Today’s guest post is by Overton Scott. In this post Mr. Scott shares his process in creating heroine Neen Ford in his series Battle Not With Monsters.
Some writers start with an idea. I started with a character. Neen Ford, my heroine, originated in a conversation I had with my agent a couple of years ago. We were discussing the kind of books editors wanted to buy, and my agent said that everyone she talked to wanted strong female characters who weren’t afraid to kick ass.
Neen certainly isn’t shy about throwing a punch when necessary, but getting her to that point took some effort. Creating a character is about much more than choosing a name and a hair color. Neen needed a backstory, because the history of a character helps establish that character’s authenticity. Maybe Neen could execute a guillotine choke, but how did she get so good at it?
I sat down with a pencil and paper and started listing the things I wanted my character to be able to do. Then I matched her skill set with experiences. If she wanted to be able to take down an opponent, she needed some experience in karate or Brazilian jiu jitsu. She needed to be able to plant a spinning elbow in a rapist’s throat, so she must have studied Muy Thai, the combat sport of Thailand. I watched countless hours of mixed martial arts competitions and videos of fights, watching strikes and kicks and taking notes. When I felt that I could write a plausible action scene, I moved on to other aspects of Neen’s personality.
I envisioned her as a loner, who works minimum wage jobs as a security guard and a teacher of martial arts. Why is she a loner? For some reason, we don’t really read many thrillers with well-adjusted men or women as protagonists. It’s as if we can’t imagine a sane, normal person doing the violent stuff that is required to defeat the evil villain. So Neen needed an edge, and I gave her one. Lurking in the past is a nasty incident involving her father. Neen has been derailed by this incident, and so has her family.
From there I fleshed out details about Neen’s life. What kind of car would she drive? Not a nice one, since she’s scraping by. Her apartment wouldn’t be terrific either. She teaches in a dojo. What’s it look like? What is her relationship with her boss? What does she wear? How does she spend her free time?
Once I had Neen clearly established in my mind, I worked on the plot. Months before I even thought of Neen, I had a conversation with a friend of mine who is an Orthodox priest. I’m not sure how the topic came up, but we discussed human trafficking from Eastern Europe into the U.S. I knew I wanted Neen to help someone and I thought the human trafficking angle would make an interesting premise for a novel. That sent me off in search of material about trafficking. I have to say, that research was pretty grim. I chose not to deal with the graphic detail in the novel, but I certainly read enough to say that when Neen goes after the traffickers, she does the right thing. And incidentally, there’s an Orthodox priest in the book. Wonder why?
The research is the interesting part. Next comes the plot. I’ll do a scene by scene outline of the book, noting generally what needs to be accomplished in each scene. When the outline is finished, I’ll start writing. Generally I try to do 1,000 words per day, and it will take 75-90 days to produce a first draft.
Then I have to do my least favorite thing: edit and proofread. I can spend as much time doing this and the rewrites that result from this process as I do writing the book. And it’s discouraging to realize that even though you may spend weeks editing, you’ll likely still miss something. It’s always good to get a second pair of eyes on the finished product.
The next step is publishing the book, but that’s a topic for another post. Thank you for inviting me to share a bit about my writing process. I hope readers will enjoy the book. If anyone wants to talk further about Neen, you can contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org, or on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/scottneenford.
Click to learn more about Battle Not with Monsters.