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Let's Talk About The Writing Process - 5 Top Tips for New Authors

I'm a noob myself. I was today year's old minus six months when I completed my first manuscript. I've got another underway, drafts for two more novels, a TV sitcom and a satirical cartoon.

I'm not perfect and I've got a lot to learn. I'm sure my process and methods are not optimal. However, in the philanthropic spirit of "give before you ask" I kinda thought documenting my writing process would be cool, and if someone (anyone!) can learn from it then so be it.

A picture of a handsome middle aged white male writing notes into an iPhone while lying on his bed.
A slightly older but much more good looking version of me, waking after a dream and capturing notes on his iPhone.

Here goes;

Process 1 - The Idea

This often comes in dreams. I have some hilarious dreams, sometimes dark, always very vivid. I now make it a habit (part of my process!) to quickly grab my phone when I wake up and write quickly as much as I can about the dream.

It's the same with 'daydreaming' which is something I often encounter in my day job while on so many international flights. I regularly clock up over 200,000 airmiles a year, and a lot of that is spent staring into space out of the window with music playing in my ears. All of my ideas are in the Notes app of my iPhone.

My ideas are sometimes functional, like documenting my many travel experiences, and sometimes whimsical, like wondering what would happen if electricity really could be transmitted wirelessly.

Top Tip: Document your thoughts and ideas, quickly. Have something to hand you can capture them all.

Process 2 - Turning Ideas into "Things I Want to Say".

This is where I start to imagine putting some things into the skeleton of a story. If you've read my earlier blog posts you may be familair with what I did for "The Unravelling" - if not let me refresh you. Here's some of the things I wrote that I wanted to talk about;

  • 3-4 day working weeks the norm

  • Drugs commonplace

  • Massive crime in the underclasses

  • The continued rise of the police state

  • The rich 0.5 have everything

And I just kept on going till I had a few pages of things I thought would come true over the next twenty to thirty years. I knew I wanted to write a futuristic thriller as it's a genre I really enjoy. So I kept going. This is the second part of my process, note I haven't got a storyline or a script yet, I'm just letting the things I want to say guide my general direction.

Top Tip: Focus on topics or subjects that you want to talk about and start making lists from your notes. These lists can help guide the next part of the process.

Process 3 - What are the Themes in my Story? What Happens?

Here I start putting in some details of how I want the story to flow, and some places I want the story to be set in. I'm a big fan of stories and movies that move around either in geography or in time, so I knew I wanted my story to be fragmented for the first 8 chapters before it all starts to converge. It's a great way to start off slow and build up the characterisation and the world building before you get into the meat of your story. Here's part of another list I wrote;

  • 4 families in real time - moving back and forth

  • Places I had lived or visited - Moscow, Singapore, London, New York

  • Something strange - system malfunction

  • Associated weather events

  • Riots, a Wall St crash

Top Tip: Make more lists, don't just rush to get the story moving. Focus on where the actions will happen, and what some of the actions or themes will be.

Process 4 - The Characters

This is where it starts to get personal. Who do you want your characters to be? What drives them? I wrote this about my protagonist;

"Hero is a mind detective, like Minority Report. Family man, 20 hour week, normal, but he catches Mister X due to his fantasy about Suki which mirrors how he feels about Monica".

Then I started to flesh him out a bit. He was like a cross between Tom Cruise in Minority Report, and Bruce Willis in Die Hard. Slightly unassuming, but deep down really tough. I wanted him to have some pain, and by the end of the movie have faced his pain and come through the other side. A classic fall/rise/fall/rise situation! Or the Cinderella Arc if you familiar with story types. Once I'd done this process for the all the characters I was ready for my next step.

Top Tip: Focus on the DETAILS of your characters. What they look like, where they come from, what drives them. List it all out. Don't jump into writing yet.

A futuristic picture of a beautiful woman, Asian and mixed race heritage, with a striking white sleek wig completing her look.
Here is Suki - my female protagonist in the novel, who is a beautiful mix of Japanese, Dutch and Singaporean.

Process 5: Storyboard

Ok, so now I had some themes, some places, some characters, I now just needed an arc. How the story would start, and then how it would move from there.

I knew I had to introduce Joe first, and 2038 as a world. So that's chapter 1. Then I wanted to introduce "Mister X" who at this point still didn't have a name. More world building in Chapter 2. Then I knew I wanted some form of autmonomous robot/andorid action - think Robocop but better! I've long thought that proper androids would make great police, so I put that in, with a trip to Moscow where I've lived and spent a lot of time. That would be a great start to Chapter 3. For Chpater 4, I knew I wanted to round out the main characters, so I focused on Singapore (another place I've lived) and the mega pop star, Suki.

I started just writing chapter numbers and getting the flow of a story that was basically thus (SPOILER ALERT!);

  1. Bored Cop in Bored World

  2. Clever Hacker is Angry

  3. Things start to break - Automation Fails

  4. Hacker is Behind it

  5. He kidnaps his Obsession

  6. Cop gets caught up in some troubles

  7. Cop somehow helps efforts to find Pop Star

  8. The Villain is Captured

  9. It's Not Over - things still going wrong

  10. Cop has to save his family

  11. Cop finds a way to help solve the problems - ends up a hero

  12. Everyone is safe, World has changed

  13. Cop re-united with family - all is well in the world.

From here, and ONLY from here, I start writing.

Top Tip: Spend time listing your chapters, with a rough outline of what happens. Only when you are happy with this, can you start writing.

Process 6-10 is my actual writing process, including editing and research, and I'll cover that soon in another post.

Let me know what you think!

Speak soon.


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