How I Write
When I write a novel I begin with an outline. Sometimes I write it longhand on a spiral pad. When I have enough notes to constitute a story, I write a more formal outline. Nothing crazy, like Ken Follett’s 120 page outlines for his big fat novels, but not sketchy either. The outlines usually run about ten pages, tell the story, give some sense of life to the protagonists and intrigue the reader. Even though I’m the only one who sees that outline, I write it as if were writing ad copy for a huge audience. I make those words get up and walk.
Everything I write in preparation for a novel is an advertisement for the novel as well. After the outline comes the slug line, something memorable and intriguing. When people ask me what it’s about, I’m ready: Wagon Train in space. Nazi biker zombies. That tells you little about the characters but resonates with all that pop culture junk in the attic to provoke the desired reaction. “I’m interested!”
Next they will say, “Tell me more.”
Helmet Head. He was just a rumor to the “one-percenters”—a monstrous motorcyclist dressed all in black who rode the back roads of Little Egypt cutting off the heads of other bikers with a samurai sword. But on one terrible stormy night, Deputy Pete Fagan discovers that Helmet Head is all too real—and consumed with a fury that won’t be satisfied until his demonic sword drinks its fill.
I buy a big spiral pad and write the novel’s name on the cover. I keep this pad with me and make notes as I think of them, which is often not at home or in the middle of the night. Sometimes these are technical details, like some piece of hardware I want to use. Sometimes they’re just phrases.
I make each chapter between 1000 and 2000 words, and try to end them with a hook. I’m shooting for about 80,000 because that’s the length of the novels I like to read. I constantly revise as I go along, hopscotching all over the manuscript. When I finish, I go on to the next one.