My Writing Process: Brainstorming Characters

It’s a short post today.

When I sit down to come up with a new story, one of the first things I think about besides a contest or collection’s theme, or the overall genre elements and interesting ideas I want to explore and include, is the characters. For me it boils down to, not what the main character cares about most, but who. Ultimately, I think we are all motivated to do the things we do in life because of the people in our lives that we care about (or even dislike or fear) the most. We feel most threatened when our loved ones are threatened, and most distracted, sad, or frustrated when they are hurting, or when they are absent or don’t return our affections. Orienting my characters’ main plot objectives around the people they care about most has become a valuable tool that has helped me generate dynamic characters. These characters may appear to be very concerned with one particular goal on the surface, but they are ultimately motivated to do what they do (including some really bizarre things) because of their relationships.

Review: Writers of the Future Volume 32


I love the stories in this anthology! There’s quite a range in style and variety, all of them intriguing in their own way, and that’s what I always love about the Writers of the Future works. I’ve enjoyed these stories and highly recommend this collection to aspiring writers and lovers of sci-fi and fantasy alike.

I want to highlight “Cry Havoc” by Julie Frost in particular. I know Julie from various Utah conventions and conferences over the years, and am delighted to see her make it into this collection after so much hard work and persistence submitting to the Writers of the Future contests. I’ve been meaning to keep a promise to write a formal review of her story (or, at least, the anthology) for a while.

“Cry Havoc” is a tale of revenge and redemption through the eyes of a werewolf named Nate who has seen the last of his pack mates taken out by a hunter’s silver bullet. Hunters and werewolves have a special kind of feud that the law turns a blind eye to, and Nate goes on a killing spree to wipe out the people he views as a threat to his existence–with one very clever twist of events that unfolds right at the end. This story sets a tone that is both intense and full of heart. It was unique and so much fun to read. I can only imagine that Julie’s full-length novel Pack Dynamics carries on her fabulous storytelling style with the werewolves she writes best.

Congratulations Julie! And to all the authors in this collection–great work. Your voices are all so different and I’m excited to see what else you all come out with as your careers flourish.

You can purchase a copy of Writers of the Future Volume 32 here on Amazon:

Stories are Human: Explaining My Writing Process

An author friend of mine mentioned on Facebook a little while ago that a concerned mother at one of his book signings came up to him and seemed to hold a strong view, in his words, that “any books not based in fact (read as “fiction in any form”) was not worth reading.” I gave my thoughts in the comment thread of this post, but wanted to bring them up again because I love what I’ve learned from experts about what story (including fiction) is and why it is so valuable.

From an evolutionary psychology perspective (my favorite way to look at things), our capacity for language (grammar in particular), for imagining the impossible, for developing crazy-sophisticated technology, and for experiencing morality are all connected through our capacity and need to establish and maintain complex social bonds. This means that we humans have the incredible capacity to convey sophisticated internal sentiments, concepts, boundaries, and experiences to one another in a way that incites complex physiological (sensations, emotional resonance) and social reactions in one another. With that in mind, the power of story is a fundamental part of what makes us human. Fiction really does have the power to open our minds to new possibilities, gives us better tools and alternate perspectives to approach and solve problems, and allows us to see our everyday activities and interaction in a new light. Fiction does have value–incredible value. Like other forms of artistic expression, it’s a fundamental part of what makes us the incredible creatures we are.

What’s been fascinating for me as an author over the years is to sit on (and sit in on) panels with other authors and listen to them describe how they come up with great stories–from Larry Correia and Kevin J. Anderson, to Michaelbrent Collings, Candace J. Thomas, David Butler, and Angie Lofthouse (among many, many wonderful authors I’ve had the privilege to come to know in person). While many share similar strategies, no two authors visualize, plan, or build their story elements exactly the same way. At the heart of any story are emotions–conflicts that need to be resolved. But every author has their own flavor of conflict that we like to see and create. The things that motivate us to convey these ideas also vary.

We have different life experiences, different challenges and interests, different things that matter to each of us (or that frighten and bother us, in the case of writing horror). As a result, no two authors will have exactly the same style or approach. It isn’t always easy to deduce how to develop our own styles simply by listening to other authors describe their creative processes, I’ve discovered. Developing my own style has taken a lot of practice: a lot of getting down the basics, a lot of honing, a lot of trial and error. But taking notes and pondering how a variety of others do what they do–from setting up an opening scene with a great plot and interesting characters, to dealing with writer’s block and time-management–has given me a little window into each author’s soul, if you will, as well as strategies and insights into how to tap into my own “reservoir of genuine” to build my own creative writing skills.

I think its good practice for me as a writer to describe my creative process from time to time. As I’ve mentioned in a previous blog post, I expect that my process will continuously change over time as my views and understanding of writing fiction continue to expand. This means I may change my mind on strategies that I think work well, or on my overall approach to the creative process over time. I think that’s a big part of the adventure of discovering and developing one’s own voice and style. Explaining one’s individual process to others is a skill unto itself, and one, I think, that often takes a bit of courage. We writers and artists recognize that we are still learning and growing, and that we (depending on how novice we still feel about our skills) may be trying to share suggestions or discuss things we aren’t really that experienced in or familiar with yet. In truth, no one of us mere mortals is omniscient, and there will always be some skill or concept area that even the most skilled expert has not yet developed an understanding for. But the more we make an effort to explain ourselves, the easier it becomes to understand the merits both of how we’ve figured out how do things and how others approach things, and the more confidence we gain in our abilities to help others grow as well.

To this end (sharing what I know, and gaining more confidence in my explaining/teaching skills), I’d like to share a few  posts in the coming days here on my blog exploring some of my own current writing process.

Look for a post on my approach to brainstorming characters early next week!

June Updates

Hi everyone!

It’s been a busy month for me, with lots going on.

On the personal side, my little sister, Annie, got married two days ago in the LDS Provo City Center Temple. I love her and her new husband, Neils, so much, and I’m very excited for them. My cousin, Kyle, also got married in the Payson Temple to his lovely wife Whitney exactly a month prior to my sister’s wedding, so there have been these exciting events happening in my family.

I’m also signed up for a class to help me prepare to retake the GRE so I can apply to grad schools for next fall. I’m looking at applying to anthropology programs with an evolutionary concentration in particular, and maybe looking at evolutionary psychology programs for the eventual Ph.D. rout that I’ve been hoping to journey.

Also got called in my LDS single’s ward to be the Relief Society Secretary. It’s intense, but it’s been an amazing experience so far.

On the writing side, I’ve finished up edits for my Windows Into Hell story, “The Armadillo’s Song.” That anthology is scheduled to come out in October this year. I’ve also been working on some preliminary edits for my Valcoria Anthology story under Jason King, and we’re hoping to go through Curiosity Quills Press for that as well. Still working on novels. I’ve been wanting to do more with orcs, and I have a great story in progress there that I’m currently focusing on.

I’ve signed up for Salt Lake Comic Con panels in September, and currently I’m still planning on attending Salt City Steamfest in August (though I may only go Saturday depending on how my schedule works out). Looking forward to seeing friends at these events, as well as fellow fans of writing and other awesome media!

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Sarah E. Seeley is a fantasy and horror author, and an affiliate member of the Horror Writers Association.