Along with my passion for writing, I also enjoy the arts. While writing Lost Illumination, it was always my dream to combine my talents and create the cover art for the book.
Above are the rough versions of what I wanted the final product to look like. I created this simple drawing using black and colored markers and tweaked the color using filters.
The image below is the final product. I created this painting using a mixture of oil and acrylic paint on a 20x30'' canvas. Overall, I was satisfied with the final product, but I would love to have the cover redone by a professional artist in the future.
Through years of trial and error, I have developed a very specific writing process that allows me to keep all of my ideas in place and know exactly where I want to go with my stories. Every person's writing process will be a bit different, but it is important to find what works for you. Here are some steps for how I create a finished novel.
Phase 1: Inspiration- Inspiration for a story may come from a variety of places. I find inspiration by reading books, talking to new people, learning about history, meditating (often while driving or taking showers), or recording my own dreams at night. When an inspiring thought hits me, I take advantage of the idea by writing it down immediately. I can promise you, no matter how sure you are that you won't forget, you WILL forget the idea if you do not put it in writing. For me, I keep my inspiration in the notes section of my cell phone. For safe keeping of the especially good ideas, I send screenshots of my inspiration to my email address.
Phase 2: Creating a conflict- No matter how interesting the main idea of the story may be, it will be dull without a solid and meaningful conflict. There may be several small conflicts throughout the course of the story, but the main conflict must be something that will drive the story forward and give the characters purpose.
Phase 3: Creating characters- I will do another post that goes into more depth about creating solid and believable characters. For now, just know that creating characters is a crucial part of the writing process. Write down specifics about who they are and review these characteristics often. You as the writer must know your character inside and out. This will allow you to create believable dialogue and decisions for the characters.
Phase 4: General plot layout- Many writers make the mistake of thinking that they can sit down at a computer with a great idea and just "wing it." While this may be true for some, writing this way will almost always end badly. Be patient. When you are struck with a good idea, your first impulse might be to start whipping out chapter 1 at lightning speed. What some may fail to fully grasp is that writing a book takes a very, very long time. By the time you are finished with chapter 3, the initial fire and excitement about writing your book may have fizzled out. Instead of losing your fire this way, use that excitement and drive to create your whole plotline. This process will be much faster and it will be twice as satisfying as diving into chapter 1. Come up with a solid beginning, middle, and end. Write down the larger conflicts that will add excitement and twists to the story. Use charts, timelines, or even just free writing. Free writing is what works best for me. During free writing, I am not worried about spelling, grammar, or punctuation. I simply "vomit" my words onto the page, letting my imagination run free. Then I go back and tweak the details until my plot line is shiny and smooth.
Phase 5: Rest- Letting your ideas "rest" and "simmer" is a great way to see your story in another light. Come back to your plot ideas after a few hours or days and read them again. This will give you a chance to catch discrepancies or elements of the plot that need to be clarified or adjusted. Repeating this phase 2-3 times is very helpful.
Phase 6: Chapter layouts- After I have created a solid plotline, I move on to chapter layouts. Like the plot layout, the chapter layouts do not need to be well-written. The main goal is to get your ideas onto paper. While creating a chapter layout, I create a play-by-play description of the action, but I do it in the most simple and concise manner possible. Creating chapter layouts will give you a perfect skeleton of your story.
Phase 7: Writing- This is where you want to really take your time and put forth your best effort. Using the skeleton that you created with you chapter layouts, write the story in more depth and detail, using proper grammar, spelling, punctuation, details, and dialogue. Stay motivated and dedicated, and before you know it, you will have a finished novel that you can really be proud of!
Read and write every day:
Stephen King put it best when he said that a good writer should read every day and write every day. When I became serious about making myself into an author, I knew that this advice would be crucial to my development and success. Since dedicating my free time to developing my writing, I spend at least one hour every day reading and writing.
What kinds of books should you read? It's simple. Read books by the authors that inspire you. Read the types of genres that you wish to write. Don't waste your time reading amateur writing. I am a firm believer that you are what you read.
What should you write? If you aren't quite ready to dive into writing a full novel, start small. Create a blog or write short stories. You can even start a private journal where you record your thoughts and feelings. Any type of writing will help you improve, so long as you are putting forth your best effort.
How will you find the extra time in the day? Prioritize, plan, and prepare. Chances are, you aren't nearly as busy as you think you are. Replace that hour of television with a book or wake up an hour early in the morning to write. Ask yourself, "How baldy do I want to become an author? Is this just a phase I'm going through, or is it a deep-rooted desire?" If the answer is the later, you will make sacrifices and find the time to practice your craft.
Record your ideas:
I've said this before, and I'll say it again. Never take a good idea for granted. When interesting ideas come to mind, always record them in a safe place. You never know when they might come in handy. For me, the smallest bits of information have branched into complete stories. Even if the idea sounds silly, you could be grateful you wrote it down later.
Pay attention to human interaction:
This habit has always come quite naturally to me, but it is one that anyone can develop. If you're at a party, work meeting, the mall, or in a restaurant, observe the way that people act. How do different people move their hands when they talk? How do their faces react while others are speaking? What types of slang or speech patterns do different people use? The list goes on and on. Pay attention to these details and jot down (or type a note in your smartphone) the things that you find interesting. These small human quirks and interactions will make your writing more genuine and believable.
Think like a writer:
Many times when I see something, hear something, or meet someone that is interesting to me, I mentally practice how I might put it into writing. Perhaps I saw a sunset over the tops of some distant mountains. I might say to myself, "The golden sun sunk below the towering mountains and painted the evening sky with vibrant purples and pinks as it slowly melted into a star-scattered darkness." Now obviously, this is quite a mouthful, and might be a bit over the top, but the more you practice these extravagant descriptions, the easier describing things will become. Try to think of an adjective to describe every noun and do your best to make it flow. There is no need to do this while you are actually writing, as it will sound far too wordy, but it is a great mental exercise and will mold your mind into naturally thinking outside the box.
Expand your vocabulary:
Without the proper vocabulary, even the best writing will be dull. While reading, make lists of words you are unfamiliar with and look up the definitions. Keep a list of these words in your smartphone or notebook and review them often. You will be very pleased when one of them comes in handy.
Here are some very basic steps that I follow when creating new characters:
Physical: Obviously, you'll want to start by deciding on your character's name, age, appearance, where they live, etc.
Objective: What do you want the character to have accomplished when the novel comes to the end? What does the character want?
Motivation: What will the character achieve by meeting this objective?
Stakes: What will the consequences be if the character doesn't meet this objective?
Obstacles: Create both internal and external obstacles. They may be a series of small obstacles or one overarching obstacle.
Flaws: Flaws make a character realistic, and they can double as obstacles.
The past: You should know your character's past very well. Knowing the past will effect the actions that they take in the present. Create a few core experiences that have shaped your character's personality. Even if you never mention these experiences in your writing, knowing what your character has been through will allow you to more easily make decisions for them.
Tip: If you base your character off of a person that you know very well, it will be easier to be consistent in their dialogue, actions, and reactions.
A Bit On Christian's Character
My characters are often loosely based on people that I know, and more often, a mixture of people that I know. While I was creating Christian's character, I knew that I wanted him to be likeable, but flawed. I wanted to create a character that was relatable, but at the same time, admirable.
Here are a few of Christian's character traits and why I chose them:
-Fear of the dark: This is a fear that almost every person has struggled with at one point of time in their life. Even if they have already overcome this fear, it is something that they can relate to. A reader will be able to easily perceive growth in Christian's character as he overcomes this fear.
-His dark past: No matter who you are, you have gone through some kind of struggle or emotional pain. Christian's dark and mysterious past makes him interesting as a character as well as relatable as a person.
-Curiosity: Christian's persistent curiosity hints at his potential for bravery. People who are naturally curious also tend to be deeper thinkers and have more depth to their personality.
-Stubbornness: This trait can be both good and bad. Being stubborn can be a weakness, but at other times, it proves to be a very important part of Christian's personality. A person who is stubborn may get themselves into trouble at times, but they are also more likely to stand up for what they believe in.
-Youth: Christian's young age in book 1 proves to be key to the plot of the story. Having a fairly naïve and malleable mind is what makes Christian the perfect hero.
-Loving: Christian's loving character stems from the example that his mother showed to him as a child. His youth plays into this characteristic as well.