Updated: Jun 18, 2019
First, there isn’t one right way to write a book. Every author goes through a different process. Keep in mind, it might take you a little bit of time to figure out what works for you, like it did with me. I’m going to take you back to the basics in this first post by explaining my own process. Later on, I’ll go through my plotting process for “The Dragon Princess,” book one of The Forgotten Kingdom series.
Let me give you a little bit of a background on me. I have a Bachelor’s in Creative Writing, and yet I still didn’t feel like I’d learned what it truly meant to be an author. Sure, I learned how to write a 10,000 word short story. That doesn’t help when you’re plotting a novel or an entire series. I was totally a pantser (someone who gets an idea and flies by the seat of their pants) when I began my career. I learned that’s not such a great method for a series, especially when I wrote “Come One Come All,” the second book of The Sirkus av Magi series. (If this works for you, awesome! For me, it was a stepping-stone.) So here are 5 basic tips!
1. What do you want to write and why? Is this a good/bad idea?
If you want to write a vampire book because they’re hot, or a story about a magical boy in school because Harry Potter made it big, you need to really take a look at your idea and make sure it’s unique. Also make sure you read what you’re writing.
When I wrote “Step Right Up,” I wrote it because I had been attending a conference for three years and the next year would be the last. I wanted a book that matched the theme—“Step Write Up”—so it could be a precious moment. Guess what? That book is a hard sell. Some people love science fiction, some people love circus books, but a science fiction circus book? It’s a hard sell. When I’m at a conference, I can catch people by saying, “Circus spaceship,” and watch their faces contort into confusion. Then, I deliver my pitch.
A pitch is a short, 30 sec to one minute summary of your book (some authors refer to them as an "elevator pitch"). I usually say something like, "This is a story about a sixteen year old girl who sneaks off to see the circus and comes home to find her dad has been murdered. She chases the culprit back to the circus, but the ship leaves before she can get on. She has to steal a shuttle, stowaway on a ship, and find her way back to the circus to find out who killed her dad. When she makes it on board, there is a fire-breathing dragon, a handsome shapeshifter, and other mythical creatures and she's faced with a moral dilemma: get them off the ship, or avenge her father's death." I can intrigue people into buying it, but being completely transparent, I’m not making much money on that book or series.
2. What is the market like for your genre?
How well is this genre selling? Is it saturated? Read a few books in your genre. Are they close to your idea? Do you need to adjust a few things? Taking a look at what selling will really help you shape your book likewise.
It’s also important to take notes of any tropes, meaning popular themes for your genre. For example, in every Hallmark movie, you know the girl is going to overhear the guy say something and misinterpret what he’s saying. She’ll break off their relationship. He gets confused. She leaves. The truth gets out and she realizes she was wrong. They get back together. Kiss at the end. A trope for a fantasy book will be enchanted objects, a quest, curse, funny sidekick, etc. Tropes for science fiction will be a strong hero/heroine, action, saving a planet/ship/person, etc. (If you want more tips on marketing specifically, Casey L. Bond has some terrific experience and advice on her blog.)
3. Find your Point of View (POV)
You’ve researched the market, have an idea, and now you need to start writing. The next step is finding out what point of view you want to write in. That is: first person or third person, and singular or omniscient. (Warning: omniscient is extremely difficult to write, unless you’re J.R.R. Tolkien.) I’ve done both. I personally love third person for adventure books and first for romance books, and have explored writing both.
4. Begin your outline
Even though I was a pantser, I knew I had to learn to at least outline. You will need to do that as well because otherwise you waste a LOT of time wondering what scene you want to write. Trust me, I’ve been there. I found two very helpful books. Whether you pants your stories or plot them, I started with these two books:
"Write Your Novel..." https://www.amazon.com/Write-Your-Novel-Middle-Approach/dp/0910355118/
"5,000 Words Per Hour..."
Why did I find these helpful?
“Write Your Novel from the Middle” teaches you to find that crucial moment in the middle of the story, that moment that defines your character and turns the tide of the story. Once you’ve got that, you go back to the beginning and plot to the middle, or start from the middle and plot to the end, then go back. However you want to do it. Even if you’re a pantser, you should at least have an outline that tells you when you want certain events to occur.
“5,000 Words per Hour” is great because it teaches you how to set yourself up for success when you sit to write, such as removing temptations, writing in the same spot, having a clean working space, etc.
My outlines changed a lot over time. I invested in a whiteboard (because whiteboards are cool) and jotted things down. After reading “Write Your Novel from the Middle,” I evolved into this:
After that, I began plotting by chapter. Below is “Act One” of “Come One Come All.” Each character is represented in a different color, because I had to know what was going on with everyone in this book. There are a lot of players and so many different things going on.
I now use a big whiteboard broken into chapters, and a smaller whiteboard to keep important plot notes on (such as overarching series plot strings I need to keep track of).
Here is a worksheet for you to download that has a brainstorm, detailed outline, and then chapter breakdown tabs (you will need to download after opening): CLICK ME
5. Begin writing!
Utilize the skills you learned in “5,000 Words…” and start writing! I like to set my timer for 30 minutes, take a brief moment, and then set for another 30 min. I use yet another whiteboard to keep track of word count every day. This is really important to keep yourself motivated. And it’s okay to have days where you don’t get words in! My word count is really high because, obviously, this is a second job for me. Don’t feel bad if you only get a couple hundred in a day. At least you’re getting words!