The Blank Slate (or creating a novel)

This week I thought I'd write down my thoughts on the creative process in birthing a new story or novel since I'm at that point right now.

Just recently, last Tuesday in fact, I released my latest novel, Singularity. It's a mish-mash of horror, police procedural, and thriller. I'm really happy with how it turned out and I'd love for you to take a peek. Since my book was published on Tuesday there's been a lot to do between marketing, promotion and whatnot, but my thoughts are finally turning to my next project. And you know what?

I have no idea what it's going to be.

My imagination is a blank slate right now, the equivalent of a chamber pot that's been purged of all the floating nastiness. (Clears throat) Sorry about that last part, but it fits. I love the feeling of freedom that comes with starting a new project. So how does it all work for me you ask? I'll tell you.

My novels usually start with an image or a concept. Something will pop into my head and stick against the wall in there, and that's where it begins. When I have an image locked in my mind then I start to ask, okay, what's going on here or what could go on here? Because that's what it's all about, isn't it? What if? What could happen to an individual and why do we care? That's how it begins with me.

The next thing I do is find out who my characters are. What do they want? What drives each one of them? Who's the good guy and the not so good guy? What extremes will each go to to achieve their goals? Once I have the people in my head somewhat figured out I start creating hooks.

What are hooks?

To me hooks are the really excellent twists and turns that inhabit the plot and drive it forward. They are spectacles and betrayals, triumphs and pitfalls, jealousy and violence. They are the sudden amusement rides in the middle of your book that you have the reader step into without knowing. I like to put a lot of hooks in the stories I write, but not so many that it sacrifices plot or character.

While we're talking about it, let me touch on plot. Plot is great. Plot is the house in which your characters live. It's the surroundings your readers find themselves in. But it ain't shit without characters. It's just an empty house that no one cares about. Characters fill the plot, give it life, make it sing. The plot fades a little with good characters.

The ending of my stories are some of the funnest parts. It's the payoff that the reader's waiting for, so do not, I repeat, DO NOT chince on the ending of your book. Don't always give the main character the easy way out, don't always tie things up nice and tidy either. There's some very memorable and haunting books out there that leave things open to your own discretion on what happened after the pages ended.

Do I outline? A little. Sometimes a lot. Mostly a little. Outlining for me is a general sketch of the bigger picture. It's a candle for me to see by when I start. As I get going in the novel, then I turn on the spotlight and start shining it around.

So that's pretty much my process for writing and creating a novel or story. Every person has their own way and there's no wrong way. Just start thinking and let your mind wander, you won't believe where it'll take you.