How A Writer's Mind Works

Writers sit hunched over their keyboards, pounding out words, hoping they make sense, knowing that, sooner or later, they will have to be re-written, and neither their minds nor their imagination ever travel the same road. Mostly, they travel the road their characters decide to take them. A good character will change at good plot on you, and usually when you least expect it. Here, in their own words, are the writing processes of three top authors: Jory Sherman, Bert Carson, and Kathy Hall.

Jory Sherman, author of Hills of Eden four hundred other novels including the upcoming Western: The Baron Decision: Each writer has his or her own method of writing a novel.

Here is mine:

First, there is the seed.

The seed is the Idea.

I hold the seed in the palm of my mind and give it a name.

There is my title.  The title refers either directly or obliquely to the story.

Next, I plant the seed in the soil of a scene. I picture where the story begins.

I fertilize the seed with a name of a charcter or two.  Perhaps one is a man, the other a woman.

I water the scene by painting its picture, describing the time and place.

My characters begin to germinate and grow. Imagination is my rake, discipline my hoe.

I need not plot the story, only place my seed where the sun will shine on it and the rain will help it to grow.

The novel contains all the future seeds for a garden of words.  Characters come to life and interacct with other characters and situations. This is a self-generating process.  Each scene leads to another like shots in a motion picture.

The scenes proliferate like buds, and each chapter is a leaf on the climbing vine as the story grows. Obstacles, like thorns, appear in the paths of the main characters.  Other subplots sprout fresh shoots and add depth and substance to the stalks of the story.

This entire process is explained in my book, MASTER COURSE IN WRITING.

It’s easy, for me, to grow a book from a single seed.

Bert Carson, author of Southern Investigation, Fourth and Forever and Maddog and Miss Kitty: I create my characters in as much detail as necessary for them to become “real.”  Then I present them with a situation and turn them loose. “Real” is the key and often that can be time consuming.

For example, in Southern Investigation, before I began writing, I created the three characters who were the original partners, gave them a situation and let them handle it.  That meant every time they encountered something that required additional characters, I had to pause the story and create the character.

Now before I begin writing I, at least, rough out the story in my mind and list the characters who will probably come into play, and create them.   For example, in Southern Investigation-Tucson I knew I’d use all the original characters, two new good guys, one bad guy, one very bad guy, and a family

caught up between the two of them.  So I had the characters ready for the story as needed – in the bullpen if you will.


Kathy Hall, author of Red Mojo Mama and Red Is an Attitude: I like to call my process character-driven. What I mean by that is that the characters arrive in my head with clear personalities, usually attached to a basic story idea.

I jot notes down and then add them to an Excel spreadsheet, which I later number in the order they should appear in the story. This is the closest I come to an outline. I find that the characters literally speak for themselves and take the story into territory I hadn’t anticipated.

As this occurs, I’m changing my spreadsheet often. Sometimes, I need to go back and add in scenes that didn’t make it in the first draft. I often feel inhabited by these creatures of my own making and wonder if maybe they are really the masters after all.

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