Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Starting Your Book

By Heather Moore

When I meet writers who are looking to get published, they often ask me how I decide where to start my story, who the characters will be, and how I plot.

So as I’m preparing to write my next book, I thought I’d give you some insight into my process.

1. Thinking. Maybe mulling is the more correct word. I have to have the main character pretty well defined in my mind before starting to write. The secondary characters come into the story to support the main character—and sometimes they surprise even me.

2. Creating a schedule. Writing, of course, is not always controlled by that effervescent muse (Annette—I’m probably using effervescent wrong). Writing is part creativity, and part science. Editing definitely falls into the science category, as well as actually completing a book. Like any writer, I’m constantly pulled in different directions. But once I decide on a book, I need to create the schedule to get it completed, and limit any other stories in my head that are trying to derail priority number 1. For example, if I decide to turn in a book on December 1st to my publisher and I start on August 1st, I divide the word count by the number of writing days. And I leave a couple of weeks in for editing. August: 25,000 words (average 1,000 words a day, 5 days/week). September: 25,000 words, October: 25,000 words, November: 10,000 (2 weeks), 2 weeks of edits.

3. Character sketching. This is an evolving process and changes and grows as I get further into the writing process. For instance, when I write my first draft, my character motivations aren’t usually ironed out. I’m writing mostly plot and dialog. About half-way through draft 1, I’ve had to make solid decisions about my characters, so I’m adding information to my character sketches as I go. So during the 2nd draft, I’m inserting more characterization to the beginning of the book.

4. Point of view & tense: I take into consideration who my audience will be and who the most important characters are. Will the story happen in real time (present tense) or past tense? Will my characters speak in first person (ideal for YA), or third person? It’s a lot of work to change this part of the process, so doing your research beforehand will save you a lot of time later.

5. Conflict. This goes hand in hand with character sketching. I have to ask myself what is the main conflict of the book, and of each character.

6. Beginning. Now that I have some basics going and I actually sit down to write, I usually concentrate on where I want the story to begin. Not to say that the first chapter I write will be the actual first chapter of the book, but I start pretty near the beginning. Before I start a chapter/scene, I ask myself: “What is the point of the chapter? What will be accomplished? What will it show that may/may not be relevant to the story as a whole?”

7. Creating a scene. I create scenes in several phases. Phase 1: writing and not caring too much about “fleshing out” the characters or the description, but I am nailing down the direction of the scene. Phase 2: revising the scene and inserting more description, making more concrete decisions about the character. Phase 3: this will happen when the whole book is drafted and maybe new developments have happened along the way. So I now have to go back through each scene to make sure the story is properly directed. As you can see, creativity has just been replaced by careful analysis (science).

Okay, looking over this list makes me wonder why I even start a new book. Every writer has what works for them. My style might be convoluted, but you never know, it might work for you as well.

8 comments:

Celise said...

I don't plan the writing of a book as well as you do. I basically have the plot and the title and just jump in from there. I have done a character sketch, though. Those can be fun.

As a yet traditionally unpublished author, I don't really have a schedule for writing. When I'm in Writing Mode, my goal is to write at least one page a day. I imagine that when I get published, I'll have to come up with a better writing schedule.

But your ideas were very helpful.

L.T. Elliot said...

Facinating view of how you plan a book. I particularly liked your schedule. That is very wise.

Amber Lynae said...

Heather, this post is very useful. It is motivating to hear how well you organize things, and how some things just need to be written out before they are editted. I know it is insane, but I feel like I am waiting for the perfect wording for my scenes, so I get nowhere.

Annette Lyon said...

I love seeing into other writers' ways of how they attack a book--everyone has a slightly different way of doing it, and there's always something I can learn.

The biggest thing I've learned from Heather is pure dedication to a schedule--sitting down and not waiting for the muse. Just getting it DONE.

Terresa said...

Yes, the schedule part about breaking your deadline into words per day and leaving some time to edit before it's due, is a great idea.

laskuh said...

Hi, I love your blog. It is so refreshing to see new posts and constantly remind myself of the important parts of writing.
I'm working on lots of pieces, and hope to be published. I just joined a writing group too, finally. I think that you live just down the street from me? Well, keep it up. Those of us who are dying to get published or at least finish something, appreciate it!

dayana said...

I recently came accross your blog and have been reading along. I thought I would leave my first comment. I dont know what to say except that I have enjoyed reading. Nice blog. I will keep visiting this blog very often.


Susan

http://sketchingdrawing.com

Glen Palmer said...

Start a book can be one of the most difficult and dare I say 'off-putting' endeavours a writer can face.

The way I tackle it, is to create an outline first. Now this doesn't have to be earth-shattering, just a brief one or two page synopsis will suffice.
I like to do a chapter by chapter outline. To do this I go to the library or a coffee shop and just mull over a few ideas I'd like to convey for the chapter and just write down a few points. Of course I'll do this for the whole book. By the end of the process, I'll pretty much know what's going to be on every page before I've even started it.
This is an excellent technique when it comes to continuity. I don't have to flick through pages and pages of material, all I have to do is check my outline.
Once the outline is done, I then go onto my character creation and then finally, the writing.

Glen Palmer
Author - Teacher - Public Speaker