I’m pretty straight forward as a person and a writer. I’m a former 911 operator, and in 911 you don’t have the luxury of a lot of pondering, you need to get to the essence of a problem in a hurry. It was good training for resolving conflict in a story. I also use a tip a literature teacher gave me: “Never use a ten dollar word when a ten cent one will do.” I’ve tried to do that, keep my writing direct, succinct, and understandable. Too many writers try to impress readers with their massive vocabulary, but few readers, including me, want to read a book with a dictionary on their lap. If I have to look up definitions to understand a sentence, it closes my interest in the story, and the book.
I don’t use detailed outlines to write a story. I have the character, conflict, and the ending in my head before I begin. I put the character into conflict, and since I know how it will be resolved, the chapters always move forward to that ending. My idea for a first draft always begins with the characters. My protagonist Ray in Children of the Enemy was a man I saw who ran a salvage yard, which could also be described more simply as a junkyard. He was sitting on a chair outside of a house trailer, smoking a cigarette, with virtual mountains of scrap metal pieces and junk appliances surrounding him. I imagined in real life he was perhaps a cross between Dirty Harry and James Earl Jones. It was just how he impressed me. Once I have a few characters I like I put them into a situation, this is the conflict. The next step is I frame in my mind how I intend to resolve the conflict. The rest of the book consists of chapters that point toward the resolution.
I’ve had a lot of conversations about the best way to write a book. I have long believed there is no one system that works for everyone. It’s whatever process works for you; whether it’s outlines, daily word requirements, black boards; however, you frame your story and get a draft onto paper. I write a story like you’d watch a movie, chapters being scenes, the end result being me as a director, assembling the chapter-scenes into a coherent story consisting of characters, conflict, and resolution. Then I edit it. Someone asked me once how do you write a poem? I told them I write it down and then I edit it for the next thirty years. This is a slight exaggeration, but there’s an elementary truth in it, good writing requires good editing. Your imagination creates the story draft, editing is where you shape it into a book. Working with a good editor is a real plus.