Frequently Asked Question: How Do I Write?
I use the "Movie Method" or "Screenplay Method". Imagine your novel as a movie in your head.
Describe in short sentences how people look, move, speak. What does the setting look like. What is the pacing? Does your novel open with a big chase scene?
I start off by writing the actual novel as a screenplay and filling in more details and dialogue later. As for the dialogue, I listen to how people speak and answer each other to make it more natural and convincing.
And here are my tips for backgrounds: I sometimes travel to the actual location or use a location I'm already at or have been to, or I ask someone who has been there for details, or research info about the location.
This same methods applies to comic books. I start out by writing a script first and I envision each chapter as a "panel" or scenes in a movie.
If I am turning my novel into a comic book, I have to figure out how to condense more than 100 pages into 24 pages, so this is where the script method comes in handy. You will have to choose scenes that get to the point and deliver the message of your story.
My Writing Methods for Horror
Horror is one of the easiest subjects for me to write because it requires nothing more than imagination. Try this exercise: think about what you fear the most, and write the worst scenario that could happen. Or take a murderer you see in the news and imagine yourself as a family member getting revenge on him or her. Now kick it up a notch and add sharp objects, or supernatural elements. Now you have the ingredients for a horror story. Horror is using our own fears, anger, rage, anxiety, and negative emotions in a story. So my advice would be to, if you dare to, imagine the scariest things you can from your own real life, and write 3 things about how you can make it scary. For instance, If you know someone who has a jealous streak, create a character who is, say, really jealous --- what would he or she do when the jealousy takes over? How would he or she get rid of someone they were jealous of (and we have all had those feelings.) Basically, it's thinking about what you would do, that you cannot necessarily do in real life. That's why horror movies are so warped--they use our own imagination and fears and taboos against us, and make us afraid to see what's behind the dark closet. What would make you afraid? Explore that.
What grabs a reader?
A question people often ask me is how does a writer grab a reader's attention within the first few pages?
Well, my answer is pretty simple. When you watch a movie, and the first scene comes on, what is it? Is it a man running down the street with a panicked look? Is it a car speeding down a very narrow mountain road? Is it a woman painting her nails at 3AM and suddenly there's a knock on her door at that ungodly hour? (You already have the audience wondering why). You get the picture. So get out your ideas, and you can start your novel in the middle of a story, where a character may be doing something strange or may be in a high emotional state, or you can start with some disturbing dialogue. All you have to do is start with a scene that makes the reader ask "What's going on? I gotta read more to find out."
It's like a newspaper headline. "Man kills neighbor for THIS petty reason." You'd want to read further, right? Or, "Woman in love triangle leaves man for unexpected suitor---and it's not human." Read newspaper headlines and stories. Believe it or not I pick up the National Enquirer at my local grocery store. Why? For tips on their story headlines. They can be pretty darn good at making us want to read a story more.
I usually name characters after people with similar characteristics (without naming any names, of course!). But that is the best place to start--just change the names around a little. A name can be anything-- it's whatever you feel like. You can name a person "Couch" or "Seashell" if you want. There are no rules really. Have fun! I'm sure you will come up with some cool names! :-) Use your imagination. Also, pay attention to your dreams. Sometimes you can get some really cool characters from them!
Describing Locations and Objects
It’s another simple method. Simply go to place or look at an object, take your notebook, and start writing a description---but write down how you would describe it to a friend. What if you had only less than a minute to fully describe an object? How would you do it? What’s its color? Shape? Why is it so significant? How about a place? What’s most striking about it? Does it remind you of a childhood memory? Is it a location you’ll be using in your book, such as a place a character is meeting someone?
You can do two exercises: One is where you write down a full description of every detail of the object or location, for instance:
The blue vase sat on a mantle in the living room.
It has gold flowers etched all around it.
It had a wide mouth big enough for a man’s hand to fit into.
It was empty.
It was so colorful it stood out in the room.
That was the way I remembered it before I broke it.
You can write down as many descriptions in one short sentence. Or…
You can write a short description to quickly give the reader an idea of what the object looked like:
The blue vase that I broke when I was eight years old was a bright shade of blue, had gold flowers etched on it, and had a wide mouth.
Or you can have a character describing as object. When you write this, think about how you would describe the vase to a friend:
“Remember that blue vase that I broke? The one with the gold flowers painted on it? I remember it had a mouth so big that you could put your hand all the way to the bottom without it getting stuck.”
The same can be done with a location:
The park where they met had brown grass.
The grass looked like it had died ages ago.
If you have never been to a place but would like it in your book, you can ask someone who is from that place or who has been there to describe it to you, or show you photos.
Writing a Letter to help you form your Book Chapters
I also use the "Letter Writing" way of Creating your Book Chapters.
Write everything down like you are writing a letter to someone telling them a story of how your day went. Of course, the intro will be something like "I had something really weird happen to me today!" With that opening, people will automatically ask "What? Tell us!" That is the same as the opening of a story of a book. You want the reader to read more. You want them to say "Go on! Tell us more!"
Continue on with your story, and your letter format. This can help narrow down the plot. In other words, if you only have one minute to tell someone of the story, how would you describe it? What's the main story? "I had a weird day. Someone thought they saw a UFO fly over the freeway in Los Angeles, and the CHP shut down the freeway!" So , the whole premise is about aliens in Los Angeles.
Then break it up into chapters. For instance, you can start the story with something like "I am going to tell you a strange story." The first chapter can be about the man who saw the UFO and stopped in the middle of the freeway, blocking traffic. The second chapter can be about the people stuck on the freeway. The third chapter can be about how the cops got involved. Again, describe the story in a letter. To make it easier, devote two pages to one chapter, then another separate two pages to the next chapter. That way, you can put them together later and rewrite it as a novel or in any way you want.
Describing Your Character
You can people-watch, anywhere, anytime. People have interesting habits. Do they move their arms around a lot when they talk? Are they quick to anger? Do they get frustrated a lot? Over what? Are they calm and happy and mellow? You can apply the same writing method for an object or location when describing a character. How would you describe someone to a friend?
"He was a jerk who looked people in the eye and insulted them outright. But he was tall and had the most beautiful blue eyes that seemed to look right through you."
"She always waved her hands about her when she talked."
"She is a short woman who looked around nervously every time she talked to me."
Practice describing people. What is their height? Color of eyes and hair? Deep or shrill voice? Angry face or serene and calm? Well-dressed or messy-looking? How does someone react when you greet them? Do they stick out their hand to shake yours? Or do they stand with their hands in their pockets?
Create an Atmosphere for Writing
If you are planning to write a scary clown movie, have images of scary clowns posted on your wall. If you want to write about monsters, surround yourself with some images for inspiration, or if you are writing scary stories, sometimes just a candle lit in a dark room will do the trick.
Make you workspace creative. Put up a picture of how you envision your book cover to be, or whatever image inspires you. Currently my wall is lined with images of comic book art from my comic book/graphic novel.
Create your own writing corner, nook, desk etc. It helps get the creativity going, but don't spend so much time on the decorating that you forget to write! :-)
"Write Where You Are At"
What does that mean, "Write where you're at?"
It means write about what you are going through at a particular time in your life.
I tend to build my novels around what I am going through or where I'm at, at that particular time. I built a story around my environment and my experiences and sometimes even people I meet. Real life is of course, the inspiration.
Have a boring corporate job? Is there any office gossip you can turn into a story? Any drama in your life? Shady characters? Turn it into a supernatural horror story.
Gone on a camping trip? Imagine the campgrounds as a serial killer playground.
If you're stuck behind the counter of a fast-food joint, create a story from that backdrop: imagine that there are killer clowns who come to raid the trash can every night, and eventually kidnap people from the drive-thru...whatever. The great part of this is, you are right at a location day after day or night after night where you can write in detail about what it's like, about what things look like, etc. So use it.
Think Outside Your Comfort Zone
In order to write horror and science fiction, think outside your comfort zone. Don't always conform to what people think you SHOULD write. For instance, I've been told that as a woman, I should write romance novels. I tried once, but ended up killing the heroine, which actually felt pretty good. Enough of the sappy stuff, let's burn someone alive! But that's what I like writing about. I was never a romance novel person. I hate that warm fuzzy feeling.
To me, writing horror is like living in a parallel universe where anything out of the ordinary can happen. It's messing with people's minds, beliefs, and emotions.
I don't think a lot of people are comfortable with what I write about, but so what. I don't have to conform in my writing. In a way, I'm breaking a mold and a stereotype. Yes, women can write horror, and we can be damn good at it.
Anyone can write about new things, edgy things. But you will have to confront the uncomfortable, and think off-the-wall and out of the ordinary. You will have to constantly put yourself in a "what if" world. You will have to make friends with your nightmares and fears. You cannot remain ordinary to think up ordinary things. You will have to stretch your imagination to step way outside your comfort zone. You will have odd, even disturbing thoughts, and you will have to explore those thoughts as far as you can push them. You will encounter friends and family who will tell you not to write such things. You will have to think for yourself and not worry about what others say or think. You will have to stretch your imagination pretty far, but when you put them on paper, you may be surprised at the creativity you produce.
Dealing with Writer's Block
A. There is nothing more frustrating than writer's block. There are days when I cannot, for the life of me, come up with ideas. There are also days when I have absolutely no motivation at all. I just feel lethargic, like my brain just wants to not think at all.
So the first thing I do is get up and exercise. Just go for a walk and get the blood flowing. Then I go do something routine and mundane that forces me to think, like doing dishes. The only problem with that is if my brain wakes up and I get an idea, I can't write it down with wet hand, can I? :-) But I do anyway.
So in short, the very act of getting active gets my thoughts flowing. Somehow it works for me.
Get out of your room, your house. Go to public places like a hospital waiting room, a park, a coffee shop, and just sit and observe people. Walk around the mall. Just hang and observe. Start making up stories about the people around you, who you see, just ask yourself, What if that person was a secret serial killer?. What if he or she could only kill if they were drunk? Or they were only set off by people wearing pink?
Which leads me to my "What If" Game. If you're having writers block, play this game. Begin by asking a "What if" question. What if there was something behind that closet door? What if it was evil? What if I asked my brother to open it for me? What if he did? (What would happen? Would he be grabbed by aliens? Clowns? Zombies?) What if my mom asked me where he went? (What would I say?), and oh yeah, what if Zombies were living in my closet and I had to feed them everyday?" See where this is going? Get your pen ready!
Take an ordinary place and change it. Make a closet a portal to hell. Make an office building a weapons lab at night. Change an ordinary person. Make your brother a hunchback or your sister a mutant. Explore what things and people could be. Make a shark a secret benevolent defender of the ocean that gets rid of whaling ships. You get the idea. Turn the ordinary into the bizarre, the extraordinary. Writing is like a parallel universe where anything can happen. What if there was something strange behind that door? What if I opened it and there was nothing there? What if I ignored it and I heard strange noises? What if I had someone else open it?
It’s a great exercise. The world can be a playground. Stretch your imagination with this method.
I also listen to music. For some people, it's distracting, but for me, it gets me thinking and wakes up my emotions. If I want to write a scifi, horror or action-themed piece, I put on death metal music. If I'm in a sarcastic mood and I want to write a dark comedy, I put on classical music: Mozart or Beethoven. I then imagine serial killers in ballet tutus dancing with knives. Then it all goes downhill from there.
If I'm really having a bad writing day, I go take a nap. Maybe just for half an hour or so. I hate naps. They make me groggy and I feel yucky afterwards, but for some reason, afternoon naps give me very weird dreams. The last dream I had today was getting 32 text messages from a clown. He wanted his balloons emailed to him. But that's what I get from my occasional nap. The last time I took a nap, I dreamt about a very loud punk rock band playing in my room with a sparkly silver unicorn. I guess the point is, let your imagination take over.
So in summary, get busy, get the blood flowing, and maybe even let your dreams do the talking.
Dealing with Multiple Ideas
If you have a bunch of ideas, how do you deal with that and write it all down?
I used to write all my ideas down on post it notes and stick them on a board under categories such as Horror" or "SciFi". Then I started using a notebook with different sections and labeled them under those categories, and wrote my notes on the appropriate pages. But then I started running out of space, so I switched to individual folders, labeled them, and began sticking the notes into each folder. Use whatever method works for you.
For instance one set of folders would be labeled as such:
Supernatural Mafia Crime Story, 1920s
(Title, if any)
Werewolf Novel (17th Century)
(Title, if any)
ScifFi Novel, 1950s Time Traveling Serial Killer Robot whatever
(Title, if any)
And so on.
Think of it this way: if you happen to cook, you file away recipes by dish: Chicken dishes, dessert, and pasta. Each recipe has a title and ingredients. Simply think of your folders as the filing system for those ingredients. You will put them all together later
Then, I just put them all together later. I call it my "Jigsaw Puzzle" method. I'd write on each notepad "Chapter 1, Chapter 2, etc" and start jotting down my ideas under each chapter, and stick it in the appropriate folder.
I could start with at the beginning of a story, and if I decided to start at the middle instead, I moved the chapters around. Chapter 5 could become Chapter 10. Chapter 3 might be better merged with Chapter 15. And so on. They will all fall into place later. And you can arrange things around as you like. Sometimes you'll be surprised that the middle of a story or even the ending works great as the beginning of the novel. You don't have to necessarily follow the traditional format of "Once upon a time" and "They lived happily ever after".
So how do I stay focused on one story idea, especially if you have a lot of ideas for a lot of stories?
I would pick an idea that interests you the most for that day, week, or month. I make a timeline for working on that project. For instance, I would plan to work on the SciFi novel for 6 months, and the 17th Century novel for a year because it may require more historical research.
Then, I schedule a time each day to jot down notes for each story: outlines, thoughts, plans etc. If an idea hits me I always have something to write it down with, even emailing myself the notes.
This method made me feel more organized and focused when I wrote three books in the same year, all completely different from each other. .
In terms of priority, say you have a scifi or crime novel, and a romance novel, and you don't know which one to start with first. Think of whether the Halloween season is approaching. If it's February, you may want to start work on the scary novel first so you have something to announce for Halloween. It also depends on how strong your interest is on one novel as opposed to the other, and what you feel like writing first. You may not be into Vampires this week, but next week it may be zombies so just make sure you know where to file your ideas when the writing mood hits you.
Schedule your writing like you would a job or a chore. You can schedule anywhere from 5 minutes to 1 hour a day. it's up to you, but treat it like an important, but fun and fulfilling, task.