Starting from Scratch: Planning and Research

I decided that instead of just telling you I’m starting a new book, and leaving it at that, I should use this as an opportunity to walk you through my writing process. The first step is “thinking about it for a long time;” I find that I can’t just sit down and write something cold, I have to start with an interesting idea and mull it over for weeks (if not months) to identify some key points:

1. What about this idea really excites me?
2. What stories can I tell with this idea?
3. What characters or scenes or twists will help this idea shine?

The good news is, I can do all of this thinking while I’m working on other projects, so in this case I was able to develop a lot of Strawberry Fields while doing rewrites for Blacker Darkness, edits for Mr. Monster, and so on. One of the great benefits of letting an idea gestate for so long is that, because it’s always in the back of my mind, dozens of other, unrelated ideas that I come across will attach themselves to it and suggest cool new ideas and directions I’d never have thought of otherwise.

Meanwhile, during moments when I’m not rewriting and editing other books, I hit the library and the Internet and do a lot of research. For Strawberry Fields I was especially worried about the portrayal of schizophrenia: I want it to be dramatic, but still realistic. Mental illness is so wildly misunderstood in our society, and is usually portrayed as either a horrifying stigma or a free-spirited escape from reality. The truth is somewhere in the middle, and so I spent a month or two (admittedly not much time) reading every book I could find on the schizophrenia–not just the symptoms, but the specific methods of therapy, and what it’s like to live with it. I don’t know how much of that will make it into the book, because in the end I’m still writing a thriller, but having all of that knowledge will help fill out the edges and make the book more real.

I’ve been researching many other topics, as well, but telling you what they are will give away too many secrets.

The next article will be about outlining; you’ll get that either tomorrow or Monday, depending on how embedded I am in the book. I’ve started actual writing now, and it’s so good to be writing again.

12 Responses to “Starting from Scratch: Planning and Research”

  1. Arlene says:

    Keep writing. Keep writing. Keep writing. Keep writing.

  2. Callisto says:

    Ditto. Ditto. Ditto. Ditto.

  3. Callisto says:

    Whoa – I sound like a pokémon there.

  4. Titus says:

    I finished the book, which arrived today. Total reading time was only about three hours (4:00-5:30, 6:30-7:30, 11:00-11:30). I would have finished it before 8:00, but I had an urgent “come to the furniture store and make sure this couch is a good choice” call. And then I purchased a barely used $400 dollar printer for $15 from some crazy person at a thrift store. Yessss! It has been a fully awesome evening.

    I am now going to fully pimp your book, Dan, because it was even more full-on awesome than I expected. It was also a lot faster read, gorier, and more YA than I expected. What I’m trying to say is that I had expectations, and they were exceeded! In most every way!

  5. Callisto says:

    Success! Dan’s roped in another fanatical minion…

  6. Arlene says:


  7. Raethe says:

    What I want to know is what the horror author is planning on doing with said fanatical followers.

    Dan, you simply must let me know when this army of your mobolizes. I plan to catch the entire thing on camera and laugh.

    …From a safe distance, of course.

  8. Sean says:

    For some reason this post made me wonder who your publisher is. I’ve looked around, but obviously not in the right places because I can’t find that info :(

  9. Arlene says:

    Well Sean, I just happened to have my copy right here. It was published by the Headline Publishing Group in Great Britain 2009. :)

  10. Sean says:

    thx 😀

  11. Steve D says:

    In the US, the publisher will be Tor (Tor Horror I believe).

  12. admin says:

    We’re still not sure what imprint Tor will publish the books under; I’m betting on Forge, but anything could happen at this point.

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