Every writer has his or her own particular rituals or processes that they follow in order to create a story. Today we’re joined by urban fantasy author Rob Cornell, creator of The Lockman Chronicles. Read on to learn what Rob’s process was when he wrote his upcoming novel, Dark Legion.
The subconscious is a crazy beast. The things it can do always boggles my mind. As a writer, I have constant contact with my subconscious. What’s amazing about it is that it does at least half of the writing for me. (Probably more than half, but my conscious mind wants to get equal billing, so I humor him.)
If you ask a writer about his or her process, you’ll get all manner of different answers. There really are no rules when it comes to writing. As long as you end up with a good story, the path there doesn’t matter. But for the sake of argument, I want to talk about two extremes.
In this corner of the ring, we have Mr. Outliner. This guy sometimes weighs in at 200 pages. Every detail of his novel is premeditated right down to the main character’s favorite brand of socks. The actual prose writing comes almost as an afterthought. I know Jeffery Deaver is like this (his outlines are almost as long as his books). Crime writer, Robert Crais, is an outliner. Janet Evanovich outlines, too. If you read her section on plotting in How I Write, you’ll see an example of the sketchy timeline she scrawls out on a whiteboard.
In the other corner, you have Ms. Freebird. She often weighs in at little more than a scribbled note on a napkin. Sometimes, not even that. This writer dives into her narration with nary an idea of where she’s going or how she’ll get there. The most famous example of this kind of writer is Stephen King. In his book, On Writing, he goes into some detail about how this process works for him. He claims not even to jot notes. Others in this group will write notes and ideas, often without any strict organization. But mentioning the word “outline” among these folks is akin to asking a vegetarian if she wants her steak rare or raw.
In the middle, these two camps meet. This is the territory I find myself in. Most of my completed novels started as a list of scenes, often written on index cards, that I placed beside my keyboard when it came time to write. That’s it. No character biographies or descriptions of settings. Most of my scene bullets don’t even indicate a particular setting. This approach gave me the benefit of having a path mapped out like Mr. Outliner, but with plenty of space to roam, like Ms. Freebird.
All of this is a lengthy introduction to a discussion about something I have always experienced, but really struck me while writing my newest novel, Dark Legion (due out August 30th). I call it Storytelling Magic. It’s when the conscious planner punches out for the day and the subconscious takes over for his shift. And it really feels like magic.
I had my scene list for Dark Legion. Then I sat down to write. No one had told me that Conscious Planner had cashed in his vacation days and was letting Subconscious pick up his hours.
Things happened on the page I had no plan for. Characters came out of the dusty cupboards of my subconscious mind, introduced themselves, then stole roles from the characters I’d planned for. I felt like this stuff was coming from nowhere. And every time Subconscious slipped me another juicy morsel, I would cackle at a clever exchange of dialogue, or gasp at a plot twist, or worry about a character’s fate—because that character isn’t supposed to die, dangit.
The best parts of Dark Legion are things I could have never planned for. The magic had kicked in and my subconscious grabbed the wheel and broke the brakes.
If you read Dark Legion, you will learn about a very special car. I had no plan to introduce this car, but fell in love the moment it drove into my story. But what really shocked the hell out of me was that this car would play an integral role later on in the story. Like, there’s no way the story could exist without this car kind of role. I know, right? A flipping car? you ask. Yep. You’ll have to take my word for it until you read the book.
I was so stunned by all the Storytelling Magic zipping around in that novel, I made a rash decision—I am writing my next novel without an outline.
Oh, yeah. You heard right. I’m trusting Storytelling Magic (aka, My Subconscious) to carry me all the way through a book. Crazy? Maybe. But what do I have to lose? It’s not like I write on a typewriter and have to worry about wasting paper. What I have to gain, though? Dude, I can’t even fathom. I had a ripping good time with Dark Legion. Probably the most fun I’ve had writing ever before (and I’ve had me some good times).
I can’t wait to see what the magic conjures up next.
Dark Legion, out August 30th, is the second book in The Lockman Chronicles. For more information about this series or any of my other titles, come visit my website at rob-cornell.com.