Fantasy author Anton Strout was born in the Berkshire Hills mere miles from writing heavyweights Nathaniel Hawthorne and Herman Melville and currently lives in the haunted corn maze that is New Jersey (where nothing paranormal ever really happens, he assures you). He is the author of the paranormal detectiveseries Simon Canderous (Dead To Me, Deader Still, Dead Matter and Dead Waters) and the urban fantasy series The Spellmason Chronicles, consisting of Alchemystic and, just out today, Stonecast. Anton is also the author of many short fiction tales. In addition to writing, Anton endeavors to bring authors and readers together through a weekly news show format called The Once & Future Podcast. You can find out more about Anton at his website (antonstrout.com), on Facebook and Twitter as @AntonStrout.
By Anton Strout
Every book — not just my own urban fantasy ones — is a crime scene.
So every time I sit down at the computer to start a new project, I’m staring down the cold steel barrel of zero word count. Then it’s up to me to establish motives, hunt down all the characters, pay attention to the details as I sort through the clues, and eventually put down on the page whodunit.
But it’s arriving at that crime scene and finding that dead rotting book body without knowing who, what, when, where, how, or why that most writers fear.
How do you solve the crime that is the empty page?
It’s fair to say at this point of my writing career that I have the track record to navigate my way onto that blank page over again and again to eventually come out with my next book. As I write this, I’m working on my seventh, the follow up to the just on sale Stonecast, which is book two of The Spellmason Chronicles. Then there are the four books of the Simon Canderous paranormal detective series… I somehow seem to manage filling that blank page over and over.
For some writers, the intimidation of that blank page is enough to keep them from writing, or at least struggling with where to dive in or how they will get all the awesome ideas floating in their brain down onto the page.
Me? When I’m looking to get some serious writing done, I can’t help but take my mind back to thoughts of reconstructing a crime scene and I find my brain heading straight on down to the body farm.
Stay with me here…
Body farms are gruesomely awesome, a place where forensic scientists and law enforcement can study various states of decomposition to help them determine the cause or time of death.
And much like the forensic scientists down at the body farm, it’s my job as a writer to metaphorically find that rotting corpse of my book and make it whole as I reconstruct the crime scene to fill the blank pages.
So there I am, staring at this rotting, skeletal corpse that is lying there. I picture that incomplete body as the vague ideas I’ve collected in my head, and the shakier and disconnected those ideas are, the more decayed a body I imagine looking at down on the body farm. But how to start reconstructing this unrecognizable body…
I need to get these scenes out of my head and down. Chance are they are just the first and coolest little bits of the book that have struck me, and by getting them down it is like slapping a bit of reconstructive clay onto that skeletal corpse, adding a bit of detail. As bits and pieces of the story come together, another piece of the dead body gets reconstructed.
Because I’m a tech nerd, I tend to do a very simple outline to start, using Excel. I allow myself thirty rows divided into three ten row acts to do a quick one line “In which BLANK happens” for whatever scenes are in my head.
But the important thing to me is to get it down. I try not to stick to a linear pattern. I get down what hits me, the puzzle pieces of the crime slowly coming into focus until I can see the fully formed body of it.
That’s just the way I’m wired. I have to write what interests me in the moment. I can go back later and add all the connective tissue of the body later, once I can more fully see the shape of the story.
Of course, every author is different. Your mileage may vary, but for some of you reading, this might make perfect sense or be the approach that turns on the light bulb over your head as you struggle to push through your first draft manuscripts.
Any which way, the writing process seems to me very much like a crime scene-except you’re the hardworking detective, there’s a lot of legwork, attention to detail, and a lot of blood.