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Contact: Elena Hartwell - elenahartwell@gmail.com and visit me on the web at www.elenahartwell.com

Question Two with Robert Rapoza, Thriller Writer and fellow ITW Debut Author

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Describe your writing process:

The first step in my writing process is to brainstorm for book ideas. I look for interesting articles online and/or by reading books on subjects that interest me. I try to find a new twist on an old subject or try something completely new. This is the first round of research I undertake with a new book and it will help to determine the main concept, location and characters for the novel.

With my idea in place, I develop my protagonist and antagonist and several supporting characters. As they begin to take shape, I flesh these characters out and get to know them. I think about how they talk and act and sometimes write a brief description of each (name, physical characteristics, how they are related to each other, how they feel about things and what their character like and dislike.)

Next, I come up with the backstory for my novel. This is normally a few paragraphs to better help me understand what is taking place in the story and why. For example, for my first book, I wrote that an alien civilization watched the universe for signs of intelligent life developing and, once a new civilization reached a certain point of development, the aliens sent a scout team to study them. They came to Earth 3000 years ago to study humans and set up a base in the jungles of Peru where they came into contact with the local inhabitants and interbred. (I went into more detail about how the tribes split, and the countdown to reunification, but this gives you an idea).

By now, the idea and storyline are beginning to take shape, so the next step is write out the main plot ideas and sequence of events. On my first pass through, the sequence of events might not be in the order they follow for the final version of the story, but it’s important to determine what will happen and where it will take place. I’m shooting for about 80,000 words for a novel, so I spend some time asking ‘what if’ questions, resulting in additional plot points. This will result in a bulleted list of plot points which will serve as the framework for each chapter. Once I complete this exercise, I go through each bullet point and put them in logical order so that the action flows in a logical sequence.

Now comes the actual writing. I try to start with a character in trouble to engage the reader right away. I don’t worry too much about editing as I write, I just want to get my thoughts down. As I writer, I consider how my character will react to the situation, based on the personality sketch I created earlier. I follow this process for each bullet point, adding and subtracting from the story as it begins to unfold.

As the chapters progress, I determine what additional research I need to conduct to make the story more believable. I want to make sure details are correct as this will help to keep the reader engrossed in the story. I make sure not to just data dump so it becomes necessary to determine what I need to cut since there is always more information than I can use in the story.

Once I finish my manuscript, I put it aside for a while. When I come back to it, it’s much easier for me to do my first round of editing. I like to print out my manuscript, especially for the first pass through it. The first round of editing, for me, is to find spelling and punctuation errors and to fix some basic sentence structure issues. I’ll also look for POV issues and holes in my story.

Based on the changes I made, I’ll make my first rewrites cleaning up the issues I found. I will also print out my table of contents and find where the story needs development and will add or cut as needed. Once this process is complete, I begin my second round of editing. This is a finer process where I go through every sentence again trying to fine tune the wording. I also begin to cut things that don’t work and really follow the story carefully. 

Once complete, I will then send my manuscript out for professional editing to see what I have missed. I feel it’s critical to get an impartial, professional editor to go through my story with an impassioned eye for any details I’ve missed. The professional editor always has suggested changes and still catches grammatical errors. The editors I have used all use track changes which makes it easier to either accept or refuse the changes.


By the end of this process, I have a very clean copy to send out to Beta Readers to get their input. The neat part about this part of writing is to see their responses. Most Beta Readers catch different things (spelling/punctuation errors, plot problems, mis-behaving characters). I wait to hear back from all of my Beta Readers and then make changes accordingly. These can be minor or major changes (like the time in my second book when I switched two characters). After this step, my book is ready for the public to read.

Check back for Question Three!

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