How I Write

Keith Richards, the mumbling singer/songwriter/guitarist with the Rolling Stones, who along with Mick Jagger, has written some of the most memorable music in rock and roll history, once said he begins with a “riff” – or refrain – and builds his songs around a simple riff. Anyone who has ever heard “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction”, no doubt understands what he means.

That’s how I write.

I never approach the computer intending to write a novel. I have a “riff,” or slip of a story in mind, and I spill that onto the page. In the case of Evil Town, for years I had this image in my mind of a congressman coming home to find his wife dead. Murdered. I don’t know why this haunted me, or where it came from, other than I had worked on Capitol Hill among 535 members of congress. It must have just occurred to me one day that all hell would break loose if the wife of one of the members was killed. There was no other reason for this bud of a story to be itching to be told.

After I had about three or four pages of the story, I went to motive for the murder because that was the most logical path to follow. From there, the characters took shape and the story – to be really trite – “told itself.”

From the story as a riff, I go to the novel as “method writing.” From what little I know of acting, I’m given to understand that method actors create their portrayals by getting inside the head of their characters.

Once there is a rhyme and reason for the story, I use the way the actions play on my characters to take me from one page to the next. I essentially get into each character’s head and create the events of the story by following their reactions. Method writing.

I close myself in a dark room, away from any stimulation, and channel the various characters in my novel. My wife tells me that I “zone out” and stay that way for hours after I’ve shut down for the day and emerge from my cage.

And there you have it. How this writer gets from the first to the last word in a novel. Start with a riff, go into “zone out” mode and let it flow.

-JDB

John David Bethel

J. David Bethel is the author of Blood Moon, a psychological thriller inspired by a true life crime of kidnapping, torture, extortion and murder, and Evil Town, a political thriller set in Washington, D.C.