Before Writing the First Word

In October 2017, I first started the MASQUE OF HONOR project (in the world of publishing, I’ve learned that the writing of a book is called ‘a project’). 

In those first months, I focused my efforts on research spending countless hours at the Library of Virginia in Richmond, at Thomas Balch Library in Leesburg, on and on the Internet finding everything I could about General Armistead Mason, his second cousin and brother-in-law, John Mason McCarty, and the first families of Virginia – the Masons, McCartys, Lees, Mercers, Dulaneys, Randolphs, etc. (More on THAT process in a future Monday blog post.) 

Character development is the most important part of my writing. I need as much information as I can find on my characters’ lives before I know how to spin the plot and from what point of view to write. 

On MASQUE, I was fortunate to have a plethora of published exchanges between my protagonists. I looked to not only their writings, but the writing of their parents, siblings, friends, colleagues, and enemies. 

I examined their birth order and their age when a parent, sibling, spouse or child died. I looked at court records for marriages, lawsuits, civil and criminal proceedings, chancery cases, etc. 

I looked at advertisements and announcements in the newspapers. I research militia records, Military service and pension records, the congressional record, land records, historical records, etc. 

I even consulted a psychologist to assist in behavior analysis and ‘diagnosing’ them. 

From this research, I developed the emotional profile of my characters. 

At this point in my research, I had a good sense of the plot and how my characters would evolve or devolve over the course of the story. 

I created a timeline using white boards and sticky notes – my conference room at my office in Leesburg looked like something from an episode of Criminal Minds! 

It’s tricky to get the timeline to fit my characters’ journeys exactly, so I had to do some tweaking (my apologies in advance to the historians out there.) This is where my 80/20 Rule comes into play – after all it is fiction! 

From this, finally I could create an outline (which I only followed about half the time!) 

It would be four months before I wrote my first word.