Grace's Mosaic Moments

Saturday, July 9, 2016

Organizing the Out-of-the-Mist Author

Thrill of a Lifetime
As if it weren't enough of a thrill that my daughter's neighbor, Jeff Coffey (center back) is the new lead singer for Chicago, the opening band for their concerts is Rita Wilson's, and she's married to . . . guess who? And while Holly, Chase, and Bryce (front) were visiting in LA this week, Tom Hanks took this selfie with the Coffey family (plus a few extra photo-crashers)! Holly reports that the boys didn't want to wash their hands after getting a shake from TH.

Excerpt from a review ( of Chicago's Fourth of July performance at the Hollywood Bowl:

"The Hall of Famers were as musically adept and acute as ever, rousing the sea of humanity with one hit after another. All nine members were present, with the exception of Jason Scheff, who was being subbed for by Jeff Coffey. The band faired just fine, however, with Coffey doing a remarkable job on ballads such as “Hard to Say I’m Sorry” and “You’re the Inspiration.” His soaring, tenor voice was a seamless fit, reaching the ears of even those in the very back row of the Bowl."

Yay, Jeff!


 Yes, I've admitted to this before. Even out-of-the-mist writers like me need some organization. Although I hasten to add, there's only one unbreakable "rule" in writing: There's no one way to do anything. To use a few clich├ęs for emphasis: "To each his own." "To thine own self be true." That said, as I started a new book this week (Regency Gothic #5), I realized that perhaps I should once again emphasize the "housekeeping" steps that have helped me through thirty-some books over the last twenty years.

What comes first?
For me, it's usually some vague idea of the plot, followed by tossing around ideas for what characters would best fit the situation - hero, heroine, perhaps a start on a hopefully long list of villains. I scribble notes on a yellow legal pad.

Step Two.
Setting usually comes next - with time out for research, which can range from personal experience and trip photos to Google Earth, Wikipedia, and plowing through print books on my shelves and/or from the library.

Step Three.
I delve more deeply into my main characters, providing family background, including relatives who may, or my not, be part of the story. I.e., I'm trying to get to know these people who are little better than gleams in the eye at this point.

Step Four.
I'm ready to type up my Character List, but I can't because I don't have a Title yet. Oh horrors. More time out while I agonize over this. There has to be something in the top right corner before I begin. Absolutely must. Can't write a story without a title. So I sit there with a yellow pad and write down possible titles, no matter how absurd. Sometimes I appeal to other authors on one of my professional e-mail loops or Facebook. Then, of course, I go ahead and make the choice on my own!

Step Five.
I start my Character List, a "must" for every book. At this point I usually have little more than four or five names - hero, heroine, possible villain, and any other characters in the opening scenes. Over time, this list expands as I scribble new names & descriptions onto the printed list as I write, usually updating the typed list only when it becomes difficult to read! To illustrate how important names are to my creative process, in the first week of Tangled Destinies, the list went through three typed versions, expanding from four characters to twenty-four. And before writing Word One of Rebel Princess, the first of the Blue Moon Rising series, as part of my World Building, I sat down and made up 11 double-column pages of names for Psyclids, male & female, and for Regulons, male & female! And well worth the trouble as my Character List grew and grew and grew . . . 

Step Six.
Descriptions. As I go along, I scribble hair & eye colors next to the names on the Character List, plus any other essential information that might be easily forgotten. For a series, such as Blue Moon Rising, where the Character List extends to five pages, I type up a separate Description List, which records the details used to describe the characters, an absolute essential when you are writing about a host of characters over an expanse of several years. Otherwise, unless you have absolute recall, the hero's best friend would have blond hair and blue eyes in one book and brown hair and gray eyes in the next. 

Step Seven.
In addition to people names, place names are essential to creating a book. If you're writing a contemporary set in 21st century in your home area, not much of a problem. But if you're using an unfamiliar setting, you either need to research actual place names or invent some that seem authentic. Your research is further complicated if you're writing an historical. Real names? Fictional names? Some of both? You will likely need the names of towns, villages, rivers, mountain ranges. If your setting is Britain, you'll need a name for various houses (even cottages get individual names). A proper-sounding name for a pub. You need to know the correct names for London's parks, churches, bridges, and landmarks. (Really, there was no Regency Park in 1808?) I add the fictional names at the bottom of my Character List so I won't forget that great-aunt Jenny lives in Thornton Cottage and the Duke of Ainsworth lives in Morningstar Abbey.)

Step Eight.

I have had a blue leather zipper container for more years than I can remember. Whatever book I'm working on - that's where the newly printed pages go. And yes, I still edit hard copy. That's what works for me. Call it tradition, call it ritual. Each chapter goes on top of the leather container until it has its first edit. Then I type the revisions and place it inside. When I have five chapters with initial edits complete, then it's time for . . .

Step Nine.

Second edit. I go over the five chapters with initial edits, in most cases adding more color, more detail, explanations and motivations that might have been left out or treated too lightly, or anything else that strikes me as necessary to improve the story or characters. This is an important edit, and if there is any question I can't immediately, I scribble it on a yellow legal pad for future consideration. (Never trust that you'll remember some point, whether minor or crucial, at a later date.)

Step Ten.
Notes. As I continue the five-chapter edits throughout the rest of the book, I also scribble notes about points I'd like to add, or clarify, or change in the earlier chapters. When I've finished the draft, this gives me concrete suggestions of things I need to do as return to the Chapter 1 and edit the entire manuscript from top to bottom. This is the kind of thing that makes so-called "plotters" shudder with horror. You have to go back and add something? Heaven forfend! Whereas I consider building my stories by layers the thing that makes them truly interesting, spontaneous and creative. (As previously noted, it takes all kinds!)

Grace Note: I am never above looking up a word in the dictionary, particularly the Oxford English Dictionary when writing my Regency novels. No one is so smart or so experienced he or she isn't capable of making a mistake! 

As I have stated in the past, I cannot imagine writing a detailed synopsis of a book ahead of time. Then I'd know what I was going to happen.  I'd be bored and have no interest in doing the work necessary to turn a 20- or 30-page synopsis into a full book. Although I admit to the necessity of some organization, as noted above, my great delight is in being able to get up each morning, wondering what is going to happen in my book today. How will I develop the vague idea I had for this morning's work? Or am I going to sit down and discover that something entirely different needs to be said? A new character drops in out of the blue. A secondary character suddenly blossoms into becoming the hero or heroine of their own book. A villain becomes so likable I have to find someone else to fill that role, etc., etc. That's what makes writing exciting. For example, in the Blue Moon series, I never intended for a minor character, almost a villainess, to be revealed as the daughter of a king. It simply happened in Book 2, greatly enhancing Book 3. And in Book 4 she will provide the primary love story. Surprise! The kind of surprise I love. The kind of surprise that keeps my writing fresh. (I hope!)

So, with apologies to the "plotters" out there, that's what works for me. To each his own, but please don't denigrate the approach to writing of those who prefer to "wing" it. 

 ~ * ~

Thanks for stopping by,


For Grace's website, listing all books as Blair Bancroft, click here.
For a brochure for Grace's editing service, Best Foot Forward, click here.  


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