With Bell Mountain I began to write fiction in a way I’d never done before. But first I’d like to tell you about the way I used to write–a way which, after all, helped me to get four horror novels published.
I always started with a very general idea for a story. My first published novel, Lifeblood, began with the idea of a vampire coming to a suburban township in New Jersey. At the time, I was covering such townships as a newspaper reporter–and oh, boy, did I know a lot about them! “Write what you know,” and all that…
Once I had the basic idea, I started inventing characters to populate my story. I filled whole notebooks with the biographies of fictitious people, along with all sorts of information about their town. Since I was patterning their town (scandals and all) after a real place, that wasn’t very hard.
After some months of doing this, I’d get to work on the plot, starting with vague notes and working my way up to a chronology and chapter summaries. My books usually required me to manage at least half-a-dozen subplots, each centered on a different character or group of characters. For this I made up sets of color-coded index cards–purple for the old man spying on his neighbors with binoculars, blue for the police, red for the stupid kid who thinks it’d be cool to be a vampire, and so on. I spent many hours pushing these cards around until I was sure I had them in the best possible arrangement.
Only then was I ready to start writing the book. These preparations took six to eight months; but when I was finished with them, I knew my story inside-out.
I don’t write that way anymore. Now I flop open my legal pad, say a prayer, pick up my pen, and get to work.
I’ve written four “Bell Mountain novels” so far, and I’m amazed by how they’ve turned out. Part of this must be due to my having been writing fiction non-stop for 50 years. But I believe a much greater part is due to God having answered my prayers and given me these stories.
I have no idea where they’re going, when I start them. I don’t know what new characters are going to rise up and play key roles. I start with a dream, or an image, or a turn of phrase. I ask God for the story, and I write it down as I receive it–sometimes in big pieces all at once, as if I were seeing it on a movie screen, sometimes in much smaller pieces. And eventually I have all the pieces, and the book is finished.
I don’t know how many books I’ll be given to write. But it’s been an awful lot of fun, this way, and I hope the Lord will keep it going for a while.