An Audience with an Author … Stephanie Keyes

Yesterday saw the launch of Stephanie Keyes’ debut fantasy novel, The Star Child and Stephanie is here today to give us an insight into how she works.

The Tools Behind The Star Child

Hello to all of you! Sue, just let me say that I am thrilled to be a guest on your blog today. Thank you so much for having me!

When I was writing The Star Child, I used a few tools that worked for me. I wanted to take the opportunity to talk about them a little bit today. Admittedly, there are other approaches out there that might be more efficient, but these worked for me the first time around and I wanted to share them. I am also including feedback on whether or not I’d keep that approach for my next book. Here is my top five:

  1. Brainstorming session. So what does that mean? Well, we all have different styles and approaches that we like to use. For me, it was very important to start getting my initial ideas on paper or verbalizing them to my husband immediately. Once I got the concept formed in my mind, then I was constantly able to consider different angles within the storyline, even when I wasn’t writing. I would repeatedly arrange for these little pow-wows, so I could bounce ideas off of others.  Keep it or pitch it? Talking through my ideas is a big part of who I am, so I would definitely keep this approach. There were also several ideas that wouldn’t have worked if I’d chosen them.
  2. Index cards, index cards, index cards. I read an article once that recommended this. I took index cards and wrote down what would later become the chapters, on individual cards. I also included a basic premise around what was supposed to happen in each chapter.  Keep it or pitch it? Pitch it. I tend to lose pieces of paper and I once lost the index cards for about two months. I’ll probably go with a software-based approach next time, like a Mind Mapping tool.
  3. Use a quality writing software. The Star Child was written entirely in Microsoft Word, which was frustrating most of the time. The challenge that I experienced was that I would forget where I’d left off. Plus, I was running a Linux operating system on my laptop and using Word through a Virtual Machine and it started to crash after the file got over a hundred pages or so. Later, I invested in Scrivener, so it was much easier for me to work in than Word. Keep it or pitch it? I will definitely work with Scrivener again. However, I’d take the time to do some training on it first. With The Star Child manuscript it messed up all of my indents and I had to redo them. Horrors!
  4. Text To Speech Software. A friend of mine recommended this and I loved it. There are tools built into Windows and Mac OS that allow you to have your manuscript read to you aloud. In Mac you can create an M4P of the reading and put it on your MP3 player, iPhone, etc., via iTunes. I created the M4P and then edited in free software called WAVPAD to break each chapter into individual M4Ps. Then I loaded them onto my iPhone and listened to them while I read the manuscript at the same time. Keep it or pitch it? Keep it! This helped me identify so many errors in the manuscript before it went to editor, Kit Domino. In the end it was a major time saver. Just listen to it when you are very awake – the voices are a little robotic.
  5. Invest in a good laptop or personal computer.  The Star Child was written on a Sony Vaio with a keyboard and touch pad that were not highly conducive to writing of any kind. So I saved up and bought a Macbook. Now being a bit of a gadget freak, I’ll admit to going a little overboard pricewise here. Macs are extremely well made, but expensive. You don’t necessarily need to spend a fortune to get a great computer. Regardless of what you choose, make sure and test out the keyboard first. The keys should be easy to reach and have a light touch, meaning you don’t need to work to press the buttons. Keep it or pitch it? I will definitely stay with my Mac for my next book – I just love it.

So those were just a few of the tools that I found most valuable when writing The Star Child.

What tools do you use when writing? Tell us about them using the Comments section below. If Stephanie picks your comment, you could win an Amazon gift card! Only comments posted on December 16th are eligible.

The Star Child is available on;

Amazon Kindle US


Barnes and Noble



About the author:

When Stephanie isn’t writing, she works full time as a Corporate Educator and Curriculum Designer. She holds a M.Ed. from Duquesne University and an undergraduate degree in Management information Systems from Robert Morris University. Stephanie is a clarinetist, saxophonist, and vocalist, and is always making music somewhere at sometime. She credits her loving husband of ten years and her two sons for the completion and publication of the Star Child.

Find out more about Stephanie at:

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8 thoughts on “An Audience with an Author … Stephanie Keyes

  1. What a great array of tools, thanks so much for sharing, Stephanie! I work in quite a similar way to you.
    One tool I use is a sort of flowchart/timeline type outline with coloured post-its. Once I’ve got a rough idea for the plot’s development, I take a big piece of paper (usually off the children’s roll of paper on their easel), draw a line and start ordering events. When I’m happy, I transfer that outline onto the next long piece of paper, but add ‘block arrows’ designating sections or significant events, with a catchy title each. And then–this is the big help for me–I write down key events for each section in bullet format on post-it notes, sticking them under the relevant block arrow (that’s why you need lots of space). I use a different colour poste it note for anecdotes or jokes or other things I’d like to slot in. And another colour again for questions or prompts. The beauty of this approach, for me, is that it’s flexible–I can move pieces around effortlessly–and highly visual. It allows me to pressure test the whole plot before I make any more detailed outlines: Does it flow? Are there any gaping holes? Is there a logical progression? How do the sub-plots tie together? When I’m happy with it all, I transfer the whole thing into Word, using block arrows and bulleted lists, and then I write the detailed concept, section by section, from there. And THEN I write.
    Hope your launch is going fantastically well! Best of luck from Nicky. XX

  2. It’s always interesting to get a real insight into how other writers work … it never fails to amaze me how different everyone is and what works for one, might not work for another. However, it’s also a learning curve and there are a few tips here that I will be taking away – ironically Kit had already talked about text to speech and I do need to consider that. So very useful and lovely to also see what Nicky had to say! I expect Sue has yet another perspective – you must throw in your tips Sue! Enjoyed this, Linn x

  3. Nicky,
    Wow that is a fabulous idea. I am absolutely going to try that for the sequel-all of those materials are here at the house! Have you tried mind mapping software before vs. word? You might really love that approach. It gives you a freedom similar to that of the paper. Thanks so much for sharing!

  4. Interesting collection of things you use to write. Brainstorming sessions are great. Sounds like you play “What if?” but take it to the next level.
    I don’t use index cards but found software (free even!) called StoryBook that works similarly to your card system. I found another program (free as well) called Read Please and you can copy and paste your text into it and it will read it back to you. It’s fun to hear your work being read back to you!
    It was great fun hosting you on my blog yesterday. Wishing you continued success with the rest of your launch tour.

  5. Love seeing how we all work.

    For me, I tend to start with my main character, write their name on the centre of a piece of paper and then mind map all sorts of things about them, personality, family, job, what they want etc and this often starts to cross over with other characters. I also include what they think of other characters. Ultimately, I have to know what each character wants; what their end goal is. Then I like to type it all up quite nicely After that I tend to jot down random scenes or situations they might be in, sometimes this is just a couple of lines, sometimes it can be quite involved and detailed. I carry on jotting away in my notebook until I feel I really know them. Once I’ve got this far I then start to sequence the scenes by writing them on index cards and then playing around with them. I got a really useful tip from author Sarah Duncan on one of her workshops – on each card I put which characters are involved, where it takes place, briefly what happens and the purpose of the scene so I can make sure every scene has a purpose and moves the story forward rather than just being there to add to the word count. I find it useful to be able to play around with the scenes and put them in different orders. Then I type up my plan with key scenes, this may run into a couple of pages.

    When I start writing my novel I have a pretty clear idea where it’s going. However, it’s not set in stone, it’s all very flexible and often scenes change or the characters begin to take over and things get said or happen that I hadn’t planned. So although I like to do quite a bit of planning and I do roughly stick to it, I am happy to take a different path to reach the same end result.

    I also like to have a working time-line. For my WIP I have written out a calendar for several months, starting in May and when key things happen I circle the date and write briefly what has happened. That way I have an overview of the time scale involved and can keep continuity. I also write down when major ‘real’ events happen, like a GP race or Glastonbury so if they are mentioned in the novel, then they are mentioned at the right time of year.

  6. Sue,
    For some reason I can’t hit reply, I can only add a new comment on the iPad. Anyway, these are great suggestions all. I particularly love the comment about integrating the calendar. That’s an excellent idea. I agree- I love hearing how everyone works!

  7. Thanks for sharing all these interesting ways to write. You seem to have sparked a great debate here Stephanie, as there are as many ways to do it as there are writers! The great thing is that there are no rules – but I must admit to wishing I was a little more organised with my own writing – as I don’t plan at all and story edit as I go. No matter how I try, I don’t seem to be able to change my ways!

    Good luck with The Star Child and with the rest of the tour!

    Janice xx

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