The Writing Process
I love writing. It’s my passion. It’s what sets me alight in the mornings, and it’s what keeps me up well into the night. I’ve been writing stories since I can remember, and I will continue to do so for the rest of my life. I’ve written everything from one page stories about the life cycle of a blade of grass, through to children’s books, poetry, award-winning short stories, and all the way through to my favorite genre—legal thrillers.
I’ve often been asked how I write a book, so I’m going to detail the process below. As every writer is different, it’s important to find something that works for an individual, but this is what works for me. Hopefully, this insight can help other writers.
My Writing Process for Novels:
I’ll start with an idea, perhaps a murder that needs to be solved or a person who needs to be saved, and then build from there. For my latest book, Power and Justice, the idea started with a murder and the wrong man was accused.
Once I have the idea, I’ll sit down in a room with someone else, sometimes a very smart editor and other times a fellow writer, and we’ll map out what’s going to happen through the whole book. We’ll discuss who the characters are, who is going to be a suspect, and most importantly, we’ll think about the twist.
What’s the most likely scenario for the twist? Or better yet, what’s the most believable scenario that the reader would not guess?
Outlining the plot is my favorite part of building a book—it’s where I feel most creative, and it’s where I’m able to really develop ideas. And I absolutely love filling a whiteboard with notes. This process can take anywhere from two hours to a whole day.
The Chapter Outline:
Once we’ve settled on the plot, I’ll draft a chapter outline. This is a few paragraphs detailing what’s going to happen in each chapter. This outline isn’t set in stone, and always changes as I go through the writing process.
As an example, this is what Chapter 2 of Power and Justice was written as:
Tex Hunter is walking into the police station to talk with his new client, Robert Sulzberger, who has just been charged with murder.
Hunter runs into Detective Richard Browne. They clash about Hunter’s past, as they always do. Browne is a dirty cop, and hates Hunter. This is a chance to introduce what happened to Hunter’s parents.
Prosecutor Michelle Law, one of Tex’s old class mates, is in the background. Sulzberger’s case is discussed.
Once the story has been fleshed out, I’ll do the first draft, which is generally around 30,000 words and is really just the bones of the story. It’s here where I start to understand if some ideas work or not, and change it accordingly. This is where chapters might get swapped around, added, or completely wiped off the page.
This is also where I do a lot of the research for the book.
Here’s the first page of the first draft of Chapter 2 in Power and Justice:
Chapter 2 – First draft:
It’s been more than thirty years since criminal defense attorney Tex Hunter first stepped inside the walls of this Chicago police station. He remembers that day so clearly.
The building still smells the same, the same coat of paint still lines the walls, and the place is still filled with the same cops, although the years have wearied them.
Tex was only ten years old when he was first escorted through these halls, a fresh-faced innocent boy. They questioned him for six hours straight, stuck at the metal table in the windowless room, not even allowed to take a toilet break. The cops pressed him so hard, screamed in his face, squeezed every piece of information out of his young brain. He cried, they yelled, and he told them everything he knew.
By the time they were done, he wasn’t even sure of the truth anymore.
“Still defending killers?” Detective Richard Browne stands in front of Hunter, staring up at the towering figure. “I thought you would have got sick of that game by now. I thought you would’ve realized that you can’t win this game against us. We’re the law, Hunter.”
“As long as you keep putting innocent people away, I’ll keep defending them.”
Detective Browne grunts, almost sipping out a piece of food stuck in his teeth. He rubs his plump stomach in the same way a pregnant woman does. He almost looks proud of the years of alcohol abuse that it took to build that stomach. “It won’t be long before handcuffs on you, either, Hunter. Ever since I first met you, I knew you were trouble. I could see it in your eyes, even then. It’s genetic. You’re just like your father. You’ll be on that side of the bars soon, where you belong, and I will take great pleasure in that day. I might even have a drink to celebrate.”
“Seems like you’ve been celebrating a lot recently.”
Thirty years ago was the first time Hunter smelt the drenching odor of vodka. It was so strong that day that he was sure he felt drunk by the end of the interview. As the years passed, and the media kept hounding his family, Hunter couldn’t escape what happened that day. Detective Browne dragged him back into the police station many times, always questioning him for hours, trying to find out more information about the missing girls.
“It’s part of your DNA, Hunter. You know that. It’s in your blood to be a killer and do things outside the law. You’ll slip up, just like your parents did. They thought they could get away with it, they thought they could get away with killing all those innocent girls, but everyone makes a mistake eventually. That’s how we caught them. They left one piece of evidence, and that’s all we need. That’s how we put them behind bars for life. You’ll do that too. You’ll make a mistake, and when you do, I’ll be waiting for you, like a hawk.”
Detective Richard Browne hasn’t aged well.
Their first meeting is etched into Hunter’s memory, scratched so deeply into his mind that he will never forget it – A fresh-faced Detective Browne standing over him with thick arms and a popping chest, yelling that his parents are going to get what they deserve.
All the weight that was around Browne’ arms and chest have now gone directly to his stomach, and the only thing that will be popping is his shirt buttons. It even looks like he could be wearing the same shirt.
These drafts are about fleshing out the story, building the character’s background, creating a sense of place, and developing the emotion behind the story. This is where the story is filled out to around 70,000 words. This is what I refer to as the ‘The Grind’ as these are the hardest drafts for me to write.
After the fourth draft is completed, the manuscript is sent away to my wonderful editor, Lara. Her focus is on issues like: where more emotion is needed, where conversations don’t sound natural, paragraphs sound too heavy, characters sound too wooden, or plot holes.
Having an editor look over the work is extremely important. When your head is in the story, you overlook the little things that don’t make sense.
In the fourth draft of Power and Justice, Lara came back and said the twist came out of nowhere as there weren’t enough clues throughout the book. This was invaluable feedback, as it seemed obvious to me.
This is where the magic happens, and everything comes together.
It’s where I spend time developing particular sentences, settings and interactions. It’s the icing on the cake, really. And like a kid at a birthday party, we all love the icing!
Once I’m satisfied, the story goes off to the editor for her final input, and adjustments made before being sent to the proofreader.
In my early books, I originally thought that I could be an effective proofreader, but I have since learnt that it is a job that I’m not suited for!
And that’s it – that’s the way I write a book. It all sounds quite easy really…
Below is the first page of Chapter 2 in Power and Justice. As you can see, it’s quite a long way from the character outline!
Chapter 2 – Draft 8:
In life, some places are etched into memory, places that are scratched so deeply into the recess of one’s mind, that no amount of drugs, therapy, or alcohol will ever erase what happened there.
For Tex Hunter, the Metropolitan Correctional Center in Chicago is imprinted into his mind, branded onto his brain like a mark on a bull. It had been more than thirty years since the criminal defense attorney first stepped inside the walls of the building, thirty years since his life changed forever. The building still smelt the same, the furniture hadn’t changed, and the same beige coat of paint, now faded and cracked, lined the walls. Some of the same guards still hustled through, although the years had taken a toll on their vibrancy.
He was only ten years old when he was first escorted through the narrow halls, an impressionable boy who didn’t understand what was happening, didn’t understand why people in authority were harassing him. They questioned him for six hours straight, stuck at the metal table in the windowless room, not even allowed to take a toilet break. The cops pressed him so hard, so ferociously, screaming in his face, squeezing every piece of information out of his young brain. He cried, they yelled, and he told them everything they wanted to hear before they would allow him to see his father.
By the time they were done, he wasn’t even sure of the truth anymore.
“Still defending killers?” Prosecutor Michelle Law stood in front of Hunter, lifting her chin to stare up at him.
Hunter grinned and ran his hand through his thick black hair. “As long as you keep trying to put innocent people away, I’ll keep defending them.”
The low ceiling on the second-floor foyer added to the sense of claustrophobia, enhancing the sense that this was a place where hope was lost, not found. A long reception desk sat behind the wall of security checkpoints, with a forgotten row of vinyl seats to the left and two dying indoor plants to the right. Beyond that, there were elevators to the various floors and numerous signs detailing the strict rules that governed the building. A rarely used brown couch sat near the exit. Hunter understood why the chair looked outdated but still unused; this was not a place where anyone wanted to linger.
“I’ve always thought your title was misleading, Tex.”
“How so?” He stepped closer to her.
“It’s missing the word ‘and’. It shouldn’t be Criminal Attorney Tex Hunter; it should be Criminal and Attorney, Tex Hunter.”
“Witty.” He smiled. “How long have you waited to say that?”
“I’ve been sitting on that joke for months.” Law stood straight, rigid, with the type of posture that comes from taking out her self-hatred on hours of yoga every week. “I haven’t seen you in a while. I actually thought that you were finally going to come and join us in the prosecution, over here on the right side of the law. It would give you a chance to clear your conscience.”
“A clear conscience is usually a sign of a bad memory.”
She let out a laugh.
The guards turned around. Laughter was not something they were used to hearing.
“I suppose you live by the defense lawyer mantra—just because your client did it, doesn’t mean they’re guilty.”
“Never forget—every criminal was innocent once.” He tapped the area over his heart, a mischievous grin on his face. “My only hope is that they come to me before they’re condemned by your rules.”
“Oh, how honorable. If you really wanted honor, then you should come to my office and apply for a position within my team. We’re not all about money and nice suits over there; we’re about the law and finding justice. We get a kick out of putting guilty people away to protect the innocent.”
“What even is guilt? Or innocence?” Detective Daryl Browne interrupted, appearing in front of them. As he stood next to the lawyers, he rubbed his plump stomach in the same way a pregnant woman does, almost looking proud of the years of alcohol abuse that it took to develop it. “What even is justice?”
Hunter turned to the cop. “You wouldn’t know. You’ve never been interested in any of them.”
Standing next to the lawyers, Browne appeared as a contrast to the field of justice—the lawyers, fit and tall, were perfectly dressed, and the detective, round and short, had his shirt untucked at the front. There was enough artificial glow from the fluorescent lights for Hunter to spot the abundance of ear hairs on Browne—not something he wanted to notice but something he couldn’t stop looking at.
“It won’t be long before the handcuffs are on you, Hunter.” Browne touched the badge on his belt. “You’re just like your father. It’s in your blood, in your DNA, and I’ll take great pleasure in the day I see you behind bars.”
“My parents are innocent, Browne. You know it, and I know it, so why must we always have this dance? Haven’t you got better things to do?” Hunter stepped forward, leaning closer to the detective to talk near his ear. “Like extorting money from small business owners.”
The comment piqued the prosecutor’s interest, and Browne stepped back, the panicked expression on his face signaling that Hunter had rattled him.
Hunter smiled. Good.
Power and Justice is available now: