Thursday, July 10, 2014

How Authors Write- Sara-Jayne Townsend

Today I'm welcoming fellow MuseItUp author Sara-Jayne Townsend to the blog to share a bit about her writing process. Welcome, Sara-Jayne!

Please tell us a bit about what you write.I write crime and horror. Normally someone dies a horrible death. [LOL! I love this description.]

Do you use 1st person, 3rd person, multiple POVs?
It depends on what the story is calling for. My amateur sleuth series is a single 1st person POV from my main character, because I want people to be able to follow the character as she solves the mystery. If I decide I need more than one viewpoint character in a novel, I will write it in third person. My horror novels are written this way, since generally I want the reader to have more information than is available to each character. [I've found that my stories tend to dictate the POV as well. These sound like excellent choices for your work.]

How do you get started with a book-is it an idea, a character, vary from story to story?
It varies from story to story. Most stories start with a ‘what if?’ idea. What if this were to happen? Then I need to decide who it will happen to, and how, and what will happen next. 

Though for DEATH SCENE, since it was the first book in a series about an amateur sleuth, I had a different approach. I wanted to write a series about an amateur sleuth, so I started with the character and then had to think about what kind of mysteries she should solve. I have other books in the series planned, but many of them are no more than a premise. For instance, I know I’d like to take Shara to New York, and reunite her with Madison, the backing singer she meets in the second book DEAD COOL. And I’ve got an idea of why she’ll be in New York. But as for the mystery she’ll solve when she’s there? That I’ve still got to come up with. [Don't you love it when your muse teases you that way?]

Do you draft quickly, or are you more detailed in your draft? I’ve done an outline by the time I start writing the first draft so yes, I suppose I do. And my first drafts are generally quite short – usually no more than 60,000 words and often less. I can usually get the first draft done in less than 12 months, if I am disciplined about my writing sessions. [Wow! My first drafts tend to be about 30-40,000 words, and I end up adding in a lot of detail to hit the 60-70,000 word mark I end up at.]

Do you do research before your first draft, during?
Both. I’ll do the research I think I need to do to be able to begin writing before I start. But generally I’ll be halfway through a chapter and I’ll suddenly realise I need to know some small thing that’s crucial to the plot. The Internet is really good for this, because I can do the research without having to leave the computer. [I don't know what I'd do without the internet. And heaven help anyone who has to look through my searches!]

Do you outline? How?
Yes. I’ve learned the hard way that I have to plot meticulously – I have too many half-finished manuscripts that were abandoned because I didn’t know what happened next.

Now I will work out a three-page plot outline, and from there I break that down into a chapter-by-chapter summary. Only then do I start writing the first draft. Actually writing the story may take me off in slightly different directions sometimes, or things happen that aren’t in the outline, but with my outline it means that every time I sit down to write, I know what’s going to happen next. [I wish I could learn how to do this. The closest I've come is a novel I'm working on where I titled the chapters so I knew what happened in each one. It wrote pretty quick because of that.]

Do you name everything up front when you are drafting or do you leave comments for yourself to go back and fill in later so you don't lose the flow of what you are working on?
I leave comments for myself. For me, the most important thing is to get to the end of the first draft. Everything else can be fixed in rewrites. So I’ll leave notes for myself in the outline: NOT HAPPY WITH THIS CHAPTER. LOOK AT AGAIN. Or if I’m really stuck I’ll do a page break and skip to the end of a chapter, writing at the end something like, “HERE SHE HAS TO FIND THE VITAL CLUE THAT WILL IDENTIFY THE MURDERER. FIGURE OUT WHAT IT IS’. I always hope that by the time I come around to that section again on the second draft, the answer will have presented itself. And generally it does. [Notes are a great idea. And yes, everything can be fixed in edits.]

Do you work with CP's or Beta's? How soon into your draft do you let them see your work?
I belong to a writing group, and for a full novel beta reading I will generally ask them for volunteers to read the manuscript through. I don’t let anyone read it until at least the second draft – sometimes beyond. I would rather get beta readers at a stage when I think I’ve addressed the major plot holes but I know the manuscript still needs work, since they are likely to tear it to pieces and I will need to do a lot of re-writing. [Those second eyes can make all the difference, can't they?]

What books/websites have you found most helpful to helping you write your best? is an extremely helpful website. The forums are populated by writers of every kind, from all over the world, from beginners to pros. It’s a very supportive community and it’s full of helpful advice. [Great resource!]

What do you know now that you wish you knew when you started writing?
Writers on the whole do not become rich and famous, and most of them still need the day job or another source of income. I spent a lot of time when I was young dreaming about the day I could quit the day job and write full time. I’m 44 and I earn nowhere near enough money from the writing for that to be a reality. It might never be a reality. But instead of sitting around dreaming about it I’ve had to become more disciplined, to fit the writing in around the day job. It’s hardly a glamorous life, but this is the way it has to be. [As a writer with a full time job and family, I totally understand and agree with this.]

What do you have out now, or coming out?
The first two books in my mystery series about amateur sleuth and contemporary actress Shara Summers are releasing from MuseItUp this year. The first book, DEATH SCENE, will be out in a few weeks, with the second, DEAD COOL, following in Autumn.

Here is the blurb for DEATH SCENE:

Poking around in family closets produces skeletons…

British-born, Toronto-based, actress Shara Summers turns amateur sleuth when her sister is stricken with a mysterious illness. Summoned back to England to be with her family during a time of crisis, Shara discovers doctors are at a loss as to what's causing Astrid’s debilitating sickness.

After her aunt is found dead at the bottom of the stairs the death is deemed an accident. Shara suspects otherwise. Her investigation unearths shocking family secrets and a chilling realization that could have far-reaching and tragic consequences that affect not only her own future, but Astrid’s as well.

DEATH SCENE is coming very soon from MuseItUp Publishing

This sounds like a great read! Thanks for dropping by, and best of luck with this new series, Sara-Jayne.


  1. Replies
    1. You are so welcome! I really enjoyed learning about your process, and am taking a go at your way for outlining on my current WIP.

  2. If anyone had a look through my web searches lately, I'm fairly certain I'd be on every watch list ever, Mary! :) Great interview you two--best of luck to Sara-Jayne!

    1. LOL!

      My searches are real eclectic, and I'm sure I made a few watch lists. But hey, it's all in the name of research, so no harm.


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