Tales of Blood and Squalor: Call for Submissions

I’m editing a new anthology of horror and psychological thrillers: Tales of Blood and Squalor, published by Dark Cloud Press.

This anthology is open to submissions August 1 – September 30, 2017 or until filled.

Read the complete guidelines at http://darkcloudpress.com/TBS_antho.htm.

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How I Write Novels

Readers, have you ever wondered how a novel is developed and written? If you’re a writer, you might be curious about how other writers make their books. Here’s some insight into the process I follow.

Why My Early Attempts at Novel-writing Led Nowhere

When I was a fledgling writer, I would get a wild idea for a story or novel and rush to the keyboard. Excited and inspired, I would sit down and bang it out. Maybe I went on to the next scene, but soon enough, my inspiration fizzled or I didn’t know what was coming next and, unable to see my way, I got confused and quit writing. Then I wondered what was wrong with me.

There was nothing wrong with me as a writer. It was my process—or, rather, lack of one—that was running my efforts aground.

It’s only with my last two novels that I’ve used a new process to ensure that my initial idea becomes a workable story that doesn’t collapse when I go to draft it.

Pre-writing Reveals Characters and Story

CALL OF THE PISS FAIRY by Lee Allen HowardI talk about the idea development process, plotting, and drafting of my forthcoming bizarro psychological thriller in Progress Report on CALL OF THE PISS FAIRY. I did a lot of pre-writing for that book, meaning, beyond preliminary 12-point plot questionnaires and character sketches, I jotted down inspired snippets as they came to me—descriptions, events, scraps of dialogue—mostly written in the voice of my first-person protagonist Russell Pisarek. About 45 pages. I was just writing about the writing.

When I reviewed that information, a story started to emerge. I rearranged those lines and paragraphs of information into a beginning, a middle, and an end. Then I filled in events and information I felt were missing.

I used a similar process with novel #6 (working title: DEAD CEMETERY), doing the first 29 days of exercises in Alan Watt’s The 90-Day Novel.

For each daily writing session, Watt poses six questions of the protagonist and antagonist. Questions such as, “My first love was…,” “The person I hate the most is…,” and “The greatest loss of my life was….” I answered each question in a five-minute segment of free-writing. A month of this grew tedious, but by the time I finished the exercises, I knew my characters, and a story was emerging. I had character backstory; I had motivation.

All in all, I came out with 250 pages of pre-writing for DEAD CEMETERY. (It’s gonna be a big book…) Not 100% of it will end up in the book, but it contains many priceless nuggets that form the core of the story.

During this stage, I also do any necessary research and include my findings in my pre-writing (or Scrivener project file) so that it doesn’t interrupt me unduly during drafting. (Of course, I will still need to check facts when I’m writing.)

Plotting Prevents Stalling During Drafting

Once I had my narrative outlined into three acts, I then used John Truby’s Blockbuster 6 (BB6) to create taglines for each scene in the book. For example in PISS FAIRY, “Russell asks Uma to lunch, but a rabbit ruins his plans.” Just the basic event or revelation.

For DEAD CEMETERY, I used an Excel worksheet to track information and events for five characters through the beginning, middle, and end. Here’s a labeled printout of the 24-page spreadsheet, blurred to prevent spoilers. (Yeah, it’s gonna be a big book.)
Printout of plotting spreadsheet

Plotting Includes Detailed Scene Planning

For CALL OF THE PISS FAIRY, I planned a scene for each one of the tagline events, answering such questions as:

  • My challenge in writing this scene
  • My strategy for writing this scene
  • The scene goal (POV character’s immediate desire)
  • The character’s plan to achieve the goal
  • The opponent in the scene
  • The scene’s conflict
  • Any twist revealed
  • The scene’s moral argument (value A vs. value B)

I copied the pertinent snippets of information from my pre-writing document into each scene’s plan (a document in BB6). What resulted for PISS FAIRY was 60 one- to three-page scene plans. It took me from Christmas last year to Feb. 15 to do all my pre-writing and scene planning for PISS FAIRY—seven weeks.

For DEAD CEMETERY, I’ll review and rearrange the spreadsheet cells into proper story order. (Each cell contains a reference ID to a numbered paragraph in my pre-writing document.) When I get all the storylines as told through the POV characters in proper order, I’ll turn each cell into a tagline for Blockbuster 6, which will yield a list of scenes from the beginning of the novel to the end. (Note: You don’t need BB6 to do this. You could do it in spreadsheet, word processor, or Scrivener.)

Truly, I don’t understand how pantsers do it—sit down and write by the seat of their pants. That approach has almost always led me to stalling during the course of writing. Planning narratives in detail beforehand reveals most story and logic problems before I invest time and effort writing myself into a corner. If the elements work during the scene plan, I’m confident I can write the draft.

Once I have my scene plans written, I don’t have to worry about whether my scene is revealing the right information or whether it has enough conflict. I’ve already determined those things during the planning process.

Drafting Like Gangbusters

Now, with my stack of scene plans, I sit down to write the first draft of the book. During a writing session, I’m not concerned with what happens next—I know what comes next because this work is already done. All I need to do is focus on the material in the plan and write one scene. Just one scene. Two, if I’m on a roll. Three if I’m on a baguette.

I write a scene by copying the tagline from Blockbuster to a file card in Scrivener. Then I open the file and write the scene, making sure I include everything from my scene plan, which contains the pertinent pre-writing snippets. Some of this info I’ll cut and paste.

After all my scenes are written, I print it. As I review, I note any rearrangements that need to be made and indicate where chapter breaks could occur. I do the actual restructuring in Scrivener, and then I’m on my way to a second draft.

My Novel-writing Results and Goals

Following this method, I wrote a 51,000-word draft of CALL OF THE PISS FAIRY between February 15 and April 4. It has only one POV character and is not a big book. (But it packs a severe wallop, I’m told by beta readers.)

Because DEAD CEMETERY is a much bigger book, it’s taking me quite a while longer to do the pre-writing and plotting. I hope to start scene planning September 1 and finish by the end of the year so that I can begin drafting in January. With my stack of scene plans, I’ll write like gangbusters from beginning to end. I’ll probably go on a motel writing binge or three.

My Novel-writing Process Sets Me Free

Some writers may say that all this pre-writing, plotting, and scene planning kill the spontaneity and fun of writing. I’ve found that it sets me free.

I expect to be inspired during pre-writing, and I am. I expect to be inspired when I’m arranging those snippets into a storyline, and I am. I expect to be inspired when I’m doing the hard work of scene planning, ensuring that my character has a goal and there’s conflict over something worthwhile at stake, and I am.

And when I finally sit down to write, all my channels are open, and I’m free to receive my best inspiration to tell the story from my heart to the reader’s. And that’s what I do.

Following this process, I’m able to develop and test my ideas, get to know my characters, discover what’s happening, arrange everything in the right order, plan powerful scenes, and then write without stalling. My first draft of PISS FAIRY was surprisingly clean. I’m hoping the same for DEAD CEMETERY.

Will you still find holes in your story? Probably. But they won’t be big enough to drive a Buick through. And you won’t get snagged by “I don’t know what comes next.” This approach, I’ve found, makes the revision process much easier.

If this article was helpful to you, please let me know in a comment. And feel free to share what process works for you!

For More Information:


I Finished the First Draft of CALL OF THE PISS FAIRY

Almost two months ago I posted the first scene of my work in progress, a dark psychological thriller I’ve titled CALL OF THE PISS FAIRY (formerly THE BEDWETTER). It’s about an abused young man with chronic secondary nocturnal enuresis who, as pressures mount, embarks on a killing spree using the tools of his dark fantasies.

I tracked my daily writing milestones with nightly Facebook page updates, and posted a progress report two weeks ago.

I finished ahead of schedule, completing the first draft the evening of April 4, 2013, at a total of 51,167 words—very close to my revised goal of 52,500. I was ecstatic! Since the beginning of 2013, I’d been spending two hours almost every weekday evening, and three to six hours on Saturdays and Sundays, plotting and writing. My all-time daily writing record was 2528 words on 3/26; my weekend writing record was 5024 words on 3/29-31; my daily average came out to be 1339/day.

I forced myself to let it cool for a week (well, almost a week) while I worked on getting DEATH PERCEPTION ready for release (next month). Today I exported THE BEDWETTER Scrivener project to a Word file and printed out the entire draft: 241 pages. I will begin my read-through tonight, making notes in the margin. Here’s a peek at the first draft. 🙂

Bedwetter Manuscript, First Draft

I’ll keep you updated on my progress. In the meantime, drop me a line!


Progress Report on CALL OF THE PISS FAIRY

A month ago I posted the first scene of my work in progress, a dark psychological thriller I’ve titled CALL OF THE PISS FAIRY (formerly THE BEDWETTER). It’s about an abused young man with chronic secondary nocturnal enuresis who, as pressures mount, embarks on a killing spree using the tools of his dark fantasies.

I’ve started to keep track of my writing progress and wanted to update you in a more comprehensive way than my daily Facebook status updates and tweets.

Idea Development in CALL OF THE PISS FAIRY

I originally received inspiration during some time off I took at the end of last year. I got the idea about a young man being punished in a horrifying way for wetting the bed. I used those two weeks to formulate a big-picture plan for the story, filling out plot and character questionnaires, just getting to know the story.

From that point on, I began to hear this character’s voice and was often interrupted by creative “downloads” of information that I would later work into scenes and dialogue.

Plotting of CALL OF THE PISS FAIRY in Truby’s Blockbuster 6

I spent all of January and the first half of February doing more detailed plotting using John Truby’s screenplay development software, Blockbuster 6. The application leaves a lot to be desired, but it enabled me to draft a list of scenes and arrange them in the right order. Then, I fleshed out each scene, answering questions such as:

  • My challenge in writing this scene
  • My strategy for writing this scene
  • The scene goal (POV character’s desire)
  • The character’s plan to achieve the goal
  • The opponent in the scene
  • The scene’s conflict
  • Any twist revealed
  • The scene’s moral argument (value A vs. value B)

Blockbuster 6 also enables you to include the structures of up the three genres in your story (for example, horror, thriller, and myth); track six storylines; and monitor key words, symbols, and tag lines.

I completed a scene form for 59 scenes in the book, and included in each scene some details about what needs to happen and the information I must reveal when I write the scene.

Drafting CALL OF THE PISS FAIRY in Scrivener

I downloaded the Beta of Scrivener for Windows over a year ago and played around with it, but didn’t use it seriously. I got serious with CALL OF THE PISS FAIRY. I created folders for characters, research, and scenes. Scrivener 2.0 isn’t perfect either, but it offers scads of cool project management features geared toward writers. I love using it now and likely will continue to do so.

Starting mid-February, I began taking my Blockbuster scene sheets and writing actual scenes from them. Weeknights I would spend two to three hours in any one of half a dozen coffee shops around Pittsburgh’s east end—the same on Saturdays and five hours on Sundays—drafting scenes and making progress. I didn’t start keeping detailed stats until March 3, but here are my word count stats so far:

Date Daily So far Weekend
2/12/2013 1000
3/1/2013 ? 6,980
3/3/2013 1691 8,671
3/4/2013 406 9,077
3/5/2013 1253 10,330
3/6/2013 1848 12,178
3/7/2013 912 13,090
3/8/2013 1001 14,091
3/9/2013 1201 15,292
3/10/2013 2290 17,582 4,492
3/11/2013 711 18,293
3/12/2013 666 18,959
3/13/2013 875 19,834
3/14/2013 884 20,718
3/15/2013 884 21,602
3/16/2013 942 22,544
3/17/2013 1,845 24,389 3,671
3/18/2013 541 24,930
3/19/2013 604 25,534
3/20/2013 766 26,300
3/21/2013 537 26,837
3/22/2013 735 27,572
3/23/2013 1,907 29,479
3/24/2013 2,134 31,613 4,776

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My initial goal for a first-person, present-tense novel in this voice was 42,500 words. But by the time I finished the beginning scenes and started writing the middle, I realized it would be longer. My present goal is 52,500. We’ll see where it comes in at when I’m finished. And I already have 45 scenes; my total will exceed 59.

Read the First Scene of CALL OF THE PISS FAIRY

I invite you to read a draft of the first scene. I’m warning you, it’s dark. (I’ll confide that some of it has been tough to write.) But I must remain true to my inspiration. This story wants to be told, and I’ve never before enjoyed such a flow of ideas and writing.

I’ll keep you updated on my progress. In the meantime, I’d love to hear from you!