Going Back to the Well


SupercriticalWhen I sat down to write a sequel to 47 ECHO, I thought, OK, this will be easy. You’ve got a good grip on the characters, a pretty decent idea of the world they inhabit. Go!

Turns out that enthusiastic “go!” was a little optimistic. I think I re-wrote SUPERCRITICAL’s first chapter eight times over the next month. Putting together a sequel was full of challenges I hadn’t expected, not the least of which was making sure I didn’t directly contradict something that happened in the preceding story. I’ve never been a writer who outlines, but I do scrawl down little notes on scrap bits of paper to help me remember ideas or plot points. Usually, this amounts to ten, maybe twelve bits of paper near the computer while I write.

This time around, I had closer to 50, and they were a mess. I managed to get somewhat organized (via an extremely low-tech “stack all of the bits of paper in chronological order” strategy) and get down to the work of actually writing the book, which is one of the most fun things I’ve ever done. I finished the book and sent it off to my awesome editor Rhonda Helms… and immediately realized that I’d probably done this book the hard way. My process wasn’t exactly broken, but it wasn’t efficient.

Improving the process was going to take a lot of work and time if I did it by trial and error, so of course I decided not to go that route. When I worked as a journalist, I learned that the quickest way to figure something out was to ask someone else; when I worked as a defense contractor, I learned that if there’s already a functional process in place for what you’re trying to do, you should probably use it. So, with those day-job lessons in mind, I started interviewing fellow writers. Specifically, I tracked down fellow Carina Press authors Shirin Dubbin, Susan Edwards, and Veronica Scott (links go to the aforementioned interviews, but do check out their books — great reads, all).


I asked each of these fabulous writers a bunch of questions — then, as subtly as a couch-jumping Tom Cruise, I dropped in a “tell me what your process is like” question. Their answers were as diverse and interesting as their books. I learned a lot from them and the other writers I talked to, and posted all the interviews on my blog to share the wisdom. Talking to each of these talented folks was a great help as I ramped up to do the next book. This time, I pinned my notes to a cork board (and learned how to process them much more efficiently).

Sure, these other authors helped me learn how to write a sequel (whether they realized it or not), but they taught me an even bigger lesson. Whatever your creative path, you don’t have to go it alone. Sometimes, all you have to do is ask questions. (It also helps when you have access to super-cool author buddies.)

So, a question for you folks: What resources do you find most helpful in your creative endeavors? And what’s been the best sequel story (books, films, etc.) that you’ve ever come across?

OK, that was two questions. I’ll make it up to you — I’ll pick a random comment on this post and give the commenter not only a copy of SUPERCRITICAL, but a copy of the first book, 47 ECHO, as well!

Shawn Kupfer spent his early days bouncing from one military town to another while devouring any science fiction he could get his hands on, so it was only a matter of time before he ended up writing a military sci-fi series. You can find Shawn at https://www.47echo.com, or catch him daily at his blog at https://47echo.wordpress.com. He currently lives in the sprawling Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex with his awesome wife and two insane dogs.

12 thoughts on “Going Back to the Well”

  1. B.K. Lusk says:

    When I paint, I find music to be my most helpful muse. I also enjoy meditating prior to work, to clear my head of life’s day to day minutiae and focus on what I’m about to begin. My favorite sequel was “A Clash of Kings” by George R. R. Martin and “Aliens” .

  2. Julie Rowe says:

    Shawn, like you I’ve experimented with different ways to write. I’ve done detailed outlines, which work only as long as I stick to the outline. Unfortunately my characters sometimes rebel and want to do something else. They still get to the same destination, but not by the road I thought I was using.

    I now use a less detailed outline along with working out the conflicts. If I don’t know what my characters want and why they can’t have it, I’ll get nowhere fast. For me the conflict is the one thing I have to know BEFORE I start writing.

    Some of my favorite resources are Stephen King’s book on writing, James Scott Bell’s books on Plot & Structure and Revision & Self-editing. I also love taking online workshops from different writers to discover new ways to come at my stories.

    Cheers, Julie Rowe

  3. Diane Dooley says:

    I find inspiration most helpful to my creative endeavors. I find it in books, in music, in poetry, in movies, but most of all – in real life.

    My favorite sequel was Speaker for the Dead by Orson Scott Card.

    No need to enter me in the giveaway. I’ve already read and enjoyed 47 Echo.

  4. Shawn says:

    B.K. — I’m also a big “music while working” person.

    Did you see Prometheus yet?

  5. Shawn says:

    Julie —

    Other writers are such a great resource, aren’t they? And the Stephen King “On Writing” book is pretty great.

  6. Shawn says:

    Diane —

    That initial spark is definitely something. And you’re right, it’s all around in everyday life.

  7. I’m a total books-about-writing junkie. Some of my favourites: “How to Write Bestselling Fiction” by Dean Koontz, “Writing the Breakout Novel” by Donald Maass, and “How to Write the Blockbuster Novel” by Al Zuckerman. J.R. Ward’s Black Dagger Brotherhood: Insider’s Guide has some fascinating craft notes in among all the other stuff.

  8. Shawn says:

    Nicole —

    I’ll have to look into the J.R. Ward book — looks like right about my speed. ;)

  9. Trace says:

    Music of the loud, angry variety helps me work. Outlining not so much, but I do keep notes in my cell phone when I think of them.

    Best sci fi sequel ever? Serenity is way up there.

  10. Shawn says:

    Trace —

    Agreed on Serenity. Still not happy about the fate Wash ended up with, though.

  11. Shawn says:

    Nicole, the series of coin flips have favored you! Get in touch with me at ShawnKupfer (at) 47echo(dot)com and I’ll email you your books! Thanks everyone for dropping by!

  12. Justine says:

    I’m a bit late in commenting, but I want to tell writers everywhere about Scrivener (http://literatureandlatte.com). I’m not affiliated with the company. I simply think Scrivener is amazing.

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