Driving for inspiration with RC Hancock

Uncommon-Blue_9781462114887Today, you get an introduction to my first guest blogger and one of my fabulous author friends: RC Hancock, author of An Uncommon Blue. I got my hands on a copy of his book a week before my editing deadline for Demon’s Heart hit, and I made the mistake of reading the first page . . . and the next page . . . and the next page . . . and suddenly I had read the entire thing instead of working on my edits. You can learn more about Hancock and his insanely addictive novel on his website or his Facebook page.

But before you go off to read his book, have a look at his post on the process of getting a novel from an idea to a solid book! Enjoy!

Thanks to my good friend and fellow author, Emily for allowing me this chance to share a little about my writing process. I’ve recently finished a first draft for my third novel, and while I’m waiting on my beta readers to see whether it’s any good, I’ve started the whole process over.

First, I thought about an old manuscript and whether I wanted to fix it or try something fresh. I tinkered with the old one (about a chubby girl that could leave her body to spy on the neighbors), but didn’t feel a lot of inspiration, so I set to thinking up a new concept. For me, the best time to ponder story ideas is when I’m driving. I live outside of Philadelphia and work in Baltimore, so yesterday (March 1st) with the bad weather and slow traffic I had over two hours to figure out what I wanted to write. Incidentally, this has been the first time I’ve incorporated prayer in the initial brainstorming process. I suppose because my writing has become more like a career and less like a hobby, I need all the help I can get choosing a winning idea. In the end, this is what I came up with: You get on a plane only to discover it is a camouflaged alien spacecraft that has chosen you to compete in a series of games with real life consequences to the other oblivious passengers.

Once I had the kernel of an idea, my next step was to figure out whose story it was. Who would have the most to lose in this situation? At first I was going to go from the perspective of the crew since they’d know most about the plane, but it didn’t feel right. A passenger with family on the flight would have more to lose. And a girl who had recently fallen madly in love and was flying to see her boyfriend would push the stakes even higher.

Now I’m at step three. Figure out a beginning, middle, and end. I’ll probably try to develop a beat sheet using Blake Snyder’s Save The Cat method. That will ensure I have all the proper elements in place. Once I have a general idea of the plot I’ll write a concrete outline detailing what is at stake in each scene, and how they all escalate the action. (Robert McKee’s “Story” give great direction on how to do this.) This process usually takes a few months, but it makes the actual writing sooo much easier. The transition from outlining to beginning the first draft is always tough. (As is going from revisions to drafting.) But once I get in the habit of squeezing words and sentences from my brain, it gets a little easier.

Although I try to stick closely to the outline when I draft, there is always some discovery and fine tuning going on. A character will demand more attention, a plot will take a better turn, and as long as I don’t get too off track, it usually makes the story stronger.

After I complete the first draft (which can take several months to a year) I send it to my team of fellow authors and beta readers and wait. After I’ve gotten several responses (and it’s been at least a few weeks, I’ll go back in and see if I agree with their feedback.) I’ll also polish the prose and add a little more detail. Once I feel it’s ready I’ll email it with a short synopsis to my agent, and if she feels it’s ready she’ll send it to the acquisitions editor at Cedar Fort. (Who have first rights to my next book.)

Then when I’m waiting to hear from them I’ll pick one of the ideas in my story journal, or hop in the car and drive until inspiration hits.

The trick is to be able to pick up and leave off when other revisions, families, or jobs demand your time and attention. If you continue to cultivate your characters and plot during the day, when you finally get the time to sit down in front of the computer, the story will practically write itself.

RC-Hancock-authorRC (Recalcitrant Conformist) Hancock began his writing career with a story about a dead cat which his second grade teacher thought was brilliant. Convincing others of his literary genius has taken longer than expected, but along the road he has acquired a domestic goddess, four hairy gnomes (who, thankfully, look more like their mother), and a degree from BYU in Recreational Management & Youth Leadership (which gives him license to act like a child.) An Uncommon Blue is his first novel and the cause of most of his hair loss.