Thursday, January 20, 2011

A glimpse of another author's process

I've invited some authors to come on here throughout the year and talk about their writing process. We've talked a couple times on here about how no two writers are the same, so they'll offer you perspective that I simply can't. And some of them, like today's author, are handing out free books, which is a nice bonus!

Today's guest is Christine Sunderland. She's the author of four novels, Pilgrimage, Offerings, Inheritance, and Hana-Lani.

Here's a bit on my writing process in the construction of a novel:

1. I first choose a theme/problem/conflict.

How does one deal with grief and loss? What is love? What is marriage? What is friendship? Is there right and wrong? If there is, how do we know what is right and wrong? Does God care what we do with our lives? Is premarital sex wrong? Is my body connected to my spirit?

2. Then I choose a main character that will have to deal with this theme/problem/conflict in some way.

The character will be a mix of people I know - their appearance, their quirks, their likes, their dislikes, their fears, their desires. I will have the character want something, then throw obstacles in his or her way to achieve what he or she wants. What she wants will reflect the theme chosen. I will make the main character sympathetic, that is, a person the reader will like, so that the reader cares what happens to the character and turns the page to find out.

3. I will complicate the plot which has already begun in #2.

Things will get worse and worse for my main character until she reaches a crisis. At this point she will be forced to make a choice. Things will then change for the better, both inside her (her feelings about her life) and outside her. These changes and choices will reflect the main theme.

I will add subplots that kind of weave in and out of the main plot. Each of those will have a character who wants something and is trying to achieve it and who has obstacles as well. They too will reflect the main theme.

In the story I will use characters I know and settings I have experienced. If my character eats pizza, I think about the flavors and feel of the warm spicy cheese in my mouth and the thin crust - but maybe she likes the thick crust. I use sensory details to describe what she hears, sees, tastes, touches, smells. If there is a waterfall in the story, I will have seen, heard, experienced the waterfall (I'm told YouTube is a good substitute).

I keep a notebook and write descriptions of people I have met, and sometimes I refer to these when creating characters. The same for settings. I notice news stories and see what makes people jealous, envious, angry, and some of the choices they make and what happens to them. I look for common emotions so that my readers will identify with the character's feelings. Grief is a universal one, whether losing a parent, a sibling, or even a pet. It is a type of loss. Losing a friend is another kind of grief, of loss.

My first novel, Pilgrimage, is about grief and how God helps us deal with it. My second novel, Offerings, is about illness and trusting God. My third novel, Inheritance, is about the preciousness of life and how we must protect all human life, from the unborn to the very old. My fourth novel, Hana-lani, is about our bodies and the definition of love. In each of these stories, I created problems that had to be solved. My main characters all want something and the plot pulls them to the point where they might just find it.

Christine has been generous enough to offer to give away each one of her novels. Isn't that sweet? To get entered to win, leave a comment either asking Christine a question, or commenting on something about her process. (Like, how fascinating that you know even what kind of pizza your character enjoys!) And make sure you leave your e-mail address so I can contact you when you win.

Christine, thank you so much for being with us today!


  1. Thanks for sharing with us, Christine! I loved reading about your process because it's similar to the way I thought through the novel I'm working on right now. I came up with my theme (problem) then my main character and so on.

    You spoke of experiencing everything you wrote. What about historical fiction? Do you have any suggestions (like you tube) for experiencing things you don't have access to?

  2. What caught my eye about your writing process is that you don't shy away from the hard ask those questions which make people squirm, disagree, and which also sometimes change lives. So I think it incredibly interesting that you think of a question before creating a character (the opposite of my process).

    Thank you for entering me to win!

    biblioprincess15 at yahoo dot com

  3. Thanks, Jordan. I set all of my novels in the present day so I don't have that problem. But I have many historical references and content, and for this material I often Google to get an idea of what is true of that time and I use many text references - histories, magazine articles, encyclopedias of all kinds. I also use Wikipedia, which I understand is 90% accurate, more so than print encyclopedias. Bottom line is read, read, read, everything you can find dealing with locations and times that you can't experience yourself.

  4. I think it is such a great idea the way you use a "notebook and write descriptions of people" I think this is a very ingenious (sp?) way to develop your characters and have them be "real".

    nancyecdavis AT bellsouth DOT net

  5. Does everything always change for the better when the character faces a crisis? In life, things don't always get better.

    lkish77123 at gmail dot com

  6. You're right Linda! But "better" is relative and I was overly simplistic in my use of the term. I like to have my characters find some kind of "better" but it may not be what they want it to be, maybe self-knowledge, maybe simple acceptance that things don't always get "better." In Hana-lani not everything ends up better. I try not to make the endings too pat, but leave some questions out there, just like life. Even so, I want to leave the reader with hope.

  7. I like how you pick a theme before you start writing. I'll have to try that:) It'll probably help me stay on track more often then starting with a main character. I also like how you describe throwing obstacles in the character's way.

    Thank you for the giveaway!

    ccbookworm24_7 at yahoo dot com

  8. Enjoyed the process you use when writing a novel, eventhough I don't write nor plan to. Subplots did grab my attention, they can really tie a story togather, once reading the book it's hard to sit through the movie. Thanks for the give-away. Carmen sent me.

    true_sheila at yahoo dot com

  9. interesting to learn the process from someone that is doing it. very good post thanks.

    ABreading4fun [at] gmail [dot] com

  10. That's really cool that you have to experience EVERYTHING that happens in your novels. Thank you for the tips and sharing your process of writing, it's really helpful!

  11. Interesting that your characters/story line are based on people you know, have met, or you life experiences!

  12. I loved this post.

    Breaking it down like that makes it seem so simple! :)
    I guess the process only LOOKS simple, but getting to know characters well enough to give them quirks that make sense and stand out is a talent.

    I really like the way you laid out the process for us, Christine, thanks!

    what's your normal time for the plotting stage?

    freestonenkcs[at]gmail[dot]com (if it's still open)

  13. Thanks, Kelly. In terms of time for the plotting stage, I would say six months or so, but of course it is constantly refined and added to and changed. I look for the crisis and figure out what needs to happen for her to arrive there, then create an outline of chapters divided by scenes. Every scene must have a reason for being there, moving the plot along as well as showing her character. It's lots of fun!
    All the best,

  14. I love the processes you use Christine =)
    Can't ever have a great book with out conflict, I love coming up with off the wall things sometimes to make conflict...
    Do you enjoy doing stuff like that?

    jazzdivagirl AT suddenlink dot net

  15. What an interesting and helpful post! I love step 1; usually I start with my main character and stop because I get bored.

    How did you come up with these steps? Was it a gradual process or... did it just explode inside your head? :D


  16. Thanks for the interview. Christine: Do you ever find yourself talking to or as you characters in your head or out loud when you're writing?

    tressa dot sherman at hotmail dot com

  17. Thanks Emil,
    I learned this process gradually after taking classes and attending workshops and reading other writers on writing. I found it works for me in terms of setting a goal and imposing a structure on the work itself, which I find helpful. Character is vitally important however, and you could go first with developing the main character if you understand what your character really wants. Somehow the theme usually grabs me first. They are so closely connected.
    Over time the characters become quite real in my head, and I try and think of how they will react to things. I'm glad they are out there now and on their own! Now I have new ones, Karen and Daniel, thirty-something, who are searching for a legacy in Provence, and I'm not sure where their relationship will end up!

  18. I'd love to win one of these books,because my life is kind of messy right now,what really wanted,I think is God don't think is the right time..


  19. Again, thank you so much Christine for being here! Courtesy of, our winners are:

    Rachelle, "Bookworm", Melody, and Jazmine. I'll be emailing you for your mailing addresses, but if you see this and want to take initiative and e-mail me, that's great too: stephanie at stephaniemorrillbooks dot com.