Do you want to be a horror fiction writer? The 5 Stages of Writing
The Five Stages of Writing
There are five stages I take to get a fiction story from inside my head to a finished work, ready for publication. You may find you follow these or similar stages. It’s a way of organizing my work. When I follow this in stages I never get stuck on what to do next and I never have to do the same work twice (such as rechecking the grammar after I’ve made changes to the story).
STAGE 1 – Incubation period
I’ll have an incubation period where I take the idea of the story and add to it as new thoughts come into my head. I’ll write notes about different scenes, descriptions of the characters, possible endings, develop scenes that will demonstrate the conflict(s) in the story best. Sometimes I’ll collect pics and photos from the internet and add them to a file folder. I’ll look at these pics in order to influence my story or help with descriptions.
I like to have times where I’ll sit in silence and let my imagination go into the story. I see a scene play out in my head like a movie and take mental note of the setting, characters and pacing. I do this without stopping to write anything down. If I stop to write, it breaks up the flow of the scene. Once the scene has played out to the end, I’ll put it on paper.
I will do some research on items, settings, people, cultural beliefs, similar story ideas, myths and legends, and anything else that will pertain to the story. If there is a mythology or a previous ‘world building’ that is accepted by the general public, then you have to follow those guidelines in order to keep the story in a suspension of disbelief. You can add to the mythology, but the basic premise has to coincide with people’s beliefs. For instance, if you’re writing a story about Slenderman and you give a description of his face that is inconsistent than the accepted mythology (he has no face) the reader will not continue reading.
I’ll also determine if a story is developed enough to ensure I can write freely. Sometimes I’ll do this with an outline, sometimes with notes I’ve been taking and other times I’ll have it all in my head.
STAGE 2 – Write it
I’ll often think of the opening line first. What that will be, will depend on how close to the major conflict you want to start the story. It’s best to start in some sort of action, either physical, mental or dramatic, in order to get the reader hooked. It’s also important to get the reader emotionally involved with your character early on.
I’ll try to write a little every day until the story is finished. I don’t usually try to follow a word count quota. That works well for many writers, but if I force myself to write on a day when my mind isn’t completely engaged by my own story, I wind up throwing what I’ve written that day in the trash. So, I’ll start with a paragraph and if I get that ‘flow’ going, that energy that many writers call their muse, I’ll continue writing for as long as the ideas are coming. I’ll also write no matter where I am. If an idea comes to me when I’m out, I’ll pull out my kindle, write my scene in an email and send it to my desktop computer. When I’m home I’ll copy and paste it into my storyline.
STAGE 3 – Edit it – (aka: drafting)
This is done many times, creating many drafts. This stage involves getting the story into shape so a reader will understand and enjoy it. I will work on pacing, settings, character development and arcs, story arc, and understandability (is that a word?). I’ll check the continuity. I’ll add more story to places that may need it and remove aspects that do not add to the story. One piece of advice I always liked was, make believe Judge Judy is going to read it. Does everything make sense? Do all the characters have sufficient motives to engage them in action. Are there irrational thoughts, actions, or motivations that can’t be explained? Does everything line up to the conclusion of the story? In this step I will not delve heavily into grammar. This step is about the story as a whole, not the individual words and sentences.
Other steps in this stage is to make sure the story follows the same tense all the way through. Make sure the story has a clear POV. I’ll check to make sure I’m using Active Voice, not Passive Voice.
Passive voice / active voice
A passive voice puts a barrier between the reader and the character, never letting the reader to be fully immersed in the character’s world. It’s like the difference between reading a good fiction novel or reading a story in a text book. Historical accounts in text books are almost always passive voice. While both can tell the story, only one will allow the reader to feel the emotion, empathy and impact of the story.
Each time I save the story after a period of editing it’s called a draft. You start with a rough draft and keep working on it until the final draft (finished product). This can take months for some stories. I might complete 10 to 20 drafts for a 3k word short story. If you write a story, then only check the grammar and spelling, most likely the story is not ready to be published.
STAGE 4 – Proofread it
This is the step where all the grammatical rules come into play. Word spellings, grammar, punctuation, verb/subject agreement, all that good stuff is checked during this stage. For very short stories I do all the proofreading myself. If the story is longer, I’ll send it to a proofreader and pay to have it done. It’s often difficult to proofread your own work because your mind sees what you want it to say, not what another reader will see. Using the spellcheck and grammar check in your Word or Writing programs is not good enough. It will not alert you to using the wrong words that sound alike, (homophones: there, their, they’re or where, wear), or having the wrong word in a sentence that is spelled right (such as ‘on’ instead of ‘one’).
STAGE 5 – Format it
This is where I’ll set up the format of the story to get it ready for the editor’s review. It will have the proper spacing (either Shun formatting or editor’s specs), proper font and font size (I write in Arial, but most editors prefer Times New Roman or sometimes Georgia or Courier) and proper indents for new paragraphs. Do not use tabs to set indents as it will mess up formatting it to eBook. Use the paragraph format and set it to first line indent (usually+3 but check submission guidelines). At the top left you will have all your information, name address, phone, email, story name, word count, what book or zine issue you’re submitting to, the date, etc.
If you follow these 5 stages carefully, you will have a publish-ready story in your hands. Now to find a place for your creation. More advice on that in my next article.