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Monday musings on the writing process

Every writer gets this question at some point: “Where do you get your ideas?”

Running a close second has to be “How do you get from the idea to a finished book?”

To satisfy our readers’ curiosity, we’re starting a new Monday Musings series describe share their writing process—how they write what they write.

First up, multi-genre author

Scott Bury.

Essential elements

Every story, the way I see it, has to start with four necessary elements:

  • an idea
  • characters
  • setting
  • plot.

But they don’t necessarily have to come in that order. For me, stories or novels can start with any one of idea, character or setting.

When I started writing my first published novel, The Bones of the Earth, I wanted to create a story about dragons that was different from the usual.

I set my first mystery, Torn Roots, in Hawaii because I wanted to write a tale set in Hawaii.

Sometimes, I begin with a character. My story Dark Clouds is about the Queen of all witches, and her son, who is immune to magic.

Ideas can come from literally anywhere: a news story, something I see when travelling or even just in my own city.

Sometimes, I watch a movie or TV show, or read a book and think “This story could be better if…” Or I must think, “How would this story go if one little thing changed?”

Or you could write a story set in the future by imagining “If this goes on,” or “If that one situation changes a little, what will happen to…”

Or an alternative history, like Len Deighton’s SS-GB, or Philip K. Dick’s award-winning The Man in the High Castle, where the author asked “What if Nazi Germany had won the Second World War?”

Populating the imaginary world

I find it helps to clearly describe characters before going on to the plot. Characters are the most important part.

Often, I’ll base characters on people I know. For instance, in The Bones of the Earth, I made the main character, Javor, look like my older son but with the personality of my younger. I’ve made my lovely and supportive wife into the basis of my sleuth, Vanessa Storm in Torn Roots. It’s always fun to put friends, colleagues and neighbors into stories and books, too.

And I have to admit, sometimes it’s wicked fun when I make someone I know into a villain.

Getting to work

Once I have chosen the idea, the people it’s about (sometimes there are animals, too, and occasionally, the setting can almost become a character), I’ll work out the plot—the outline of the story.

I usually like to write down the first ideas using a pen on paper. Yes, very old school, but somehow the words flow better.

When I realize that my writing hand just cannot keep up with my brain, then I’ll go to a computer and start typing in point form.

I’ll move things around, add ideas, delete more, until I have some kind of direction, some sequence of events and descriptions.

This will grow and change, but I try to stick pretty close to it at least until the first draft is complete.

First draft

At this point, I like to format the manuscript a little bit, choosing a text typeface and fonts for headings. These choices help make the manuscript easier to read, and gives me an idea of how a reader will experience the book when it’s finished.

When I get to the end, I put the book down for a while, work on other ideas or on, you know, work that pays me. But before too long (usually), I come back to the manuscript and read it through, making little changes and corrections as I go.

That will show me at least some of the problems with the story: plot holes, missing ideas, things I forgot to write, incorrect grammar and just plain bad writing.

I’ll clarify murky areas, add description where I think it’s needed, and take out unnecessary details and sections. I have deleted whole chapters because, while they may be fun, they didn’t move the story forward.

Then I’ll go through it one more time to check that I’m reasonably happy with it.

It gets real

This is where things really get serious: I give the manuscript to my lovely and always supportive wife as the first reader. She always finds places where I’ve repeated myself. Sometimes it’s just a mechanical thing, like where I decide to move a scene from one chapter to another, but click on Copy instead of Cut.

But if it’s a book that’s taken a long time to write, sometimes repetition is a matter of an idea or a scene that I think is really good, or really important, and writing it, and then forgetting I did that when I come back to the story some time later.

Which means it’s time for a third draft.

The outside world

My third draft involves fixing all the things my first reader caught, and then another check through the whole story. Finally, it’s probably pretty close to being something I don’t mind sharing with others.

First, a professional editor. This is someone who knows writing, knows what a good book is and how to write in English.

Readers can tell when a book has not been edited by a professional.

For my last several books, that’s been Gary Henry, himself also an author. Thanks, Gary, for helping make my books better.

Once I’ve cleaned it up to suit the editor, it’s on to people who read because they like to read. Some people call these first readers their “beta readers.” I prefer to call them my Alpha Team. They’re great, supportive and helpful people, who catch more mistakes and places where readers just don’t get what I was trying to say. It’s humbling to know there are always people willing to help.

More changes

Hopefully, but this point, there won’t be too many more corrections to make.

But there are always a few.

That’s why there is one more important step: the professional proofreader.

No matter how good a writer you are, no matter how carefully you check your work, you can never catch every error in your own writing. It’s important to have another set of eyes look at your book before you publish it—especially at a point where you’ve written it, read it, re-written and re-read several times. You just don’t see what’s on the page, anymore. You see what you intended to put on the page.

A long process

That’s partly why it takes so long to publish a book. Reading anything long takes time, and to edit and fix it, you must read slowly. And you have to do this several times.

Or at least, I do.

So with all that being said, if you would like to be one of my “alpha readers,” contact me through the Author page, and I’ll send you an alpha version of my work-in-progress, The Children of the Seventh Son.

Scott Bury

can’t stay in one genre. After a 20-year career in journalism, he turned to writing fiction. “Sam, the Strawb Part,” a children’s story, came out in 2011, with all the proceeds going to an autism charity. Next was a paranormal short story for grown-ups, “Dark Clouds.”

The Bones of the Earth, a historical fantasy, came out in 2012. It was followed in 2013 with One Shade of Red, an erotic romance.

He has several mysteries and thrillers, including Torn RootsPalm Trees & Snowflakes and Wildfire.

Scott’s articles have been published in newspapers and magazines in Canada, the US, UK and Australia.

He has two mighty sons, two pesky cats and a loving wife who puts up with a lot. He lives in Ottawa, Ontario.

Learn more about Scott on his:

Website   |   Blog    |  Facebook    |   Twitter

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Pandemic tales

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Photo by Luca Laurence on Unsplash

Monday musings by bestselling authors

Hopefully, we will soon live in post-pandemic world. But we all know that everything has changed. So much of what we once thought of as “normal” is now over and done.

How will this affect the stories and books we love to read? BestSelling Reads authors weigh in on how the Covid-19 pandemic will influence their writing in the future.

Scott Bury, mystery, historical fiction, fantasy, biography

Scott Bury

I anticipate writing about situations where isolation and physical distancing will be story elements. Relationships and gatherings will be changed. At least, there will be a current of concern about risks. At the very least, a character will have to think a second and a third time before getting close to a stranger, starting a new relationship, or before tackling a bad guy.

David C. Cassidy

David C. Cassidy, horror

I’ve actually given this a lot of thought as I work on my current book. If we find we’re living in a post-Covid world where masks are the norm, do we need to mirror that in our stories? I think it’s a personal choice for every writer or director.

Of course, we’d all like to write “realistic” stories that reflect reality, but for me, I’m going to write as if masks aren’t the norm. If that’s not depicting reality, I can live with that. I think readers will, too, and most, if not all, would prefer it that way. They want us to give them an escape from the everyday, not a dose of ugly reality, especially when it comes to entertainment.

Raine Thomas, new adult, young adult and romance

Raine Thomas

I’m with David on this topic. I write fiction (and romantic fiction, at that). My readers want to escape from their everyday realities, so I don’t intend to write about a world in the grips of a pandemic where my characters have to wear masks and stay six feet apart. That said, I do feel this experience will change how many authors develop future projects.

Alan McDermott

Alan McDermott, action-thrillers

I don’t plan to include Covid-19 in any of my future works. My books have imaginary presidents in alternate reality timelines, so no need to drag this up again. I’m sure people will be sick of reading about it by the time it’s over. As for what life will be like, I think everyone will get pretty much back to normal before too long. I’d like to think there would be major changes, like a higher minimum wage to reflect on the importance of ‘menial’ jobs that are keeping the country going, but I doubt that will happen.

DelSheree Gladden

DelSheree Gladden: romance, mystery, fantasy

I think the biggest changes for my personal writing will be on the marketing side and focusing on engaging with readers online. It’s something I’ve slacked on the past few years, and being stuck at home has reminded me of how important having that community is.

As far as writing about situations reflecting the lockdown, I’ve already seen a few “love in lockdown” type books pop up, but I think portrayals will focus mainly on business and activities and less so on relationships. We all still need to connect, and physical contact is a huge part of that.

I do think a lot of people and businesses are realizing the benefits of teleworking and virtual events, though, so I think that will be featured in fiction more often now.

J.L. Oakley

J.L. Oakley, historical fiction, cozy mysteries

I agree with what’s been said. I write historical fiction and cozy mysteries. I could fix those four cozy mysteries.

Sometimes there is hard stuff in the stories as part of the action—my WWII in particular—but I won’t be writing about mask. I always say that I write about characters who stand up for something in their own times, whether its resistance in WWII, women going against the norm and climbing mountains, or being present in multi-cultured pacific NW in the 1860s.

I plan to write a sequel to Tree Soldier showing women in the Forest Service during the war. I am looking for different ways to reach readers. Doing a Zoom talk to the Sons of Norway Lodge with Powerpoint has shown me a way to connect. There was even a member in Nord Kapp, Norway.

Gae-Lynn Woods

Gae-Lynn Woods, mystery, thriller, comic thriller

Interesting question, and some interesting answers. I write crime novels to escape reality, and I think that’s what most readers are looking for: an escape.

At least in the near term, I don’t think the good (and bad) folks of Forney County will have to deal with masks or social distancing. As the death toll from Covid-19 grows more personal, the topic is too raw. However, a virus-ridden world could make things interesting from the perspective of crimes committed and how they’re solved. We’ll just have to see how the stories unfold.

Seb Kirby

Seb Kirby, thriller, psychological thriller and science-fiction

There are times when you don’t know what the future holds. My parents experienced that in WWII. My father was a submariner in the North Atlantic, chasing U Boats, seeking to avoid depth charges launched by German destroyers. My mother served in Air Raid Protection (ARP), driving an ambulance during air raid attacks on Birmingham, UK. They had no idea how that war would end: in success and democracy, or failure under a Nazi dictatorship.

My generation has been blessed up till now. We’ve never known a time when we’ve had to face existential uncertainty of that order. Our problems and heartaches have been strictly second order. Until now.

The road ahead is at a junction. And we face the kind of existential uncertainty my parents and many generations before them faced. One road leads to a successful vaccine. Then our blessed lives will return and return quite quickly. The other road leads to a world where we will need to live in the shadow of Covid-19, making changes to how we live and relate to each other with far reaching outcomes that will affect how we write as much as everything else. Until we know which fork in the road we will take my art continues as before.

If the outcome is long-term containment of the virus, I’m sure my art will change along with so much else in what we’ve been able to take for granted up till now.

What do readers think?

Do you want to see the pandemic reflected in stories and novels in the future? In mysteries, science-fiction or romance tales? Leave your thoughts in the comments.

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How does gravity work? Where do ideas come from?

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Monday musings on the elusive source of inspiration by award-winning bestseller

David C. Cassidy

The original image and the final cover for The Dark

Where do my ideas come from? It’s a question I’ve been asked more than once. The truth is, it’s like asking, “How does gravity work?” Who the hell knows.

As a writer, I can say that my ideas—some of the best of them—come to me when I least expect it. Almost without fail, they strike when I’m not writing. And that’s often when I’m outdoors making photographs. In other words, the Idea Train is running in the background, when suddenly, the horn blows, the smoke clears, and wham, there it is: The Idea.

Photo by Giuseppe Ruco on Unsplash

To wit: At the time I was trying to come up with a book cover for my award-winning horror novel, The Dark—I create my own book covers, as well as for other authors—I was out with my camera in a graveyard. It was getting close to sunset, and the sky was awash in red. It was as if the sky was filled with blood, even on fire. I made a dramatic image using three simple elements: the fiery sky, the glowing sun, and a silhouette of a scraggly, menacing tree. And at that moment, it inspired the eventual cover for The Dark. Spoiler: the story’s darkness and evil surround a mysterious and frightening oak.

So, how does gravity work, anyway? I don’t know, and I don’t care. I’m just glad it keeps the pepperoni on my pizza … and that the Idea Train keeps rolling.

David C. Cassidy

Award-winning author David C. Cassidy is the twisted mind behind several chilling books of horror and suspense. An author, photographer, and graphic designer—and a half-decent juggler—he spends his writing life creating tales of terror where Bad Things Happen To Good People. Raised by wolves, he grew up with a love of nature, music, science, and history, with thrillers and horror novels feeding the dark side of his seriously disturbed imagination. He talks to his characters, talks often, and most times they listen. But the real fun starts when they tell him to take a hike, and they Open That Door anyway. Idiots.

David lives and plays in Ontario, Canada. From Mozart to Vivaldi, classic jazz to classic rock, he feels naked without his iPod. Suffering from MAD—Multiple Activity Disorder—he divides his time between writing and workouts, photography and Photoshop, reading and rollerblading. An avid amateur astronomer, he loves the night sky, chasing the stars with his telescope. Sometimes he eats.

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