I’m often asked about my creative process. A rough idea comes first. Sometimes it’s just a few paragraphs or maybe a scene, usually longhand, but occasionally on the computer. Those pages go into a binder, which, depending on the complexity and research involved, develops into a big fat binder. When I go back to look for the information later, like when I do the art fact sheets or a blog like this, I’m sometimes stumped because the working titles on my binders are often not the same title that ends up on the book. This one was originally called Song of the Mountain. I need names for the characters before I can develop the plot, and I need a working title.
Several years ago I began thinking of a series, where I would tell the stories of sisters. Then I went back in time and decided to write their father’s story first, and that’s where my hero, Sam, came in. I developed Josie, not only for Sam, but also as a mother to the three daughters. You’ll be seeing stories about Elisabeth, Abigail and Anna in the future. I enjoyed developing the personalities of the daughters. Knowing that they would eventually have their own books helped me to flesh them out and make them individuals.
I have character grid sheets I use at this point and I start asking myself questions like “What is the inciting incident that gets this story going?” and “What is this character’s motivation or backstory?” and I figure out their goals and their strengths and weaknesses and the conflict between them. I usually have one person pretty well developed in my head before I start on the other, and I build in conflict by making them completely different personalities with vastly different pasts.
I also make a list at this point: 25 Things That Could Happen. I brainstorm the list with all kinds of wild and unlikely things and don’t let myself quit until the page is filled. I usually use several ideas from the list in the story—except the ones that include aliens or everyone dying of the plague.
Somewhere in the process I find pictures of the characters. Sam Hart is the spitting image of Goran Visnjic in Spartacus. Not a difficult picture to display above my desk. Josie is a Cover Girl model from few years back. Faces inspire me to know more about my story people. Usually they hang over my monitor, sometimes I use them as my wallpaper, or otherwise I add them to the binder, along with photos I’ve taken of locations and pictures that I find.
To my binder I add a list of names I will use, information on local plants and trees, and a month-by-month-calendar that I print out blank and fill in for a timeline as I develop the story. I often draw a map of the town and sketch blueprints of their homes and places of work, so I can visualize each scene.
Sometimes I write the first pages or a prologue to get started, but usually it’s the synopsis. The synopsis helps me flesh out the story and figure out if I have enough conflict and whether or not these story people interest me enough to move forward. Most writers detest writing a synopsis. I love it because for me it’s a fun part of the creative process.
After this, I’m a pretty linear writer. I start at the beginning and write straight through to the end with very little revising, except for daily and weekly edits and a read-through every several chapters. I’m a Nebraska girl, and I often like to get a little of my home state in there, so in The Preacher’s Wife the Harts meet Josie in Nebraska before moving on to Colorado. My ideas come from different places and at different times, but they all end up in a binder. Just part of my need for order, maybe, but I always say, “Do whatever works.”
My personal library takes up several bookcases in my home. Since I write American historicals, I have visited a number of restored homes, living history farms and museums, taking notes and photos. Years ago I would spend hours at the library, researching details like railroad transportation and mills and state history. Now everything is a click away with google. Seriously, the Internet saves me hours and hours of research time, and I never cease to find the immediacy and quantity of information amazing. Photographs, message boards and experts are all at my greedy fingertips.
It’s a always a challenge to get travel time correct, so planning a trip across the country takes quite a bit of forethought. I’ve never done a wagon train story, and thought that would be fun, but then The Preacher’s Wife ended up not including any of the backstory about the wagon train, either. I wrote an opening scene of Sam’s wife’s death as sort of a prologue for myself because I needed to know what happened, but then I cut it and started with Josie and her mean-spirited mother-in-law to show her ordinary life.
Sometimes before the story is finished and always before it’s gone through the editing process, the cover information are due, and I have my handy binder and all the photos to use as reference for the cover material. I scan my pics and send them to the art department. Sometimes the new cover and characters look exactly as I imagined.
The Preacher’s Wife should be in your local stores this week. I hope you’ll look for a copy if you don’t already have one! Or … order it from eharlequin by clicking on the banner above or from amazon by clicking here: