Before the First Word: The Power of Discovery

By Lisa Carter

So you’ve got this idea for a story . . . What do you do now? Do you sit down and pound out something? Then, encounter bewilderment five chapters later?

Here I am “playing” while working.

There are 3 stages in novel writing—pre-writing, writing, and re-writing. But the writing will stutter-step to a halt if first you don’t allow yourself time to discover what the story is really about.

Pre-writing is about uncovering—discovering—the story you’ve been inspired to tell. When you take what you’ve unearthed so far, throw it into the cooker of your creativity, and let it simmer on the stove of your imagination.

I’m giving you permission to play.

Play? I’m supposed to be working.

Discovery on the front end of writing will pay huge dividends on the back end. Let the story cook in your mind before you touch the keyboard or risk detours that lead nowhere because you didn’t really know what your story was about much less where the story was going.

When the writing stops being fun, your creativity suffers. Allow yourself to re-discover what made writing fun in the first place. Release the inner child that once couldn’t record ideas fast enough—ideas that sprang unbidden (or did they?).

Fundamental to a child’s development, play is their job. Play, with discovery’s unfolding promise, is essential to your story’s development, too.

Ideas emerge from that wellspring inside you—placed there by God who hardwired you to be a writer. Fill the tank till it overflows. The overflow becomes your inspiration. Don’t kid yourself—this is work, too. But important, fun work.

To recapture the fun in the discovery “work” of pre-writing:


It’s essential to the creative process—not an indulgence, but a necessity for writers. To fill the tank, read at least one book a week. Carry a book/e-reader with you wherever you go. Reading can guide your story’s direction. Not plagiarism, but as “iron sharpens iron” so another writer’s creativity can fuel your own creativity.

Let the subconscious to take over

If you “discover” in the shower, be prepared for higher water bills

Perform rote skills—like cleaning or exercising. With your body engaged in muscle-memory, your mind is free for subconscious thoughts to flow. You’ll have the cleanest house on your block—savor it for the second and third stages when you may have the worst kept house. Olivia’s story from Beneath a Navajo Moon came to me in a dream. My best ideas come in the shower. My husband jokes you can chart my discovery process according to our water bill.

Create a visual montage of characters/places

This will aid you in deepening characterization, generating plot outcome, and in marketing your novel. I “audition” actors/models using Pinterest boards for each novel.

Beneath a Navajo Moon

Using Scrivener’s organizational features, I collect photos to capture the moods of my characters—happy, sad, angry, funny. Because my settings become characters, I also gather pictures of regional lifestyles. This pays off in scene development.

Watch TV and movies

Wait. Did I really just say that? Yes, I did. This fun activity actually primes story development. The setting provides a visual framework for my characters. Want to guess how many episodes of Hawaii Five-0 I watched while discovering Aloha Rose? How about Navajo Cops in formulating Beneath A Navajo Moon?

Engage all five senses

Aloha Rose

When all the senses are incorporated, your characters become three-dimensional, jump-off-the-page real. Create a theme playlist for your novel that encapsulates the essence of your characters. Brudda Iz’ “Over the Rainbow” for Aloha Rose became merged with my story. So that if at any point in the writing process I lost the story trail, just listening to this song brought me back onto the right path. As an added bonus, listening to the soundtrack as a routine before putting fingers to the keyboard serves as a Pavlovian trigger—transforming the terror of a blank screen into a joy of discovery.

If by Chapter 12, you find yourself stymied? Don’t panic—the story hasn’t finished cooking yet. Revisit the discovery techniques that work for you, and access the inner child to guide you around the next bend. You must give the story the time it—not you—needs.

Discovery fun first = Happy writing

Lisa Carter is the author of two romantic suspense novels, Carolina Reckoning and Beneath A Navajo Moon; and Aloha Rose, a contemporary romance in the Quilts of Love series. Under a Turquoise Sky releases August 2014.

She and her husband have two daughters and make their home in North Carolina. When she isn’t writing, Lisa enjoys traveling to romantic locales, quilting, and researching her next exotic adventure. She has strong opinions on barbecue and ACC basketball. Connect with Lisa on Facebook, Twitter, or Pinterest. Check out her books at

Deflecting the Christian Fiction Police

As a Christian, as a person, and as an author, I’m not responsible for your walk with Christ. As far it’s possible for me to do, I am to keep peace with others. If that indicates I must compromise my knowledge of the Lord and the coinciding belief system which results in my actions, then peace is not attainable. True peace comes from the Prince of Peace and even He could not establish a physical peace with those Pharisees and unbelievers who crucified Him. I must also be aware of those who surround me, being cognizant of what they can handle hearing, seeing, and discussing.

While these biblical principles guide our Christian lifestyles, they do not logically apply to fiction writing. No one demands a reader indulge himself in a novel of any sort. This simple factor absolves authors of damaging another Christian’s walk with God. Christians are responsible for what they read, view, discuss, or teach, and the standard with which they conduct their walk is the one on which they will be judged as to how it stacks up with the Word.

We all know other Christians who don’t quite walk their talk, who don’t quite measure up to our standards of how we think Christians should act, speak, or lead their lives. Let’s be honest here: sometimes certain people who claim the title of Christian do not live up to that holy reference, and we’re embarrassed when they make those claims because it reflects negatively on us.

Readers need to take responsibility for their choices. If offensive language, circumstances, individuals, or scenes cause you to react in shock or distaste, put the book down. Burn it if you like. But understand this: what you might deem shocking or distasteful doesn’t even register on another believer’s moral meter. The reason for this is because some readers prefer stories which tackle reality with clear vision, and we all must admit reality can be harsh, vivid, shocking, and lovely.

Dark and light can be acceptable in the same story. What is dark to some is light grey to another. These preferences do not indicate strong or weak walks with our Lord Jesus Christ. They prove that authors have taken different journeys in their lifetimes, experienced the wicked and the sublime, and, for the sake of themselves and others, have been directed to portray the unlovely with the lovely.

If you’re a fan of pristine stories and want your novels “clean and chaste”, God has given you a cadre of authors to fulfill your desires. You have no need to investigate those stories which you feel might somehow threaten your relationship with Christ. Nor do you have any need to “protect” other readers from making their responsible choices. And, while you’re of course entitled to your opinion of a novel, for you to make a public display of your judgment after having decided to complete a novel that offended you, well . . . why did you elect to finish it? To castigate your fellow believer?

Authors answer to God. Both believers and unbelievers will answer to Him. Not to you. The Christian Fiction Police stand guard at the publishers’ doors. They’re called editors subject to each house’s list of restrictive measures for Christian fiction, some far more demanding than others.

Each Christian reader selects the fiction he most wants to read, hoping to find a story that entertains or ministers to his particular expectations from a story. That reader takes personal inventory to validate his spiritual well-being. It seems difficult for some Christians to allow others to be their own judges, to seek the Holy Spirit’s counsel without interference from self-appointed fiction police. Authors do not need to seek permission to write what God has put upon their hearts to create. And readers should not be issuing “tickets” for stories that don’t fit into personal demands for “appropriate” Christian fiction.

Nicole Petrino-Salter writes love stories with a passion. Visit her at