My mom once asked me, “How do you know when a book is finished?”
My answer: “When the voices in my head stop talking.”
This is how I know it’s time to start a new book, too. The voices—characters, narrative, random bits of dialogue—start talking in my head, as though someone is rolling along the radio dial without settling for long on one station. Locations and devices and costumes roll up and disappear again, a bit like carrots and barley do when my husband is making his excellent turkey soup. And how is that for a couple of mixed metaphors!
But that’s what I call the “creative prework.” When it reaches critical mass, the first line or paragraph will present itself to me, and that’s when I know the book will start. Of course, my production schedule tells me that, too, but I honestly can’t get a proper beginning until all these things come to a boil. Then I write the story outline, which can be five or six pages long. My favorite tool for that is Blake Snyder’s beat sheet from his book Save The Cat! I spend a lot of time on planes, so I have three or four happy hours to outline, and land at my destination feeling most productive!
I’m a visual person (which is odd when you consider how poor my eyesight is) so I need accompanying material like maps. Especially in the Magnificent Devices books, where the action takes places across entire continents. When I was working up Gloria’s miniseries (Books 10–12) I had to draw a map of the Wild West so I could plot the progress of my various groups of characters. I didn’t want to lose anyone in a river! I’d love one of those battlefield tables—you know, like the map table of Westeros in Game of Thrones, so I could plot the progress of the oncoming war that Gloria has to fight.
Writing a book. It’s not just about the words. It’s about everything that happens before they go on the paper, too.
And so I began Fields of Iron yesterday. The voices were right on schedule 🙂