I have a process. I’m not saying it is “the” process for all writers, but after four novels and a collection of short stories, I’ve developed a bit of a routine.
It starts with an idea. As soon as it comes to me, I write it down. This usually ends up looking like the synopsis from a book cover, except it includes all the spoilers (which is generally why I don’t allow anyone to read said synopsis).
From there, I’ll develop my characters. Ex: Cindy is an entrepreneur struggling to find love in Los Angeles. She’s a brunette with big teeth and fair skin trying to pull off being a busty blonde with a perpetual tan. And she’s in love with her partner Larry, a younger man fresh out of college who doesn’t seem to have a clue. She does XYZ to win him over. (Not the greatest plot, but you get the idea. Not gonna copyright this one, so have at it! You’re welcome.)
When I get serious about my idea, I’ll expand the synopsis. This becomes the outline for the book. I write out the entire story as if I’m relating it to a friend. “Cindy does this, and then she does this. Then this thing happens, and Larry reacts this way…” I summarize every scene, from beginning to end, often elaborating on any ideas and/or character development I think of along the way. (Some things will inevitably change as I write the book, because characters can surprise you by doing or saying shocking things, and you have to go along with it. You only have so much control over them.)
Once I’ve got a thorough outline, I write my story in full. Beginnings can be tough. It’s hard to know what will catch and hold my reader for the rest of the story. Usually I won’t begin writing until I have a beginning that’s so vivid and clear I can’t get it out of my head. It plays over and over. It may not even be an entire scene. It may be a single frame. But it’s something I can work with.
Throughout my story, I inevitably run into roadblocks. This usually occurs during scene transitions or descriptions. If you haven’t noticed, I love dialogue. I can write dialogue all day, and my fingers will fly so fast smoke will come off the keyboard. But I hate descriptions. Descriptions are work. Sometimes, however, they’re necessary to give the reader a sense of place and/or emotion (as my lovely editor likes to remind me… often. Thanks, Monica! She’s the best. I’m serious.)
And as for scene transitions… these are also not my forte. I can mentally grind for hours over a scene transition. I’ll lose sleep. This happens when I want two certain things to happen in succession, but I have no idea how to bridge them. Here’s an example: Devil’s Grotto is a fairly dark book, so I wanted something good to happen for my main characters at some point. I knew what I wanted it to be, but I had no idea how to make it work. It felt wrong—and honestly a little boring—to just jump right into it. So after agonizing for a week or so, I resorted to something I did a few times in Liberty Hill: I wrote a flashback, and the flashback tied in to the present. It was the perfect segue, and it made the writing process enjoyable again.
Roadblocks are usually an opportunity to do something unconventional (otherwise known as “interesting”). Such as using a flashback as a transition, or even using dialogue to convey emotion or give a “sense of place”. Instead of writing, “The foothills shimmered like gold against a backdrop of blue mountains”—which, hey, isn’t half bad… maybe that’s a poor example—a character could comment to another, “Have you ever seen anything so beautiful? Them hills are like gold against a backdrop of…” Okay, this isn’t working. What I’m trying to say is, if you prefer writing dialogue (like yours truly), write more dialogue. You can describe how hot the weather is, or you can have your character complain about it while she fans herself with an open book.
This brings me to something I feel is very important, so put on your listening ears. Or reading eyes. Are you ready? This is just an opinion, but it may be the most helpful thing you hear all day: There are no rules in writing. Yes, there are rules in the English language, and there are rules in grammar, but when it comes to writing, rules are more like guidelines. A wise pirate named Geoffrey Rush taught me that. He wasn’t talking about writing, but I thought it was applicable. You, as a writer, have a unique voice. Some of the greatest novelists of our time don’t use quotation marks. Or give their characters names. Some don’t give us a sense of place or emotion at all—we just get peppered with dialogue and have to figure it out for ourselves. Some writers portray accents with their dialogue while others believe that’s a distraction, and some believe you should put an S at the end of every plural, even if it’s a name that ends in an S and a simple apostrophe will do (i.e. Lucius’s vs. Lucius’). And God forbid if you present two different points of view in the same scene, there are other writers who’ll be so offended they’ll leave you a scathing review on Amazon (or so I’m told).
My point is, no one else has your voice. So use it. And if those guidelines help you get your point across, then by all means, use them too.
Lastly, if you haven’t read Stephen King’s “On Writing” or Anne Lamott’s “Bird by Bird”, I strongly suggest you do.