Skip to main content

How to Write Like Sandra Brown, RL Stine & David Morrell

Sandra Brown, R.L. Stine and David Morrell got together for a chat on the craft of writing. Here are their writing processes and where they get their ideas.

On Saturday, ThrillerFest ThrillerMasters Sandra Brown (Unspeakable), R.L. Stine (Goosebumps) and David Morrell (First Blood) got together for a chat on the craft hosted by Peter James. As James said, these are giants of the genre—and “each of them would make E.L. James turn 50 shades of green.”

thrillerfest-2012-day3

Here are their writing processes and where they get their ideas.

SANDRA BROWN

WRITING PROCESS

Brown started writing when her children were young, so she would take them to preschool and then write in the small timeframe when they were gone. That process informed the rest of her career.

“I think I’ve always kind of patterned my day after basic banker’s hours,” she said. “It’s generally 9-5 for that reason, because they were in school. Nowadays I go to an office, and I typically deal with correspondence and things like that for a couple of hours, and then I start writing.”

Brown also has ritual escapes.

“Several times a year I go completely away,” she said. While gone, she has no appointments, and she turns off her social life. “Those are my favorite times. That’s when I just totally immerse myself in the book. My favorite day is the day when I have maybe like 8 hours of nothing, except just make believe.”

WHERE SHE GETS HER IDEAS

“When I finish a book, I start looking around and thinking what I’ll write about next. I’m always totally convinced I’ll never have another idea. Sometimes it takes a while, and sometimes it comes very rapidly. Not all ideas want to be books.”

“In terms of where I get the ideas, sometimes I can tell you very specifically, ‘I read this in the newspaper,’ or, ‘I heard this in conversation’ or ‘I saw this on a television program’ … and then other times I have absolutely no idea.”

R.L. STINE

WRITING PROCESS

“Kids think you just sit down and start writing. I always tell them you never do that.” Instead, Stine plans and outlines extensively. “If you do enough planning before you start to write, there’s no way you can have writer’s block. I do a complete chapter by chapter outline.” Stine said his readers hate to hear that—“And I hate it, too. But I can’t work without it.” Once he has his outline, Stine can then sit at his desk and know how he’s going to get to The End. “I know it all. And the writing is just fun because I’ve done the hard part.” Stine works about six days a week, and generates 10 pages a day—typing with only one “magic finger.” “I used to do it faster, but that was before email and Twitter, which is a horrible distraction. And I’m too stupid to turn it off.”

WHERE HE GETS HIS IDEAS

Stine has one of the most unconventional processes out there—he gets his ideas from titles. For instance, he was once walking his dog, and he thought, “Little Shop of Hamsters.” That’s a great title.Coming up with a title sets him to pondering, and then he creates a fictional universe and plot around it. “It leads me to the story, and I do that all the time.”

For much, much more about Stine’s writing process, read our full profile of the bestseller here:
More & More & More Tales To Give You Goosebumps (Yeah, We’re Talking About R.L. Stine)

DAVID MORRELL

WRITING PROCESS

Morrell is an early riser—he frequently wakes at 5:30 or 6. He then checks Facebook and email, reads a newspaper, eats breakfast, and tries to be working at 8:30.

Morrell said he practices Stephen King’s philosophy of 5 or 6 pages a day, and he’ll just keep working until he has those readable pages. He also exercises “vigorously” in the middle of the day.

WHERE HE GETS HIS IDEAS

“If you chase the market, it’s not going to come to you. You have to have faith in yourself. I think one of the differences in what I call civilians and authors is that we have an antenna hat buzzing all the time.” Morrell said that when something sparks his interest, he analyzes why he’s interested in it. “I play with it a little bit.” He has a rule that if you’re going to begin writing a new book, there better be a good reason for spending a year of your life working on it. “It can’t be money. It has to be a fulfilling experience. If it’s true enough, the rest will follow.” To ensure it’s the right project for him, Morrell writes a letter to himself exploring his interest.

To read an exclusive dual interview with David Morrell and thriller great Ken Follett, visit:
David Morrell & Ken Follett Talk About Writing

10 Tips on Covering Events as a Freelance Journalist

10 Tips on Covering Events as a Freelance Journalist

From planning ahead to staying late, Alison Hill shares 10 tips for journalists while covering events as a freelancer.

From Script

Character Studies, Writing the Immigrant Experience, and Six Adaptation Steps Before You Adapt a Book (From Script)

In this week’s round up brought to us by Script magazine, navigate different character study approaches in your writing, and tracking emotional journeys.

Lora Senf: On Trusting Children With Middle Grade Fiction

Lora Senf: On Trusting Children With Middle Grade Fiction

Author Lora Senf discusses how one chilling text message led her to writing her new middle grade horror novel, The Clackity.

Katrina Leno: On Writing Around an Idea

Katrina Leno: On Writing Around an Idea

Critically acclaimed novelist Katrina Leno discusses the process of bringing her childhood memories to magical life in her new young adult novel, Sometime in Summer.

writer's digest wd presents

WD Presents: A New Podcast Episode, "Your Story" Prompt, and More!

This week, we're excited to announce our latest episode of "Writer's Digest Presents," the new "Your Story" prompt, and more!

Writer's Digest Best Live Streams, Podcasts, and YouTube Channels 2022

Writer's Digest Best Live Streams, Podcasts, and YouTube Channels 2022

Here are the top live streams, podcasts, and YouTube channels as identified in the 24th Annual 101 Best Websites from the May/June 2022 issue of Writer's Digest.

What Is Fan Fiction in Writing?

What Is Fan Fiction in Writing?

You might have heard the term, especially if you’re in online fandoms, but what exactly is fan fiction? Managing Editor Moriah Richard explains.

5 Ways To Use Short Stories To Grow as a Writer

5 Ways To Use Short Stories To Grow as a Writer

Short story writing can be a gateway to writing your novel—but they’re also fun and worthy stories in their own right. Here, author Dallas Woodburn shares 5 ways to use short stories to grow as a writer.

Writing Mistakes Writers Make: Not Having an Online Presence

Writing Mistakes Writers Make: Not Having an Online Presence

The Writer's Digest team has witnessed many writing mistakes over the years, so we started this series to help identify them for other writers (along with correction strategies). This week's writing mistake is not having an online presence.