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Thea Harrison | A Recipe for Writing Fiction


Recently I had the privilege of being invited to speak at a local RWA chapter, the Black Diamonds in California.  Everyone was awesome, and we had a terrific visit.  I did walk away with one conversation that stuck with me, and I thought I would share it here now.

One of the chapter members asked me if I had a writing process that I used for every book.  I had to think about it for a moment, because there are always going to be similarities--writing a book is writing a book is writing a book.

However, beyond an overarching sense, I found I had another answer for her.  For one story I wrote, years ago, (THE WALL, Harlequin Presents, 1984), I wrote the ending first.  For my very first book ever (A DEEPER DIMENSION, Harlequin Romance, 1983), I plotted out every scene in detail.  In 2009, when I was writing DRAGON BOUND (Book one in the Elder Races series, Berkley Sensation), I started with a collection of images, a few rough ideas for characters, and a lot of questions.

That's when I realized my real answer to her question.  I did have a process for book writing--I built each process according to the project.  I told her this, and she asked me to clarify.  That was when I came up with this analogy:  to cook a specific dish, you need a recipe.  When you bake a cake, it has certain ingredients and characteristics.  So does a stir fry, or a batch of bread.

For me, each project is like a dish in that it has its own characteristics and needs.  I look at those as questions.  For example, THE WALL already had it ending.  What was the crisis?  What were the hero and heroine's back stories?  What brought them to meet each other?

At the time that I spoke with the RWA chapter, I had just finished a project.  When I had started that project, I knew who the villain was.  I knew what the crimes were.  I knew the background for the hero and the heroine, so my questions were different than they were for Dragon Bound.  When the questions change, the recipe or the process has to change.  For the story I had just finished I had to work on world-building and history rather intensively.  For DRAGON BOUND, I was a "pantser" for much of the book.  For other stories I work much more closely on plotting.

That's because, for me, each story is unique.  It has its own needs; it is its own dish.  I know certain things about a story, and then I have to work at the other things.  Perhaps one day I'll write the ending of a story first again, then go back to discover the beginning.  Perhaps one day the character I will be closest to, the one that I will know the most about, will be the villain.

So if you build a recipe according to the dish, for writing, I do the same thing:  I build the process according to the project.

For readers:  do you have a creative process?  If so, what is it?




12 comments posted.

Re: Thea Harrison | A Recipe for Writing Fiction

I'm so neurotic that I have a big, long, abstract process. I
start with an idea, then I research, then I go through and
write out all the backstory and work out the plot, then I
plot down to the details, and then finally I write. It's a
lot of work on the front end but it does cut down on the
back end edits and I've noticed I can foreshadow in series
better now than I did when I was pantsing like mad.
(Patricia Eimer 8:59am March 19, 2012)

I don't write. I don't think I actually follow a set process. I am an engineer by trade so I tend to follow a process that relates to whatever I'm working on a the moment.
(Victoria Sloboda 12:36pm March 19, 2012)

I am not a writer, but I do love to cook. If I am trying to come up with a new recipe, first it starts with an idea. Then I research other recipes and combine bits of one and parts of another. Then I put all the bits and parts together and hope it comes out to be a wonderful creation...and not a flop :(.
(Robin McKay 12:40pm March 19, 2012)

The only creative process I have is when it comes to my knitting. I might see a pattern that I like, but I don't care for something about it, like the waistband and cuffs, for example, so I'll change it. I might add a collar where none exists. I might even change the type of yarn that is used, or change a pullover into a cardigan. It depends on how daring I feel at the time I'm knitting. I suppose it's the same with an author. They have that daring side, too, and at times push the envelope a bit to shake things up. We both can do the same thing. If it isn't turning out to our liking, we can undo it, and start over, although with an author, I'm sure it's a bit more painful. You have an interesing way of writing books, and I can't wait to read your latest one.
(Peggy Roberson 1:55pm March 19, 2012)

I'm not a writer nor do I enjoy cooking so I just go by the seat of my pants!!!
(Diane Sadler 2:35pm March 19, 2012)

I am not a writer but I am a crafter. My craft of choice right now
is scrapbooking. I have a task ~ scrapbook the latest family
vacation. I find pieces that will support that location, i.e.
papers, stickers, things brought home from the trip (fliers,
napkins, maps, programs, etc). I go through idea books for border
inspirations, internet for more information and
background/history. I temporary lay out the whole book for picture
placement and themes so I can get pictures printed out the right
size. THEN I start the book a page at a time, finishing each page
as I go. It's a slow process for me as I often "design myself into
a corner", lol. I am a lot like Peggy above when it comes from
changing things.

I want to let you know I LOVE YOUR ELDER RACES SERIES! I tell
EVERYONE about it and urge them to get your books. I blog about it
all over the internet. You can't write them fast enough for me but
then I read A LOT of books each month. Thanks for the endless
hours of adventure and smiles. Your series is the next one I will
throw in my husband's direction when he's looking for a book to
read :-). Thank you ~ from your No. 1 Fan!!!
(Lenna Hendershott 6:00pm March 19, 2012)

My creative cooking process starts with the opening of my pantry, followed by opening my chest freezer and refrigerator. Thank goodness for cooking websites that match my ingredients to a recipe. My husband still doesn't know my secret.
(Joanne Hicks 6:01pm March 19, 2012)

what an interesting way to describe your approach -- it makes sense too :) & when it comes to books, you're a great cook :)
(d Kenney 7:13pm March 19, 2012)

Creative process? What's that? I'm totally "uncreative." My mother and second brother were/are the creative ones. My father, elder brother, "little" sister and I are problem solvers: Give us a problem and we'll solve it. Perhaps there are similar processes in that, but I think most of them begin at the beginning, though that may change or need to be refined. Maybe that's why I hate cooking.
(Sigrun Schulz 3:00am March 21, 2012)

I start with the germ of an idea and let it percolate (that's what I call it...I've heard others call it fermenting). I have to decide on characters and know them, know how they will react. I have a kind of loose outline...loose because there is always the hope that the characters will take over and write the thing for me! :) I write the first draft straight thru, throwing up on the page my friends and I call it. If anything occurs to me while I am doing this, I write it on post-its and stick it in the approximate place. It's a very sloppy process. I've been calling the first draft of the latest project "ONE HOT MESS". :) Because that's what it is. Now it's rewrite time. Ugh. ;)
(Penny Mettert 3:06am March 21, 2012)

Oh, yes, and I had writer's block for awhile. I went back to my "roots" and wrote with my fine point black pen by hand instead of on the computer. It worked!! Thank goodness. :)
(Penny Mettert 3:08am March 21, 2012)

My writing process is to always have a notebook with me for random thoughts and phrases that I find clever. Then I expand on the notes unless writing while stopped at a light. I find that being in the car or reading the classics yields more thoughts and moods I want to capture.
(Alyson Widen 7:44pm March 23, 2012)

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