Storytelling Magic with Guest Author Rob Cornell

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.


Storytelling Magic

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


Thanks for stopping by, Rob. You can also follow Rob on Twitter, and you can purchase the first volume in The Lockman Chronicles, Darker Things, from Amazon, B&N and Smashwords.

Writing Prompt – The Wendigalope

Okay, so the results of my poll are in, and the next big creature in urban fantasy is… a tie between the Jackalope and the Wendigo. So let’s have a writing prompt featuring these two fine fellows. Write a story that includes a jackalope and a wendigo. Bonus points if you make the jackalope into a wendigo. (If you’ve ever played D&D, just think of the wendigo as a template that you apply to the jackalope). Have fun!

Writing Prompt – Purpose of the Appendix

Gray’s Anatomy is an outstanding reference that every writer should own. When you’re regularly stabbing, shooting or otherwise maiming your characters, it makes your writing more realistic when you understand exactly what’s being damaged, the potential blood loss from such a wound, what muscles would be impaired, and so on. I bought a hardcover copy back when I was in college; it’s three inches thick and weighs about 5 lbs. But I recently found an edition for the iPad that has 3D versions of a lot of the images. This is great because you can rotate a picture of the heart and lungs and see what they look like from all sides.  That’s very handy when you’ve just shot your main character in the chest and need to know where the bullet would have to go to puncture a lung but not pierce the heart. I found a cool image of the intestines too, and that got me thinking about the appendix. The appendix is a completely useless organ that can cause a ton of trouble if it gets inflamed, but that’s about it. From what I’ve read, scientists agree that the appendix did something at one point, no one quite knows what that something was.

So let’s make something up. Write a story where the appendix’s purpose is explained. You can be benevolent (it’s an organ that generates luck or positive energy) or malicious (it’s a self-destruct button that can be triggered by hostile aliens).

Have fun, and happy writing!

Writing Prompt – Cuddly & Deadly

When Fall hits New England, you can usually find a ton of caterpillars crawling around. Some of them are covered in soft, brown and black  fur, earning them the nickname ‘wooly bear caterpillars.’ However, I found this link, which shows that the affable caterpillar that I’ve grown up with has some downright evil cousins.

So here’s a writing prompt for you. Take something that you’d normally think of as happy, cute or cuddly, and make it as deadly and vicious as possible. For inspiration, think of Monty Python’s Killer Rabbit, or Mr. Spock’s pet Sehlat (a teddy bear with 6-inch fangs).

Have fun!



Using Snapshots in Scrivener

Sometimes, you’ll write a scene, make changes to it, and then later decide that the original scene was better. When I was writing in Word and this happened, I used to copy the scene and paste it into a separate document. Then I could make changes in the original doc and if I later decided my first scene was better, I could re-copy the scene back in. This got to be a pain, especially when a scene went through multiple incarnations; I’d end up with four or five different files that all corresponded to slightly different flavors of the same scene. I wound up with a folder with files named things like Chapter2Version1CharactersGoForIceCream,Chapter2Version2CharactersGoForDonuts, Chapter2Version3CharactersGoForThaiFood, you get the idea.

Luckily, Scrivener has a built-in feature called Snapshots that manages this process for you. Let’s say you’ve got a scene that you want to tweak, but you want to be able to go back to the original version. Just press Ctrl+D, and you’ll hear a camera shutter sound effect. Then, click on the Snapshots button on the lower right toolbar to see a list of Snapshots associated with the current scene. You can create as many Snapshots as you want for a particular scene, and then restore a scene to a previous version by clicking the Roll Back button.

This short video shows Snapshots in action. Enjoy!
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Name that Character!

When I’m creating my characters, I spend a lot of time trying to find a name that fits them. I want something that suits their nature, says something about them, conveys a bit of them to the world. However, there are other times when you just need to name the guy who’s selling sausage sandwiches on the sidewalk, and you don’t want to agonize over what to name him. For those moments, there are a bunch of name generators online. Here are a couple that I’ve found helpful.

The Seventh Sanctum has a whole collection of name generators. Just click on a link on their site to randomly generate the type of name you’re looking for. You can get regular names, elf-sounding names, Lovecraft-sounding names and more. For example, when I clicked on their Pirate Ship Name, I got The Dirty Raider.

FakeNameGenerator can generate regular-sounding names, but will also make up phone numbers, addresses & email addresses. If you ever need to quickly whip up an obituary or a want ad for your characters to read, this is the place to do it. It’s also a good place to just randomly generate stock characters. When you generate a fake name, here’s what you get:

Behind the Name gives you some flexibility in choosing the ethnicity of the name that’s generated. So if you want your sausage vendor to have a Greek name, you can check the Greek name box and get Alexandros Iosif.

Also, if you’re using Scrivener, you have a random name generator built in. Just go to Edit>Writing Tools>Name Generator… and you’ll be presented with this screen.

The nice thing about this is you can generate lists of names, and you can also view their meanings by clicking on the Name Meanings tab.

So now the next time you need to name a sausage vendor, you’ve got a bunch of resources to tap. Enjoy!




Urban Fantasy Writing Prompt – Rare Minerals

One of the things I love about urban fantasy is how it can be used to explain conspiracy theories and other unexplained phenomenon. For example, Chris Farnsworth’s The President’s Vampire does a nice job of telling what happened both to JFK and John Wilkes Booth. But stories don’t have to deal with a national threat to be interesting. I came across this article about rare minerals on, and found it to be a goldmine of writerly potential (yes, pun intended). It’s not because the article has any earth-shattering info; instead the article tosses out some interesting factoids about each mineral’s discovery (or disappearance). There are almost no properties listed for these minerals, or what they could be used for. That means it’s open season for someone with a little imagination.

So, here’s a little writing exercise for you – pick one of the minerals listed and use it as the focal point of a short story. It can be something like “Wawayandaite is 300% more deadly to fae than iron, and a group of renegade Druids is about to turn on their former fae allies” or “Tugtupite is the most powerful aphrodisiac for Chupacabras, and someone’s been dumping it in large quantities, causing the Chupacabra population to increase and they’re now openly attacking humans.”

Have fun, and if you’d like, feel free to throw your idea out in the comments to inspire others!





Tracking Progress in Scrivener

When I was writing the first novel in my series, I wanted to track how much progress I’d made toward my target word count. As mentioned in a previous post, I was shooting for 80,000 words. Each time I finished a writing session, I’d jot down how many words I’d written, add that to the total number of words I’d written so far, and then divide that number by 80,000. While this worked well, it was a manual and tedious process. Then I found Scrivener, which can calculate that for you.

(Note: I’m using Scrivener for Windows, so things may be in slightly different places or have different keystroke combos if you’re on another OS.)

There are three Project menu items that can give you more information about your WIP: Project Statistics, Text Statistics, and Project Targets.

Project>Project Statistics (or Ctrl-Shift-T)  –  This gives you the total word and page count of your draft in Scrivener, and provides some options for configuring how those values are calculated.

Project>Text Statistics (or Ctrl-Alt-T) – This  gives you the total word and page count of the currently selected Text item in Scrivener.

Project>Project Targets (or Ctrl-T) – This is the big one. This allows you to specify how many words your WIP should be. As you write more, Scrivener updates both a numerical value and a progress bar so you can see exactly how far along you are. It also provides a Session Target, which allows you to say “I want to write 500 words this sitting” and then Scrivener will track how much you’ve done. Warning – don’t press the Reset button until you’ve finished your  session! Pressing Reset wipes out any progress you’ve made toward today’s Session Target. So if you start out thinking you’ll write 500 words, and then decide you want to increase it to 750, just change the number, don’t press Reset. The Session Target will be recalculated for you automatically.

The Project Targets dialog in Scrivener

All in all, this is a great way to measure your progress, and it sure beats doing the calculations by hand.