A lot of aspiring writers often ask, “How do I get
from point A to point B?” In other words…story idea to finished product.
There are so many steps involved in the writing,
editing and publishing process, of course. But for today, I just want to
address how a writer at any stage of his or her career (yes, even seasoned
writers end up with writer’s block) can get from the initial stage of a book –
idea – to a completed manuscript. Or, at least well on his way to finishing a
Let’s say you have a story idea.
For example, Character A is wrongly accused of a
crime. He or she is hiding from the police while they work to prove their
innocence. (Don’t try this at home, kids!) Character B is a good option to
assist with the situation due to their job or background; however, Character A
doesn’t know if Character B can be trusted with the truth. What should they do
next? Go it on their own, or enlist the help of Character B on their journey,
while they attempt to solve the mystery of who actually committed the crime?
Keep in mind, this is not my story idea at all. I
just came up with it off the top of my head, and I don’t plan to write it. You
can start with whatever idea you have here.
In any case, let’s assume you want to figure out what
to do next after the first seeds of a book start to grow. Whether you plan to
write in any genre of fiction, or nonfiction, you will still need to know how
to approach the process.
Maybe you’re not even as far as an idea. Or, perhaps
you’ve created your character, but have no idea where to place him or her in
the scheme of things.
Think of yourself as the puppeteer for a moment. You
are in control here, in the metaphorical driver’s seat. At least for now – until
the character truly grabs ahold of you and steers you in a different direction
entirely – you hold the reins. It feels good, yet a bit scary. right? Knowing
you are the director of this figurative play or movie can be invigorating. But
for some, it can feel daunting.
This is sometimes when people get writer’s block,
and they start reaching out to published writers with the age old question,
“You make it look so easy! How do I write
The key is to always divide every project into
stages. For a writer, looking at the bigger picture too early is enough to make
us run screaming from the monster coming after us. Yet, separating your book
into more manageable parts can help, and keep you from giving up.
If you have an initial story idea, or even if you
don’t, it’s never a bad option to start brainstorming. Take notes. Describe
your character as you know them right now.
If you don’t know yet, that’s okay. When you’re just
totally lost, then start with a random word, even a noun, and then do some word
association exercises. It should look something like this chaos.
Hmm…well, actually, it’s not too bad.
there’s always potential in any writing exercise. That’s why writing
prompts can really start our proverbial writing engines. The
linked list can even work for poets!
Let’s pick out some random words from your former collage,
and make a short list.
Maybe it reads as ‘man + elephant + woman + danger +
jewelry’. Whoa…sounds like the makings for a decent romantic
adventure tale! ;)
Do some more brainstorming. Try freewriting.Any writing prompt, or brainstorming session
has the potential to get you from virtually nothing to ‘something’.
Never discount your surroundings. Even the most
boring pencil, a chair, coat, or an old hat can spark an idea.
If it helps, try brainstorming before you launch
into writing with the prompt topic. Here is a passage of description from one of my own published
Engin Akyurt, pexels.com
– From Upon
Your Honor –
piece of dusty fabric was stuffed in her mouth and she gagged, choking, her
eyes watering. Then she was swung up and over a man’s shoulder, a thick arm
locking her thighs. Shock held her immobile for seconds. They were kidnapping
her! Fear came on the heels of that realization; a cold sweat came over her.
had no idea where they were headed, and she swung out with her fists and
kicked, but the brute didn’t notice or didn’t care. The blood began to rush to
her head, and she felt incredibly dizzy. It seemed like hours, yet it could
have been minutes, when she was set down, shoved into a chair and promptly tied
up. The ropes bit into her hands, scratching against her wrists like hard wool.
Her eyes darted around wildly, taking in her surroundings. A lamp was lit in
the space, and light flooded the room. It was little more than someone’s
private quarters with an unused fireplace, a makeshift table and a bed nearby.
She swallowed uncertainly and took labored breaths through her nose. Dear God,
what did they mean to do with her?
man approached her. He seemed familiar somehow, but she could not place him.
“You’ll cooperate, won’t you, dear? We’ll have you home soon enough. We just
have to find a way off this Godforsaken island.”
What was he talking about? But, surely they meant to do her harm. The man’s
companion watched her with a hooded gaze and licked his lips. She looked at the
bed. She had an idea what he intended. She shook her head, screaming against
the gag. This wasn’t happening. It couldn’t be.
won’t be an easy trip for you unless you go along with us, you understand?”
didn’t respond, couldn’t bear to.
Do you see how nailing the description of a room
could link to a great idea for a story?
in medias res, which is Latin for ‘in
the middle of things’.
Always try to start your story right during the
action. If there’s a crime that will propel the tale forward, then drop your
character right on the scene, or at least after he/she is called in to the
location. If I was writing a mystery, I might want to begin the story with a
description of how disturbing the crime looked.
It really depends what the book is about, though.
Some people choose to start with a string of dialogue. Though backstory is
sometimes necessary to introduce a character correctly, you can weave some of that naturally through the narrative. Don’t overload the reader with information.
For nonfiction, obviously you’ll want to begin with
your opening argument. You can prove your theory later.
Grabbing two books off my TBR shelf, here are some
examples of in media res:
From Zach’s Law by Kay Hooper –
Theodora Suzanne Jessica Tyler realized she’d
made a mistake. Not a big one, really, except that it now looked as though she’d
landed herself in a first-class mess. She was miles away from civilization, it
was after midnight, and her beloved old Impala had just given up the ghost.
From Something More by Janet Dailey –
A steady drizzle fell from the blanketing
clouds, graying the Wyoming landscape and obscuring the bigness of it. The
first pale shoots of the country’s famed green grass poked their heads thorough
the wet mire underfoot. But Luke McCallister paid no attention to their promise
of new life as he rode over the ground, his wide shoulders hunched against the
They both start in the midst of some action which is
happening. The opening scene will always offer readers a sense of what’s
coming, even though they may not know the twists and turns. For example, we know Theodora is stranded, and we understand that Luke is traveling toward a destination. You want the reader to wonder what happens next.
There are plenty of
writers who have written a whole manuscript, and then figured out later that
the true start to the story was two or three chapters in. Just do your best.
Once you’ve actually begun the writing process, it’s
time for you consider whether you’re a pantster or plotter. Or maybe you’re a
hybrid (some writers do both).
What is a pantster? This is a writer who can write
an entire book without plotting a single event. The words simply flow, and the trials the characters experience are just as surprising to the writer as they
are for the reader.
The other option is pretty self-explanatory. There
are writers who need direction, find it much easier to use a roadmap of sorts,
just to get through a project. They are plotters.
Either one is perfectly acceptable. Every writer has
their own process.
Diversely, there is also the 'hybrid writer', one who
implements both methods. For myself, I write as much as I can in random scenes
until there is a general skeleton. Finally I can see what’s happening. Not all
the details, but the important events. Then I do a full outline for the
book. This provides a guide so that I can write more. I can work on specific
scenes or chapters as they come, and eventually it fills out the body of the
project. After that, I research topics to add in other details, and learn more
about my characters to provide the muscles, organs and nervous system. This
will all make the manuscript a living, breathing book.
How do you find out which type of writer you are, though?
Mostly, it’s trial and error. It takes a bit of experimenting to learn what
makes you most comfortable.
Try each method, and see which one works better for
you. If you find out you’re a pantster, here
are some tips.
Plotting a book, however, takes time and effort. Be prepared
to work on a full outline or synopsis (I do this first before I’m finished
writing a book). Some writers wait until later on, once the manuscript is done.
Having a polished synopsis will come in handy if you plan to query agents or
At some point, though, you might want to plot your
book out. Be prepared to use from two to four pages of notes for a full-length
book outline. State your general points. Then add in the little details that
you think should be in the story. You won’t need to put everything in the
outline (that comes out in the writing process), but you should give yourself
enough of a prompt to work from.
I can’t stress enough how essential it is to
understand your characters, if you’re writing a fiction novel or story. Know
your main character/s well. For secondary characters, you should know general
details about them, enough to paint a decent picture and show how they talk, plus some of their mannerisms.
But you won’t know the way their minds work. That’s something you’ll have to use
mainly for your key characters.
Do character worksheets. The link below will give
you some idea of how to learn more about your character or characters.
Not only will it assist you as the writer to make
your characters more relatable and lifelike, but you’ll have a good sense of
their backgrounds, and how they might respond to certain situations. For
example, a businessman probably wouldn’t be a good fisherman, unless at some
point he’d learned it from his father or another relative. Remember, there’s
always a reason behind your character’s actions.
But also keep in mind that the best
three-dimensional character should have some consistent inconsistencies. Yes, I
know that’s confusing...
Have you ever met someone who just baffled you?
Based on your knowledge of their background and belief system, how could they
ever be into a certain hobby, for example? This is when individuality comes
into play. People are sometimes hard to figure out. Why wouldn’t your character
have a strange interest too?
Think hard about motivation as well. This will be an
important part of the book. What does your main character (or characters) want?
Zoltan Tasi, Unsplash
To solve the crime? To catch the villain? To fall in
love? To recover a lost family artifact?
What does the character want, and what do they do in
the story to get it?
Now, you won’t include every detail about your
character in your novel. Just the most relevant parts. Yet, knowing your
character will help you to shape your book into a tale that readers can get
fully invested in.
If you believe that because you’re not a nonfiction
writer, then you’ll never have to research a thing, you’re dead wrong. If you
care at all about authenticity, even if your story doesn’t have a historical
angle, you’ll want your book to make sense.
Setting is a term you’ll hear a lot as a writer.
You’ll need to set a scene. Or have a setting for the actual book. Wouldn’t it
be set in a specific city? District? A library? Spend some time researching
locations, unless they’re fictional. And even if they are, shouldn’t they be
loosely based on a real place?
Max Bender, Unsplash
Plus, your main character’s profession will be
mentioned at some point. You’ll need to know some general information for that. By now, if you have any knowledge of the internet - obviously you do, since you're reading this blog - you probably know how to do a search online. But, I would suggest that you also use some old school types of research as well - reading books, visiting your library's archives for clues, that kind of thing. If you go for an online source, make sure it's legitimate first before you count it as truth. There's a lot of junk published on the internet too.
Think about sensory details to add to your book. Providing a sense of sight, smell, sound, taste and touch
can bring your audience fully into your fictional world. Be as specific as
possible. It’s not just a tree, right? What kind of tree? Oak? Walnut? Maple? How does the forest smell? What color of car does
your character drive? What make/model? Readers want to imagine what they’re
reading. I spend a lot of time looking at various photos to figure out how I would describe something, the way it might feel to be there.
Johannes Plenio, Unsplash
And then there’s the sixth sense. Even if your book
doesn’t have a paranormal element, we all have instincts as people. We ‘sense’
when something isn’t quite right. Why wouldn’t your character feel that too?
Pay attention to your instincts. Keep yourself open
to plot changes. If the muse is trying to lead you in a new direction, maybe
you shouldn’t ignore it.
Find out whether it will improve the book, or if the
call is simply a new character who wants their own story for an entirely
different tale (don’t worry, it’s completely normal to get more story ideas).
If another tale is calling, write down the idea and
keep moving forward. Unless you’re truly stuck with your plot, and then maybe a
little break couldn’t hurt so you can refocus on the task at hand.
Just do what feels right, and you should be good.
Is Length Such A Big Deal?
Too many writers worry about book length.
is the best length for my book or story?
Seriously, just write first. You can decide to trim
out the unnecessary stuff afterward. That’s part of the editing process.
Plus, length isn’t as important as they want you to
believe. Unless you are attempting to rival Proust or Tolstoy – which I wouldn’t
recommend – you don’t have much to worry about. However, if you really can’t do
anything except focus on length, keep in mind that there is a reader for every
story length. Some people like to read shorter tales and novellas, not just
And every genre has its own standards, just as every
publisher is different in what they expect.
Plus, if you go the indie route, as long as you make
sure you’ve edited the book as well as possible, does length even matter?
My advice? Write the damn book first, and worry
about the rest later.
I’m sure I’ve forgotten something here. Let’s start
a discussion in the comment thread. What would you add to the list to help a
writer write his or her book?
As always, happy reading, and have a great week! :)
author of Victorian romance, UPON YOUR RETURN, and 23 other books. Reached the Top
10 Authors list on AuthorsDB.com for the last 4 years. Featured interview in
the January 2018 issue of Womelle Magazine. The Heiresses in Love Trilogy made
the TOP 10 on the Anthology category on the 2018 P&E Readers' Poll, and
BLOOD INSTINCTS reached TOP 10 status in the Romance category. The Heiresses in
Love Trilogy and DIRECTIONS OF THE HEART both reached the semi-finalist round
in the 2018 AuthorsDB Book Cover Contest. Voted TOP BLOGGER for 2018 on the
Romance Lives Forever Blog. TOP 20 Authors of 2018 on Amy’s Bookshelf Reviews
blog. DIRECTIONS OF THE HEART was nominated and made it past the first round in
the 2018 Author Academy Awards. UPON YOUR LOVE and THE MISSING PIECE placed in
the TOP 10 on the 2017 P&E Readers' Poll. DIRECTIONS OF THE HEART was
nominated for the 2017 Reader's Choice Awards. The I Love Romance Blog became a
finalist in StartDating DK's Romance Blog Awards of 2017. ILRB landed on
Feedspot’s 2017 TOP 100 Novel Blogs and TOP 100 Romance Blogs. DIRECTIONS OF
THE HEART placed in the TOP 10 Books of 2017 on Amy’s Bookshelf Reviews blog.
TOP 20 Authors of 2017 on Amy’s Bookshelf Reviews blog. Mystery Blogger Award
for 2017. A to Z Blog Challenge Survivor in 2016. March 2016 Empress of the
Universe title - winner of the "Broken Heart" themed contest and the "I
Love You" themed contest on Poetry Universe. SECOND CHANCE HEART and A
LITTLE MAGICK placed in the TOP 10 on the 2015 P&E Readers' Poll. Nominated
in the TRR Readers' Choice Awards for Winter 2015. Poetry winner of the 2015
PnPAuthors Contest. The Versatile Blogger Award for 2015. Honorable Mention in
the 2014 BTS Red Carpet Book Awards. Finalist and Runner-up in the 2014
MARSocial's Author of the Year Competition. Honorable mention in the January
2014 Reader's Choice Award. Liebster Blogger Award for 2013, 2014 and 2016. 2013
and 2014 Amazon Bestseller Ranking for UPON YOUR RETURN. Winner of the Great
One Liners Contest on the Directory of Published Authors.
Lavender lives in the Midwest with her family and two cats. She has been
writing for a little over twenty-five years. She has more works in progress
than she can count on two hands. Since 2010, Marie has published 24 books in
the genres of historical romance, contemporary romance, romantic suspense,
paranormal romance, dramatic fiction, fantasy, science fiction,
mystery/thriller, literary fiction and poetry. She has also contributed to
several anthologies. Her current published series are The Heiresses in Love
Series, The Eternal Hearts Series, The Magick Series, The Code of Endhivar
Series and The Blood at First Sight Series.