Stephanie Kepke Talks About Her Writing Process
I’m a pantser. That’s the best way to sum up my writing process. I don’t plot. I just can’t, though Lord knows I’ve tried. In fact, I took a plotting workshop with the fabulous and prolific Cherry Adair – it was so incredibly informative. I took all the different colored Post-Its, markers in every hue of the rainbow and a giant poster board and plotted my little heart out. I went from start to finish, outlining an entire novel called, Out of Nowhere. I had layers and layers of neon Post-Its, all scribbled with different colored markers, detailing scenes, characters, motivations – you name it, it was on that poster board. Cherry was impressed.
I was amazed at how easily I came up with the intricate plot about a single mother of a son who’s battling obsessive compulsive disorder. She and her son witness a hit-and-run not long after her husband has committed suicide (the hit-and-run is mysterious, with the body disappearing by the time the police arrive and the husband’s suicide wasn’t quite what it seemed).
In the days following the workshop, the story was really shaping up to be a tense thriller that readers just might have gobbled up. And then… I stalled. Sixty pages or so in, I hit a brick wall. Weeks passed and still the document hovered around sixty pages. That was when I realized that having the entire plot in front of me squelched my creativity. The once flowing creative juices slowed down to barely a trickle. I realized that I needed my characters to evolve organically – I needed them to tell me where to go next. I couldn’t dictate the flow, without getting to know them first.
Letting my characters write themselves might seem crazy, but that’s often just what they do. A scene I added to Goddess of Suburbia during revisions ended up being not at all what I envisioned at first, but it was so much better than I could have planned. I expected the character to act a certain way, but as I was writing it, I realized she just wasn’t emotionally ready. It was too soon after her husband betrayed her for her to be so vulnerable. And that scene ended up packing much more of an emotional punch than I ever anticipated – it was just supposed to add a bit of heat. I can’t say any more, because it would give too much away.
I have to admit, although I prefer to let my characters lead me in their journey, I do need to know where that journey will end. I must know where the story is heading, so I often write the last scene right after I write the first scene and then I fill in the middle. In Goddess of Suburbia, I knew where Max was heading. I knew the lessons she would learn and with whom she’d find her happily ever after. How she got there just kind of worked itself out as my fingers flew over the keyboard night and day.
One of my favorite tricks to spark creativity during the writing process is creating a Pinterest soundtrack board for the book I’m working on. Music is always a huge inspiration to me and I’ve found that gathering songs that capture the journey my characters are on make it that much easier to get the ideas out of my head and onto the page. I have soundtracks for each of my books and short stories, and they are packed with the music that fits each story perfectly.
One thing I don’t use Pinterest for is to generate story ideas. I don’t browse boards looking for my next hero. The one time I decided to find photos to inspire my hero, he ended up looking completely different anyway. I can’t look for story ideas – they just come into my head, usually an idea is sparked by something I’ve seen or maybe even something that’s happened to me. The idea knocks around my head for a while. I take it and extrapolate it out into different scenarios – best, worst, craziest. Sometimes, one will stick and then it kind of hounds me until I write it. Sometimes, an idea will drive me to what feels like the brink of insanity, by pinging around my brain for weeks or even months, until I have no choice but to write it. Occasionally, I simply imagine an alternate reality to the life I’m living (in Goddess of Suburbia, I imagined what it would have been like if I had started dating my future husband / former bad boy musician in college, instead of at twenty-five years old and he was “the one who got away”).
Every once in a while it’s a character who sticks in my brain, rather than a full story idea – like Tessa, that single mom to the son with obsessive compulsive disorder. I didn’t end up finishing her story in Out of Nowhere, but she still needs to be written, simply because I haven’t forgotten her. I have another story for her and it’s perfect. I know exactly where she’s headed, but I trust my process enough to know that she’ll surely make some unplanned detours on her journey to happily ever after. I know there will be a happily ever after because even though I write women’s fiction and not romance, I always want my readers to close my books with a satisfied sigh. And that’s really the most important part of my writing process – making sure that every scene I write makes a reader feel something. For me, that means writing from the heart, rather than just writing what I think will sell, because if you write from the heart, your words will always touch your readers.
Suburbia meets scandal in this hopeful and honest portrayal of that moment in every woman’s life when it’s time to make a change, even if that means risking losing it all. Goddess of Suburbia by Stephanie Kepke is a must-read for women looking to reconnect with their passions, and live authentically.
When pillar of the community and PTA mom, Max, allowed her husband, Nick, to record a sex video of them on his cell phone, she thought of it as simply a way to keep Nick interested and entertained during his frequent business trips. But suddenly, Max is trending everywhere-her video lighting up the blogosphere and Twitter, thanks to the fact that she’s a genuine, imperfect woman. Now the paparazzi are chronicling her every move; her daughter wants to disown her; and her marriage has completely fallen apart. Just as things can’t get any more chaotic, Max’s college boyfriend, shows up two decades after he broke her heart. Now Max must learn to stop going through the motions of her life on auto-pilot and start living authentically, or risk forever being a suburban lemming running towards the cliff of old age.