Wednesday, June 20, 2012

One Writer’s Process

By Patti Larsen, @PattiLarsen

Part of the How They Do It Series   

JH: I'd like to welcome Patti Larsen to the blog today. One of my favorite aspects of the How They Do It series is that I get to see how other authors write and how they got published. She's here to share her process with you. (And let me tell you, she's one busy gal)
Patti is an award-winning middle grade and young adult author with a passion for the paranormal. Her YA thriller series, The Hunted, is available now. Book one of that series, RUN, is a recent recipient of the 2012 PEI Book Awards for Fiction. The first five books of The Hayle Coven Novels, starting with Family Magic, are also out now. Her YA steampunk series, Blood and Gold, can be found on Amazon, along with her YA paranormal novel, Best Friends Forever, and The Diamond City Trilogy. Her middle grade novel, The Ghost Boy of MacKenzie House (Acorn Press), debuts in June, 2012. She is a full time writer and a part time teacher of her Get Your Book Done program. Patti lives on the East Coast of Canada with her very patient husband and four massive cats.

Take it away Patti...

I’m one of the lucky ones. I write for a living. And I honestly believe I have the very best job ever. Who else gets to spend all day submerged in worlds of their own making, with only a pencil or computer to record the voices and their message?

It sounds crackpot, I know. So I’m odd. I’m not in denial or anything.

That being said, while I’m one of those crazy artistic types, I balance it with structure. The planning, plotting, creating all comes together for me in one lovely package.

I’ve spent years developing my process, my method, and I continue to tweak it every time I write a new book.

It always starts with the idea (I have several teasing me right now, one from a dream, another from a conversation I had yesterday), the spark of what could be much more. Like most writers, I keep a journal of these things. It’s the only way I know of to make them fall quiet. So when I’m ready to develop a new project, I peruse the pages and go with the one that speaks the loudest.

That done, it’s time to percolate. I jot some conflicts, start a onepage (a structure sheet I borrowed from my days of screenwriting), figure out how it begins and where it ends, let the idea grow and find its real voice—beyond the whiney ‘Pick Me!’ it started from. I fill pages by hand and pencil with all the horrible, terrible, despicable things the main character could possibly run into while asking myself if there is more to this story than the obvious. I tend to be a series writer, very rarely coming across an idea that spans less than three books. So as I work, I let the sequels evolve as well, making connections between events in book one all the way to the end of the trilogy/quadrilogy/whatevergy.

I love this part of the process. I know not everyone is an outliner and that’s okay. But for me, this is one of the most creative parts. By becoming absorbed totally in the complete story, I can see the idea from front to back, from the opening moments until the main character’s pain and/or terror ends. I suppose I was drawn to film because my mind works like one, even when I’m writing novels.

I prefer to outline the entire series, chapter by chapter, before I start to write. I do all of my content editing before I record a single word of prose. It’s so easy to see plot holes, connectors, relationship issues, when there is a movie of it running through your head from start to finish.

Once the outlines are done, questions answered, I’m free. When I sit to write, it pours out of me, as though all the hard parts have been taken care of. Of course the odd change or revelation will occur to me in the writing, but they are typically small ‘ah-ha!’ moments that flesh out the experience. There is no thinking, no contemplation of words or phrasing. I simply sit and write what the characters tell me to.

Hmmm. Crackpot. I’ll take it, thank you.

You can find her:
On her website
On Facebook
On Twitter!/PattiLarsen
On and Goodreads

About The Ghost Boy of MacKenzie House

Ten-year-old Chloe Sutton arrives on Prince Edward Island from her home in Ontario after the tragic loss of her parents in a car accident. Her Aunt Laverne is a doctor and her only relative able to take her in. Chloe isn’t sure what to make of her aunt’s big old house on the red cliff overlooking the Northumberland Strait, or the skinny, red-haired and heavily freckled boy who wants to be her friend.

Her first night in her new home, Chloe is tormented by the loss of her mother and father and hides in the dark to speak to them. When she does, she unknowingly invites the attention of a ghostly boy who inhabits the oldest part of the farmstead. Terrified but intrigued by the encounter, Chloe decides to uncover his history, setting her off on a set of adventures. When she does finally find the ghost boy's secret, she realizes he has been blaming himself for years for the death of his brother, much like she has been blaming herself for surviving her parents.

With the wrong made right, Chloe is finally let go of her own grief and accepted her new life.


  1. Thanks for sharing your process! I am a new writer and am still struggling with my process, but your post has helped me see that I may need to go back and outline before I continue to avoid my constant rewrites.

  2. Wow. That's great. I love reading about a writer's process. And Patti, you make me feel lazy. I usually write from the seat of my pants, but have lately discovered (*cough**advisor goaded me into it**coughcough**) the value of using an outline to plot the story and know where I'm going, instead of constantly driving into trees with my headlights off, to use a bad metaphor.

  3. Always fascinating to read about other writers and their processes. But what really struck me was the statement: 'Who else gets to spend all day submerged in worlds of their own making, with only a pencil or computer to record the voices and their message?' Yes, being a full-time writer is a privilege and a blessing, no matter how disheartened we might get at times about creativity. (And no, I'm not full-time myself, although moving ever more in that direction).

  4. Thanks for sharing. Sounds like you like to keep a lot of irons in the fire ( or ideas anyway) that is helpful to know. I have a couple ideas I've spat out onto a Word Doc and then I've come back to see if they are any good a few months later. Two of them are pretty good and worth pursuing. The others will sit in limbo and marinate for a while longer. :)

  5. Butler writes about this process in From Where You Dream --seeing the whole story as "cinema of the mind," and sorting out questions, taking notes --working "on the level of scene"-- before you really get down to writing the story. Great post, thank you.