I’m about to launch book #25 (THE BRUTAL TIME), so I thought it might be cool to share how I come up with stories and write. As many of you know, I keep a tough schedule (5+ books each year) so process for me is a big deal.

Without further ado, here goes!

Step One. I write a series treatment.
By this, I mean the overall direction for a series. Across five books, what happens to the heroine? Does she get married, become a queen, what? In college I learned to write for film, so I feel comfortable following a screenwriting model for story development. A treatment (to me anyway) is a two-page summary of what the series will be about. The end product will deviate from this plan, but meh. A nice overview of treatments can be found here.

Step Two. I outline my book.
Here I use a film writing system called SAVE THE CAT. You outline your story into three acts. If this is the first book in the series, then I outline four sequels at a high level. If I’m doing a series, I cannot over-emphasize how important this is. Otherwise, writing sequels is a total bitch. It’s a lot easier to leave bread crumbs if you know where you want to get to, if that makes sense.

An overview of SAVE THE CAT, Blake Snyder and beat sheets can be found here, along with examples and downloads.

Step Three. I align my outline to other stuff.
Here I rework my SAVE THE CAT stuff by adding three sections. First, I make sure to decide my character arc. Namely, where does the heroine start off emotionally … and where does she end up? Second and third, I compare the outline to both a fairy tale and a movie that tie into that overall character arc.

For instance, in THE BRUTAL TIME, the main character (Myla) must learn how to build her own team for a particular purpose. This is about Myla being her own leader separate from her family and Angelbound love, Lincoln. The fairy tale it aligns to is King Arthur and the knights of the round table. The movie it follows is the first Die Hard, which will make sense when you read the book. I downloaded summaries of both stories and then compared them back to the outline while asking the question, How can I make this better?

Step Four. I create Pinterest Boards.
I read a ton of books, but for me, what I put into my head comes out on the page. If I’m reading the same stuff as everyone else, then I’m writing like them too. My readers appreciate creativity and fresh world building, so reading alone just won’t do. That’s why I create Pinterest inspiration boards for each key character and setting. As of writing this, I have hundreds of boards and thousands of pins.

KEY TASK: When I create a character board, I try to chose images of at least one historical figure that reminds me of my fictional life story and voice.

Step Five. I paste my outline into Scrivener
This is a writing tool where each chapter becomes a file folder on the left-hand side of the screen. It makes it easier to move around content as I play with stuff. For me, the outline is never perfect. I’m always playing with it. To give you an idea how it works, here’s some of my chapter set-up for THE BRUTAL TIME.

I play around with stuff in Scrivener for a while. Once it’s pretty solid, then I move onto yet another way of looking at story structure…

Step Six. I load my chapter list into Excel
In my work, I often have complex and overlapping story lines. To make sure I’m focusing on what’s important, I map my chapters into Excel and cross-reference that against key themes. Now when I talk about themes, I mean romance, action, the big bad, that kind of thing. To check my work, I create a spreadsheet with colored blocks and then insert the blocks when they appear in a chapter. It gives me a visual representation of the story, as in: crap, I’ve got ten chapters without any action! This is when I (once again!) move stuff around a lot. As in, a lot, a lot.

Here’s an example of my excel for THE BRUTAL TIME…

And now, with all that behind me, I get to the actual writing of the book!

Step Seven. I write chapter one
Please note that I do not start to write in earnest until all the stuff above is complete. Early on in my career, I used to have writer’s block … or I’d write ten chapters and chuck nine of them. Now that rarely happens, but it’s because I’ve found that all my prep work is key. Everyone’s process is different, but there you go.

Step Eight. I perfect each chapter, read for flow, and a ton of other stuff
Once the structure of a story is set, each chapter is its own mini structure (in my writing anyway.) I have a whole system for how I write chapters, find voice, set flow, and so on. If you folks like this content, let me know and I’ll share some more on chapter-specific stuff as well.

Step Nine. It all goes into a series bible
Each series has a bible (fancy name for a long word doc) where I keep a list of characters and descriptions.

So that’s it: My writing process in nine steps. Hope you find it interesting and again, if you like this content, please let me know! I’ve tons more where this came from!!!