The Five Stages of Writing


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.

writing hands b&w b

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.

slenderman old photo


Do you want to be a horror fiction writer? Part VII

Editing, rewrites, and drafts

It took me many years to really learn how to edit and rewrite my own fiction – and I’m still learning. A great story idea, great plot and original characters don’t always lead to great reading for another person. The first draft of a story is like picking out the right ingredients to make clay and mixing it together. Even though it is now a well kneaded, smooth ‘clay’ it is still just a lump. It needs many layers of refinement to become an interesting work of art.

Editing and rewriting is not only grammar. In fact, grammar issues should be your last refinement in the editing process. Provided you have a good plot, conflict, and story structure, the bigger concern is making your writing lean.

I had often heard tips on editing like:

Trim the fat
scissors 1

Make every word count

I had no idea what these tips meant. I thought I did, but I didn’t.

Here are three rules that took me quite a while to grasp:

1) Don’t dilute the power of a word by using other words with it.

Ex. John ran quickly to the phone.

Do you think if John was running, it was because he wanted to get the phone immediately? There is no reason for the adverb, quickly. In fact, most writing advice will tell you to drop all of your adverbs – because, most of the time, the verb conveys what you need without them.

In Stephen King’s “On Writing’ he says, get rid of most ‘-ly’ words – quickly, exactly, fairly, hungrily, simply.

Here’s another example:

Ex. Henry stamped up the stairs angrily.

I think readers can deduce that, if Henry is stamping, he must be mad. Aside from that, in the context of a story, we would already know that something had happened to make Henry angry.

Don’t use an adverb or ‘modifying word’ when the simple verb will state what you need.


scissors 2**Get rid of precursor add-ons like: I feel, I felt, I felt that, I thought, he thinks, he started, he began to, etc.

Ex. I thought he was going to meet me at six, but he was not here.

 Better: He was going to meet me at six, but he was not here.


Ex. I feel that it will run better without his constant interruptions.

  Better: It will run better without his constant interruptions.

 If we know the point-of-view and the character who is talking, the words, ‘I feel that’ are not necessary. These are just a couple of words in each sentence, but in the course of a story, they add up to hundreds of words.

More examples:

Ex. Slowly, I drift back into sleep… The word ‘drift’ implies slow movement.

   Better: I drift back into sleep…

Ex. She started to crawl toward me once again. … ‘started to’ and ‘once’ are completely unnecessary words.

Better: She crawled toward me again.

Ex. Finally, I broke free, spilling to the ground… ‘ly’ words are mostly unneeded. (see what I did there?)

Better: I broke free, spilling to the ground


2) Don’t state the obvious.

If the writing is really tight and lean, a reader will not miss anything. Its only when they are disengaged with the writing and they start feeling bored with the words that they begin to skim and could miss something important. By restating the obvious you are putting a reader though unneeded work and losing their concentration. The first time a reader has to skim or skip over a group of words because they already ‘get it‘, you’ve lost them.

3) Don’t repeat yourself.

I have a bad habit of this. It’s a bad habit that I’ve always had…see what I mean? I hope you can see what I mean.

Many writers are guilty of this and don’t realize it until someone points it out.

Items to look for and delete:

**Location – some writers keep repeating what room the scene is happening in, as if the reader will forget. If it is stated at the beginning of the scene that the characters are in the kitchen, you don’t need to mention it again unless they leave the kitchen.

Ex. Harry turned on the kitchen faucet.straight-razor

   If they are in the kitchen what other faucet would it be?

Better: Harry turned on the faucet.

Ex. She looked out the kitchen window.

   Same scenario, if the scene is in the kitchen, she wouldn’t be looking out the bedroom window, would she?

Better: She looked out the window.

**Two sentences that should be one – In the first draft, I’ll have many sentences that can be combined because some or all of the aspects have been stated already.

Ex. Jimmy started to climb the tree. While climbing the tree he tried to avoid carpenter ants that had made a home there.

   Better: Jimmy climbed the tree, avoiding carpenter ants along the way.


Here is a great exercise to see the importance of trimming these words. Take a story you have already written. ’Cut’ all of these needless words from your story and ‘paste’ them into another file. Now read the story. Does it still make sense? Does it still convey the plot and characters?

In a 10- page story, you might find you have several pages of words cut out of the text, without effecting the story at all. Look how hard you were making a reader work to achieve the same results. All of these extra words dispersed throughout the story make reading a chore.

I recently edited my story, Steel Deliverance, before submitting it to a publication. The word count started at 3875 words. When I was done (approximately 3 days of revisions) it was 3575 words. That’s 300 words less. I don’t believe it has lost any of its impact. It will be a tighter read for a reader and move along at a much better pace. And this story is far from succinct; I wrote it in my ‘Poe’ style voice using lavish description and poetic words.  This story was done and self-edited three years ago, but when I went back and took another eagle-eyed look at it, there was more work to be done. It’s the leanest its ever been and more focused because of it. It was quickly accepted into the anthology, Terror Train (JWK Fiction).


“Substitute ‘damn’ every time you’re inclined to write ‘very;’ your editor will delete it and the writing will be just as it should be.”
― Mark Twain

“The first draft of anything is shit.”  – Ernest Hemingway

“The most valuable of all talents is that of never using two words when one will do.”
― Thomas Jefferson

hedge clippers

My Writing Process blog tour

citydeadcolor 2 c

My Writing Process blog tour

Part one:

I’ve been asked to contribute to the ‘My Writing Process blog tour’ by author, Jim Goforth. Jim is deft at visual imagery in his stories that combine both, creepy storytelling and visceral violence. I feel a kinship to Jim because we both spent time in the music scene during the 1990’s, writing about and promoting metal bands, myself in the classic and guitar oriented genre – Jim in the extreme metal genre. Jim’s blog can be found here: (More about Jim in a bio at the end of the post.)

My Writing Process blog tour –

Part two:

Ok, this is where I answer questions about the My Writing Process. Here goes:

1) What am I working on?
Michael Thomas-Knight: I’m working on a novel about an abandoned carnival in the Arizona desert and it’s attempts at resurrection, much to the dismay of the local townsfolk and the benefit of a young woman on the run from her abusive boyfriend. I had originally wrote it as a screenplay many years ago, but I was quite naive thinking I could get it to someone in filmmaking that would read it. I have no connections. L  I’m also working on horror short stories continuously, the latest based on a real-life incident when I lived with my Mom and family, and some local kids stole the pumpkins from our back porch. In real-life we chased them until they dropped the pumpkins – incellar door II small web the story, the character never stops chasing them.

2) How does my work differ from others of its genre?
Mike: Because of my upbringing, my stories have a voice that is different than others. I’m not sure if that’s good or bad. I have a cynical outlook in all my stories, but not in an emo, brooding way or in a whiny, complaining way–more like an acceptance of how life unfolds. The story, “The Gates of Lament” from the Cellar Door II Anthology is probably the only story that has a true ‘hero’ in it. However, he’s kinda’ the reason all hell broke loose in the first place so I don’t know what that says about him. Secondly, I’m not a literary kind of writer. My stories will never win awards. I’m like a guy telling you a creepy ghost story on a hot summer night at a backyard barbeque.

3) Why do I write what I do?
Mike: I write these stories to keep my sanity. I never realized what a weird and splintered upbringing I had until I started to put some of these things down on paper. I’m always smiling and always making the best of things, but there’s a dark dismal side to me that grows and festers. It needs to get out or it poisons my soul. When it overwhelms me I can be destructive. With every story I write, I leave a part of that dark poison on the paper. There is some true-life in every story I create, even things I can’t bring myself to talk about, and I think my writing helps to stabilize my personality.

asylum pic

4) How does my writing process work?
Mike: I’m not the type of writer that sits at a desk and says, today I’m going to write a thousand words toward my novel. ‘NANO Wri Mo’ may work great for some people, but mostly during that month of word counting, writers seem to write a bunch of shit, trying to reach that quota – 50 thousand words of garbage that should be tossed in the trash but instead wind up on because they completed something.

I love the quote by Hemmingway:
“I write one page of masterpiece to ninety-one pages of shit. I try to put the shit in the wastebasket.”

I’ve tossed plenty of my stories into the trash. I’m not saying the stories I send to be published are better than anyone elses, but they have a real meaning to me and have reached a standard within myself to let them be seen. Not that it will make them any more popular, I have an eclectic terror train covertaste. For example, some movies that everyone hates, I like – some movies that everyone likes, I hate. So it’s my own judgment and approval that I look for, not other’s, in my writing.

Most of my stories are a combination of a real-life event, like a news story, and a real life experience. ‘Steel Deliverance,’ my story in Terror Train, came together because of a kid in High School that committed suicide, combined with my experiences in my first apartment. The third-floor apartment was level with the raised platforms of the Long Island Railroad. Every night in the fall, a train would stop about a mile before the station and sit idol for a few minutes. I’d awaken and gaze out the bedroom window at it. The engine and first car were lit, but the rest of the passenger cars were always dark. Creepy.

As for the mechanics of writing, I like to write in a spiral notebook. I write in a non-linear fashion, sometimes adding things in the margins, on opposite pages, and squeezed in between the lines. I’ll add notes about how I want the character to feel and what I want to convey to the reader along the edges so I can select the proper words in my re-write(s). Writing doesn’t come easy, but I keep love-to-write-thumb_0hammering away at the story until it resembles what I had in mind. I might do a hundred rewrites and edits on the same story. I’m not great at grammar so I try to get someone else to look at that aspect of my stories. When I’m near completion, I’ll try to get a few people to read it and get their opinions. I’ll make some changes based on their suggestions. If I can, I like to put the story aside for a few months and totally forget about it. When I go back and read it with fresh eyes, I see things that need change much easier.

Part Three:

NOMINATIONS for the NEXT Stop on the Blog Tour:

OK, now it’s my time for me to nominate a few writers for the next stops on the My Writing Process blog tour. They will be posting answers to these very same questions on July 14th, so stop by and read about the writing process of these excellent authors.


Tim Prasil writes speculative prose fiction, audio and stage plays, and humor. His series of interconnected “ghostly mysteries” featuring Vera Van Slyke, an occult detective from the early 1900s, will be released by Emby Press later this year. Prasil’s plans are to begin a series of Vera Van Slyke novels, too. Each Friday, he posts a tipsy quip or a rickety limerick attributed to Finbar Kelly, a project that he hopes to one day collect as a book. Prasil’s Inventor of Persons blog features free downloads of his writing, bibliographies of his research into early occult detective fiction and ghost-related non-fiction, Sherlock Holmes movie reviews, and more. You can find the blog at:


Rick Pipito – author, on air personality, and musician from Philadelphia, PA. His ever popular FLESH AND LEFTOVERS horror series has placed him in to the top 25 of independent authors on Authors Data Base. He also worked with his brother to form sCrypt Comics, where he strives to help other indy artists and writers by creating graphic novel spinoffs of his main books. In addition to his writing, Rick is also the CEO of Homemade Delish, a place where all foodies can go to follow his wife’s amazing talents. Follow Rick on Twitter and instagram @Rickpipito. Follow Rick’s blog at:

His works can be purchased in print at: or for the kindle at


Joseph Pinto is the horror author of two published books including the poignant novella Dusk and Summer as well numerous short stories; his most recent works can be found in Midnight Echo Magazine and Sirens Call Publications. He is a member of the Horror Writers Association as well the co-founder of Pen of the Damned, a collective of angst and horror driven writers. Joseph hails from New Jersey where he lives with his wife and young daughter. Indulge in his unique voice on his personal blog, JosephPinto. com and You can follow him on Twitter @JosephAPinto.

Dusk and Summer –
(Joseph will be donating a portion of proceeds to the Lustgarten Foundation for Pancreatic Cancer Research)


And thanks again to Jim Goforth for asking me to participate:

Jim Goforth – horror author from Holbrook, Australia. Happily married with two kids and a cat, writing tales of horror since the early nineties. After years of detouring into the worldwide extreme metal community – writing reviews for hundreds of bands with Black Belle Music, he has returned to fiction with his first book, ‘Plebs’ published by J. Ellington Ashton Press. He has since appeared in anthologies and a collaborative novel due out next month. A collection of short stories will soon follow.

Do you want to be a horror fiction writer? – Part IV


Do you want to be a horror fiction writer? – Part IV

Know your Genre

Why is it important to read stories in the genre you wish to write?

In order to present your story in an original way, you must know what has come before in that particular genre. Did you ever have a friend that knew nothing about a genre come to you with a great idea for a story?

Mike, I got this great idea for a horror story. See, there’s this real estate planner and he’s living in this new area in the mid-west with all new homes, but what he doesn’t know is there was a cemetery there and they moved the headstones but never moved the bodies – so now all the dead spirits are angry…

Apparently, Jerry has never seen Poltergeist.

poltergiest pic 1

On the other hand, just because it has been done already, doesn’t mean you can’t make it your own. Before Chucky, there was Talking Tina. Before Christine there was The Car and before that there was Duel and the Twilight Zone episode, “You Drive“. Your life experiences are unique and are going to make your characters, point of view and your presentation of the story different than another person. The only thing is – you have to know what has come before, so you don’t write it the same way others have and people don’t think you’re just copying another author. You need that ripple, you need that twist, you need that different angle, or people are going to give your story the ‘yawn’ and dismiss

An important clue is often found in the submission guidelines to publications and e-zines you plan to submit to. I had recently read on a submissions page: We’ve seen way to many zombie love stories lately…”  Who knew there were dozens of zombie love stories published in the past 5 years? Horror fiction is usually on the cutting edge. If all you do is watch horror movies, be aware that the films market is usually about 10 years behind the horror fiction market.

book-of-cthulhu pic 1So, it is important to read. It is important to read stories in the same genre that you are going to write about. If you are going to write a ghost story, read a bunch of ghost stories – from the classics to new and underground writers. If your going to write Lovecraftian horror, read all the Lovecraft disciples – the Lovecraft inspired anthologies and the Cthulhu Mythos collections. If you’re going to write a comedy novel, read a bunch of comedy novels. A Western? Read westerns.  Got something really bizarre, read Bizarro fiction!

There’s a good chance your totally unique idea has been used already, more than once. You will have to rely less on ‘the gimmick’ and concentrate on the hard work – interesting characters, strong plot, and engaging dialogue – to carry your story.

“Everybody walks past a thousand story ideas every day. The good writers are the ones who see five or six of them. Most people don’t see any.” Orson Scott Card

Do you want to be a horror fiction writer? Part III


Do you want to be a horror fiction writer? Part III

Proper Presentation

A couple of articles back I had mentioned that some of us just need to polish our presentation in order to get published. So, here is my 1st tidbit of extremely useful information when it comes to presentation:

Most editors prefer stories to be third person, past tense.



I run to the door and see the commotion through the window. This is first person present tense
I ran to the door and saw the commotion through the window. Now it’s first person past tense
He ran to the door and saw the commotion through the window. And now it’s third person, past tense

Even better: James ran to the door and saw the commotion through the window.

An important byproduct: Using third person ensures that you will name your characters early in the story. Some first person stories start with ‘I’ did this and ‘I’ did that…By the end of the story we still don’t know who ‘I’ is.


We have all read stories written in first person – HP Lovecraft, Poe, and some of Stephen King’s short stories. When I build  a name and have my books being edited by my own personal editor, I will do more work in first person. However…

First person presents problems that writer’s don’t always realize. When providing information for the set-up or to move the story along, an editor will immediately ask, How does your character know this? And, How was this other scene being played out when your character wasn’t even there? In a first person story, everything the character knows about and all the events taking place, have to happen with your main character present. This is just one of the challenges that go unnoticed by the writer when writing in first person.

typingAnother way to look at it is this: Do you get annoyed by all the found-footage, first-person POV films that come out? To an editor, that is exactly what a first person story is like. How many FF films are actually good? Out of the dozen or so that come out each year, only a handful have been good in the last 25 years.

One more frequent problem with first person stories – if the main character dies at the end of the story – how is he/she telling the story? If he’s not telling the story, and someone else is, then it should be in third person.


One more tact when using past tense – every part of your story should be in past tense. If there is a flash back it needs to be in past tense. If someone is telling a story to another character – keep it in past tense. Even though a lot of people will relay an event in present tense (so, I walk through the front door and my girl is mad as hell…) you should keep everything past tense so there‘s no confusion for the reader.


Naturally ‘third person/past tense’ is not a hard rule. One editor told me straight out, “I won’t even read a story unless it’s in third person.” The publication eventually accepted one of my first person stories, but only after I built trust by submitting a few quality stories in the format they prefered.

Several times, I had changed stories from first person to third person on recommendations by editors. I’m lucky they liked the stories enough to even ask for a rewrite. If they were on the fence with the story they would have just skipped it and I would have never even realized or learned that:

Most editors prefer stories to be third person, past tense

So why take a chance at having an editor skip over your story because of it?

related articles:
Do you want to write horror fiction? Part II

Do you want to write horror fiction? Part I

Do you want to write horror fiction? Part I

With recent successes in getting my work published, a few of my readers suggested that I write about the experience. I debated starting another blog but decided to post these here. So, every couple of weeks I will post an article about getting published in horror magazines, on horror web-sites, and in horror anthology books. However, the aspects and details I relay will apply to all forms of fiction, not just horror. Before I start, there is something you should all know:

Most of you who write blogs – and who’s blogs I read – are good enough to have fiction work published and sold!

I’ve read your writing, you’ve read mine. Is it so different? I would say, no. It takes a certain creativity to get someone to read a review of a film they have already seen. I have watched films and purchased books on your suggestions. If you can engage me to seek out a film or book, I would say you can engage me to read a story. You all know a good story when you hear one. Now you just have to apply those traits to your own story.

I am going to start with some very basic stuff. It’s the kind of info we all know, but we sometimes have to be reminded. Often in the attempt to be original we forget these basic story-telling principles. I count myself in with reviewing basics. I often love-to-write-thumb_0can’t see the forest for the trees and have to be reminded. Even worse is when you have an editor comment, I don’t understand the plot. When translated, that actually means Your story is crap! So I hope, instead of saying, “I know this already,” and just skipping over these articles, you will read them, be reminded, grasp something obvious and see it in a new light. Perhaps you’ll even realize, you are achieving the most important aspects of storytelling and your writing is ready to be published. Then, all you need is some proper presentation.

“People want to know why I do this, why I write such gross stuff. I like to tell them that I have the heart of a small boy — and I keep it in a jar on my desk.”
Stephen King


Naturally, if I get a lot of likes on these posts, I will do them more frequently.