I’m going to start by saying, good on you! You want to write a book, and that is an amazing challenge to set yourself. In my opinion, writing is one of the most rewarding occupations out there, and I personally take so much satisfaction from it. But there are a few things I’ve learnt since I started writing my first book back in 2011.
When it comes to writing a book, there seems to be two main types of writers: pantsers and plotters. I used to be a pantser, and now I plot, because I learnt the hard way that for me, preparation is the key to writing better and faster. Some writers are in between the extremes of pantsing and plotting, and that’s great. Some even have the ability to plot everything out in their head and not have to write it down, and that’s also amazing. It all comes down to what works for you and your writing process.
Today I’m going to give you the basics on how to approach writing a book, because let’s face it; it can be a very daunting task. I’ll just add here before I get into it though, that this post will not be for everyone. The process I use for my writing will not necessarily work for you, but I hope it does, and I hope it helps you in some way. If you’re a plotter, read on to find out how I like to outline my stories. If you’re a pantser, you can stop here if you like, but if you stick around maybe you’ll find something you can use.
For a step-by-step guide on how to develop your story idea, make sure you check out A Novel Idea! Colouring Journal for Writers. I wrote this journal to help writers who find the prospect of writing a book daunting and stressful. This journal will help you work through your story idea from the initial light bulb moment, to all the details about your characters, to visions for the world you want to create.
The biggest piece of advice I have for new writers (or anyone who wants to listen) is be prepared, because I wasn’t, and it cost me a lot of time and effort, and unnecessary tears. My first book, Fall For Me, took me a year to write half of it, and another six months to finish after starting from scratch. Then a further six months before I published it. The second book in the series took me another two years from starting to publishing. I pantsed it through those two books. After writing around 30 thousand words and ditching them, the last book in the series I plotted, and I wrote it in four months.
Okay, so the first thing I do is I tell myself to forget about the fact that I need to write around 70 thousand words to make a book. This is just a ball park figure. Some books are shorter, and many are longer, but I write for the YA market, so 70 is a good target number. But Like I said, forget it. You don’t want that big, scary number holding you back.
Next, you need an idea. For anyone with a vivid imagination, these are not hard to come by, and we can find inspiration anywhere. But how do we shape and expand an idea into something that we can turn into a novel? This is where we start small, and work until we can see the bigger picture clearly.
Start by writing down the basics of your idea. It doesn’t have to be fully formed, but you need to get onto paper what your idea is so you can free you mind to think about all the other things you’re going to need to know to write your story. It could be as simple as one or two lines, or maybe you’ve been thinking about it for a while and you write a page.
Once you’ve done that, focus on working out the three most important aspects of your story. Take three sheets of paper, or use a notebook (you should have a notebook!) then write about the goal, the motivation, and the conflict of your story.
From here, you should try and briefly outline all the important parts of the story. Story structure usually goes something like this:
- First major plot point
- Second major plot point or midpoint
- Third major plot point
If you know what the main obstacles of your story are, then filling in the gaps becomes a lot easier.
Once I’ve worked out the basics, something I like to ask myself when I have a new story idea is why is it exciting? If your story doesn’t excite you, then it won’t excite your readers. You need to pinpoint what it is about your story that will get people excited about it. This could be anything from the romance, to a rebellion, to who murdered someone.
By now you should have a pretty good idea about what your story is about, what the main plot points will be, and how it begins and ends. For me, the climax and the ending are very important, because that is what the story is working for and towards.
The next step is to cast the characters of your story. Sometimes my ideas start with a main character, and their conflict and story grow from there. Before I sit down to start writing my story, I like to know who I’m writing about. Of course I don’t know everything, because writing a character is sometimes like meeting them and getting to know them. There are a lot of things about them that I discover along the way. But I always work out the basics of their character profile. Usually a story will have the following characters:
- Secondary characters affiliated with the protagonist
- Secondary characters affiliated with the antagonist
Don’t forget that characters don’t always have to be people. You can download a printable character profile sheet to help with the development of your characters.
So now you know who the main character in your story is, and what their goal, motivation, and conflict are, you can build the world in which they will navigate and interact with other characters. World building is important for any story, but it doesn’t have to be complicated. The type of world your story exists in will depend on what your story is about, and there are many factors to consider. Not all of these will apply to every story, but they are a good starting point, and you should try to work out as many details as possible to understand how your story world will work.
- Time or era
- Landscape and architecture
- Reality or fantasy
- Magic system
- Social hierarchy
By this point you should have the three main areas covered. Your story idea, the characters within your story, and the world they will inhabit. All that’s left is to sit down and write! Now is when I like to make a short paragraph outline of each chapter in my story. Sometimes I can’t outline all of them, but I outline as many as I can, as well as the most important scenes to do with the major plot points, climax, and the resolution.
My last piece of advice is nothing is set in stone. I often find that while I’m writing, my characters do something I hadn’t planned, or something I had planned doesn’t fit with their character development. When this happens, it’s okay to re-evaluate your story outline. As we write we get new ideas, and we see things differently. Our stories evolve, and that’s perfectly okay. It’s all part of the creative process.
What do the Queens have to say?
I asked the Story Queens how they approach writing their books. Here’s what they had to say:
Heather: I’m a hard core planner. My outlines generally start with my main character arc, the beginning and end events, and then I go through and add details as I research and flesh out the story.
Laura: I’m not really a plotter, but I normally start a story with an idea of the main story arc, the blurb, tagline and general theme of the book.
Rebecca: I am a true pantser. I plan nothing. I attempted an outline once, it didn’t go well. That being said, I end up outlining after the first draft to ensure I have a cohesive story.
Serene: I accidentally discovered that I’m a pantser not a plotter 🙂 With my first novel, I thought that I would plot it out before starting, but I ran out of time and just had to dive in, and found that through writing it, I discovered the story. Now, having written most of novel four and half of novel five, I accept that I write best by just diving in and figuring it out as I go along. I think the secret with that is to write every day though – because I’m constantly thinking about it, I guess I’m plotting it in my head, working out storylines, weaving it all together. If I only wrote one day a week for instance, I think I would struggle. I very much admire those who plot the whole story out though! Guess I’m just a little impatient too 🙂 xx
Selina: I plot all the way to individual scene level, normally using something similar to the snowflake method and generally following a standard hero journey three act structure.
Lauren: I do outline my stories, but that outline changes as I write. I’ll often refer back to it and change it, but it’s a good spine to keep my manuscript straight.
Don’t forget to check out A Novel Idea! if you’d like a guide to outlining your story idea. If you want some more advice on how to write a book, make sure you check out Serene’s post HERE. If you’ve already completed a book and you want some advice on publishing, check out Laura’s post HERE.
Happy writing x