train on your bike with an indoor training or run on a treadmill. Once you connect in, you can work away at customized trainings or join in a race against others across the world. It has become my “go to” cycling or running training tool for these cold winter days when it is too dark to go outside (or when I am wimping out from the cold).

I knew the advantages that I was going to get in my training from Zwift. What I didn’t know is how it was going to help me write.

Time is incredibly precious. I constantly find myself struggling to balance the time between training (Pittsburgh Marathon in May) and working on my novels, short stories, blog, etc. There are only a few hours in a day that I can fit these in as I also have a career where I work 8+ hour days, 5 days a week. On top of that, I need to make sure I am spending quality time with the special people and fur babies in my home.

All of that usually allots me 1-2 hours of either training or writing. That’s not a lot of time each day to spend on honing either craft.

Enter Zwift.

A few weeks ago, I was just spinning away on a customized work out, staring at the TV and watching my avatar speed along the course. Suddenly my mind began to drift and I subconsciously starting to untangle a little snag that I hit in my current work. It was like a shock to my system when I realized what was going on! I grabbed my cell phone, paused Lizzo from belting her beautiful voice over my speakers, and opened a voice recorder app all the while still pedaling away. Breathlessly, I started to just blurt out what was going on in my head (note: I truly mean “breathlessly” as I was talking while spinning high RPMs, depriving my brain of oxygen).

Several minutes later, I untangled a web that I had written myself into a few days earlier. Case solved.

This was not a one-time instance. Each time I am spinning with Zwift, I get entranced and end up figuring out how to progress whatever I am working on now. It is like the physical activity helps to make the brain power at a higher wattage too.

I am all about efficiency here and doing these two tasks at once is working out brilliantly. As well as safely. While cycling or running, I do tend to find my mind wandering to my stories, but I tend to quell any thoughts because I stop paying attention to what is going on around me in the real world once my head descends to the clouds. With Zwift, I can work out to my hearts content and not have to worry about being sideswiped by a car or tripping in a pothole. I can let my mind wander. And when it is time for my workout to change, Zwift audibly tells me and I can break my writing trance and switch gears to what I need to do next in the workout.

A win-win over all and I usually accomplish both in an hour, then spend another hour post-workout to write down whatever it was that I figure out.

I have yet to try this while running on the treadmill, mainly because I am gasping for breath or I’d probably fall off the machine from trying to talk, think, and run at the same time. I also have not attempted to ride and hand write at the same time… I don’t think my Sonic Endurance coach would be too happy with me trying that. That’s a whole other level of coordination I don’t have, even if my bike is on a stationary trainer.

For you athlete writers out there who are struggling to find the balance between work, family, writing, and training, I highly suggest giving Zwift a go and try to work on your plot points or character development or whatever else you need to sift through in your written work.

And if you figure out a secret to writing and spinning at the same time, do let me know.

You Might Be a Writer If…

Great inspiration from the amazing Kristen Lamb. As a writer, I can relate to pretty much this entire post. How many of these “You might be a writer if…” traits apply to you?

Kristen Lamb's Blog

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A lot of “stuff” has been going on in my life lately. Hard stuff. Heavy stuff. The kind of stuff that just makes me want to write massacre scenes….except I am so brain dead I had to google how to spell “massacre.”

Masicker? Missucker?

WHAT AM I DOING???? *breaks down sobbing*

I am supposed to be an adult an expert okay, maybe functionally literate. Fine, I give up! I have nothing left to saaaaayyyyyy. I am all out of woooords *builds pillow fort*.

I figured it’s time for a bit of levity. Heck, I need a good laugh. How about you guys?

We writers are different *eye twitches* for sure, but the world would be SO boring without us. Am I the only person who watches Discovery ID and critiques the killers?

You are putting the body THERE? Do you just WANT to go to prison? Why did you STAB…

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Core Elements of a Horror Story

Strip away events, characters, and settings in all horror stories to compare the bare bones. See a pattern? The structural bones in these stories are the same. All horror stories are composed of five core elements, which must be utilized to develop an effective tale that induces terror in a reader. Other elements can enhance a horror story (e.g.; gore, porn, etc.). However, those are all secondary elements.

1. Foreshadowing is the sprinkling of bread crumbs throughout a book to prepare a reader for the impact of the climax or conclusion. Foreshadowing does not have to be direct “tell-all.” It can be small, slipped in where the reader thinks a reference or description is unintentional, leading up to an epic ending. 

Example: Something will happen to a main character that involves Chinchillas.  Little references of foreshadowing can be added to the story indicating that

Fear the Fluff (c) xandert
Fear the Fluff (c) xandert

the character (let’s name her Mary) is terrified of the adorable balls of fluff. Descriptions or situations can be added where she refuses to go into pet stores or runs away screaming when she sees a gray fur coat (even if it is faux fur). Have a special report news bulletin air on TV that warns of rabies rampaging Mary’s town. Spread these “hints” throughout the story. These “hints” will lead up to the climax of the story when a horde of rabid Chinchillas escapes a local animal shelter, happen upon Mary, and tear apart her body with their vicious little Chinchilla teeth.

Foreshadowing is an indication of future events and builds anticipation. When a reader pieces together all the foreshadowed parts, they become invested in the story.

2. Fear is the driving force behind any horror story.  Your story has to scare the ever-livin’ giblets out of a reader (yes, I made up a word, but go with it). If a story does not elicit fear in a reader, then it cannot fall into the horror genre. Fear is the element that sets apart horror from other genres because it evokes a human emotion.

Leverage the fear in your story by making it relatable to your reader. This is difficult because a readership is vast.  However, if you can take a topic and hone it to where it is terrifying to the greater audience, then you have expertly harnessed the fear element. 

Think about what Stephen King did with Pennywise in It.  Clowns do not terrify most people, but King took the element of a clown, typically a safe and jovial character, and turned it into something diabolically sinister. Spin the element of fear into everyday, ordinary things.

3. Suspense plays off of fear and is what keeps your reader’s adrenaline heightened. Fear spikes the adrenaline while suspense keeps the reader on the edge of his or her seat. Without any suspense in a story, your reader is on a roller coaster that spikes with fear and then immediately lulls to mediocrity until the next spike of fear. Suspense is what keeps the reader hooked and interested in the story.

Example:  Using the Mary and the Attack of the Rabid Chinchillas storydraw out the events that happen to Mary before the big, furry attack. Create a setting that is foreboding. Maybe she breaks into an abandoned pet store to hide from a growing thunder storm. The reader knows she avoids pet stores, so something really bad is forcing her to step out of her comfort zone. The reader also know that there is an outbreak of rabies in Mary’s town, and she just broke into a place that is infested with mammals. Show how she breaks into the store and then tentatively walks about. Maybe she is scoping out the place to make sure she is alone (or at least that there are no Chinchillas). Use onomatopoeia and other sound tactics to drive and show Mary’s fear.

If the character is scared, the reader will be scared. Drag out the character’s fear with suspense, and you will drag the reader right along with it.

4. Mystery adds reliable and believable surprise** to a story. You can show some of your story’s cards with foreshadowing, but don’t give everything away. Use mystery, like suspense, as a hook so the reader knows that something surprising will happen during or after the climax. Make your reader question how the story will end.

5. Imagination is my favorite element (next to fear). Like mystery, do not show all of your cards. Leave events, situations, and character descriptions up to your readers’ imagination. Their minds can conjure visions that are more terrifying than anything that you write. Mystery and imagination play heavily with the fear element. Get your readers’ hearts pumping, palms sweating, and bodies shivering in terror by making them use their minds.

By using the imagination element, a reader is 100% a part of the story. If you can get readers to (fearfully) imagine themselves as a character in the book, then you have completely succeeded as a horror author.

** The crux of the mystery has to be 100% believable in line with the characters and plot of the story.  Do not introduce a new character or create up a new situation on a whim to close out a mystery.


Want to help your horror story’s structure?  Check out the Sarcastic Muse post Invoking Fear with the Horror Genre to help mold your story to the right horror sub-genre.
What core elements in a horror story are your favorites?  What non-core elements within a horror story excite you?

The Blog Hop: Read at Your Own Risk

Sci-fi and Paranormal author, Phil Giunta, has nominated me to participate in the Blog Hop.  The rules are to answer four questions and then nominate three other authors.  I only had one author take me up on the nomination and she is listed at the end.

At your own risk, you opened this post to read.  Therefore,  I cannot be held accountable for any maddness that may ensue…

What am I working on?

My current focus is on a short story for The Sarcastic Muse sampler that is slated to be released in the Winter 2015.  The story is about a young girl who must choose between her destiny or a most unwelcome fate.

Later this month, I am retreating back to When Words Count in Vermont to focus on my novel.  2014 has been an incredibly busy year.   Other projects, with higher priority, sidelined the novel.  However, the delay has not been in vain!  I was able to diagram out how to expand the novel into a 4 book series.  A series was something that never crossed my mind when I first started plotting this book.  Sometimes delays are beneficial.

Now, I am not ready to spill the details of this novel, as it is something unique and… taboo.  However, I will let you in on a secret: People are “munched”.

Finally, Robyn LaRue and I are working on a small book titled Project Management for Writers.  The goal of the book is to help authors manage their authorship as a project with more organization and less stress.

How does my writing differ from others in my genre?

I love leveraging a reader’s imagination.  With my writing style, I try my best not to show everything.  My favorite kind of story is one that leaves me with a sense of “what the hell just happened”, forcing my mind to conjure up something more sinister than what the author could have attained.  That is my goal in my writing – to take away the reader’s breath and leave their mind reeling about the possibilities of what could happen.

I am also a huge fan of the “cosmic horror” aspect, but that does not make me different from many of today’s writers.  The cosmic horror is a growing sub-genre these days with the resurgence of Lovecraft.  I really enjoy being an author that is a part of this growing trend.

Why of I write what I do?

Fear is the most primal emotion, and it is felt by every human being that is birthed into this world.  It is the first emotion that any human experiences outside of the womb.  Being pulled out of a nice, warm, dark cave and suddenly thrust into a cold, bright, harsh environment is absolutely terrifying.  Fear is the emotion that deeply embeds itself within our brains and resonates when we least expect it, throwing us into a panic and turmoil.

I love tapping into that with writing, to give readers that jolt of adrenaline and increase in heart rate.  Their imaginations starts awakening, because Fear never subsides – it only manifests into something larger.  The reader is stimulated and their consciousness is open.  The genre of horror and dark fiction forces the readers use their imaginations, to think outside of the box.

I write in this genre because I want to make people to use their imaginations.  Terrifying readers is an added bonus.

How does my writing process work?

My stories haunt me. 24/7 they spin through my head, begging to be written.  Their whispering continually wake me from slumber and I am awake into wee hours of the morning capturing the ideas that spill from my mind.  This starting phase I have dubbed “verbal vomit”.  It is just senseless scribbling in a notebook of all the thoughts that are running through my head.  There is no order and it is pure chaos – but it makes sense.  This is how my stories are born.  From this point, I set aside the time to plot.

I am proud to say that I am now a ‘plotter’.  In my earlier years, I used to be a ‘panster’, but I have grown to find that way too stressful and my stories were lacking depth.  Over this past year, my writing process has evolved.  In March, I completely outlined – by hand – the entirety of my first novel.  In the rare time that I found to work on this story, I developed my characters, settings, archetypes, etc.  As of today, everything is plotted to the most intricate details and contains sub-plots that leaves openings for the sequel.  Unfortunately, I now have to find the time to write… this retreat in VT is not coming soon enough.

The last step is the actual writing.  The making of a sane world out of the horrific chaos that fell from my brain.

My writing process then evolves into the editing process, and I am not about to journey down that road because it is filled with a lot of screaming and profanities.


 

Now, on to my victim, er, I mean nominee.  Without further ado, I present my nominee, the amazingly talented, Robyn LaRue:

Robyn LaRue

Thumb-One (1)I write fast, edit slow, and my toughest decision is always which story to write next. In my “spare time,” I enjoy reading, quilting, pottery, glass fusion, house design, hanging out on line with my critique partners and the like-minded, talking about everything writing, creative, and historical. Coffee is a major obsession, chocolate only slightly less so. Toast is a staple.