There are two typical ways of starting to writing a book.
The classic way that people envision–and the way I actually started–writing books is you sit down at a desk with a laptop (or a typewriter, since I started in the Stone Age), and just start typing. The words flow from your psyche and you get inspiration from somewhere Out There. You rack your brain for weeks or months or years and when you’re done, you type The End and pull the last sheet of paper out, stick it all in an envelope and mail it to a publisher. Voila! You’re a writer!
Hah! If only it were like that. The reality for me is that I start thinking about a book a long time before I actually write anything, well anything that could be considered a book. I start out with a premise, an idea, just a thought. What if? What if a gifted teenage girl is overshadowed by her older sister and decides to go off to college far away despite her parents wishes? What if she meets some dangerous people when she gets there who also help her realize who she really is and what God may have in store for her? That’s just an idea. Now you have to add some logistics, some characters and some conflict.
- Characters. Who is going to be in this story? Who is going to be your protagonist, your antagonist, and most importantly, who is going to tell your story? You don’t have to have the hero tell the story, AND you don’t always have to have the story told by the same person. But I am a stickler that you don’t switch point of view (who’s telling the story) in the middle of a scene. So think about this one. Also consider whether you’re telling it first or third person. There are advantages to first person telling, but also distinct disadvantages. We’ll talk about that another time.
- Conflict. You can’t have a true story without conflict. If I tell a story about me walking down to the corner to buy some milk that includes me walking down to the corner, buying milk, then walking back, that will basically just result in a few yawns. But if I put a rabid Rottweiler on the sidewalk between me and the grocery store, that makes things a little more interesting. Conflict is necessary for all stories, and you have to be strategic in how you use it.
- Logistics. Aha. You have characters with individual hopes and dreams. You have obstacles in their way. You have goals. Logistics is a matter of figuring out how you are going to get there. Here are some pointers on what to consider when you are figuring out your roadmap to your final chapter.
Be consistent. This is one of the rules I tell my students for writing as well as editing: if you’re going to make mistakes, at least be consistent. Consistency tells the reader that you intended to do what you did. In addition, consistency establishes the rules for your character and the world in which he/she lives. If flying is allowed in their world, great. But if he/she can’t fly in chapter one, don’t add it as an escape in chapter ten.
Be realistic. Plausibility is the issue here. How much is believable? Not everyone is a superhero, and the more human you make your character, the more likeable and identifiable he/she is going to be. Batman is more popular than Superman simply because he struggles with so many issues and doesn’t have super powers (and he can’t fly). Make your characters human, and you will make them more appealing.
Help your character grow. I really enjoy seeing characters develop through the arc of a story. My characters are typically heroes that start out with a lot of self doubt and are people who can’t seem to find out who they are and can’t seem to do things right. That gives them lots of room to grow, and helps you and the reader grow with them. This is mainly the protagonist that I’m talking about, but doesn’t have to just be that one character. It’s fun to see other characters grow and change, including secondary characters and even the villain.
Well, this blog went in a totally different direction that I had intended, but I think I was able to share some important information anyway. It’s been a while since I’ve shared basic writing advice, and I’ll try to do more of that in days to come. If you have some topics you’re interested in and want to talk about, drop me a line, and we can talk about it here.