Monday, June 23, 2014

How to Write a Book

One of my author friends says she gets a lot of emails, "How do I write a book?" Her answer, and I agree, "You sit down and write it." Because if you're looking for something more; you need to ask a more specific question. Like...

Q: How do I write a young adult novel?
A: Open a blank Word Document and start writing about vampires with chiseled jaws and fantastic hair.

Q: How do I write a children's book?
A: Put together pairs of rhyming words and match them with pictures of kittens.

Q: How do I write a memoir?
A: You don't. Trust me when I say your life is not that exciting.

But all kidding aside (or some kidding aside) I'm going to do my best to answer this question using my own personal experiences.*

Step 1: The Concept
Before you can write anything, you need to have something to write about. You need an idea, but more than that, you need a concept. It's true what they say, "Ideas are a dime a dozen." Everyone has them, what you need is a plot to go with it, what agents often call, "the hook."

A futuristic world where children are put into an arena to fight to the death is an idea. The story is about a girl who volunteers to fight to save her sister, and while she is fighting, she becomes an unwilling leader of a rebellion. That's something to write about.

Step 2: The Players
Okay, you've got your idea. You've fleshed out a concept. Now you've got to pick your players. This girl who's the center of your story...what does she look like? How old is she? What's her temperament? Who are her friends? Boyfriend? Family? What are they like? Who is going to tell your story? God? The girl? Her mother? Before you sit down to write, you need to make these decisions. I find it helpful to come up with some backstory for my main characters. Whether it makes it into the final manuscript or not; it helps me make decisions later, about how my characters will act and what they will say.

Step 3: The Path
Once I have an idea and some characters in mind, I start plotting. I'm not an outliner, but before I sit down at my computer, I spend some time thinking about how things are going to go. Where do I want to start my story? Where am I going to end my story? What are some key plot points along the way? How is my main character going to change throughout the novel?

Step 4: Read
I know I'm writing a YA dystopia in a first person POV. So now I pick up or re-read every YA dystopia I have that's written in first person POV. And while I'm reading, I mark places where I like or didn't like what was done. But you know what? My story has some romance in it too. So I'll read a couple of romance novels too and see how that author made us fall in love.

We learn from other writers, and one day, writers might be learning from you. I feel like newbie writers always want to skip this step, afraid they'll end up copying someone, or they're deluded into thinking they don't need help. But you do. You really, really do.

Set 5: Sit Your Ass Down and Write
You've got the basic pieces you need to write a novel, but the thing will never come together until you actually write it. A lot reveals itself in writing. Since I don't create an outline, there are often holes in my plot and characters that I patch when I let my players take over the page. In black and white, I can see what's working and what isn't, and many, many times, I'll write 100 pages only to scrap them and start from scratch at the top of a blank page.

And here's where we really separate the men from the boys. (or the women from the girls)

If I had a dollar for every time I was at a party and overhead someone say, "I should really write a book," I would be writing this post from the deck of my yacht. Because anyone can talk about writing a book. It takes patience, dedication, and hard work to actually write one. So for anyone who's done that, Bravo! Whether you're published or pre-published that is a huge deal.

For everyone else who's just in the talking about it stage (which I did for about 2 or 3 years, fyi.) Read. Keep your eyes and ears open for that hook, and then sit down and write it.

*This is my own personal process. This is not by any means the only way to write a book, just something to help people who might not know where to begin. If you have anything to add, please put it in the comments.

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