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The First Steps In Writing A Book
Does It Seem Overwhelming to You?
"Being busy does not always mean real work. The object of all work is production or accomplishment and to either of these ends there must be forethought, system, planning, intelligence, and honest purpose, as well as perspiration. Seeming to do is not doing."
Thomas A. Edison
I know the feeling….truly! The thought of writing a 75,000 or 100,000 word novel or non-fiction book seems a bit daunting to say the least. Oh, for sure, anyone can write 100,000 words, but to do so in a cohesive form that flows and maintains the interest of the reader? That, my friends, is a tough task.
Many a writer has had a fantastic idea, and has felt compelled to turn that idea into a book, only to falter, stumble and eventually quit because it just seems too difficult. In fact, I dare say that most if not all writers have had a perfectly great idea, but that idea has died on the grapevine because making that idea a reality is just too much.
That’s why I suggest you break things down into manageable steps before you actually begin the writing process. The greatest journeys begin with a single step and blah, blah, and more blah, but it is true. Let’s see if I can’t give you a few of those first steps to play with so that your journey does not seem quite so monumental.
Before you actually start writing your book, try doing the following tasks. They just might make your job easier.
DECLARE A WORKING TITLE
This by no means has to be the final title that you settle upon, but it should at least give you some direction….a focal point….that references your project. We all need direction. We all need a reminder of what we are trying to accomplish. A working title will do that for you.
WHAT GENRE(S) ARE YOU WRITING FOR?
First let me give you a little warning: do not lock into a specific genre too early. Stories have a way of taking on a life of their own, and many a writer has begun a book only to have it change on them in mid-stream. Still, it is nice to have some sort of genre in mind when you start out. So I recommend making a list of the possible genres that your book will fit into. It is quite possible that your book will be a romance and adventure at the same time. It is also quite possible to be a crime drama/fantasy/love story all at once. Make that list and then I think you’ll find things will clarify in time.
DECIDE ON A POINT OF VIEW
Will you be telling this story in first person, second person, or third person.
First person allows you to dig deeper into the main characters personality. It allows you to be more reflective. Second person is the least popular of the three and probably the most difficult to write in. Third person tells the story from the viewpoint of an interested bystander not involved in the book at all.
And yes, it is possible to combine points of view. Many writers have successfully used first person and third person in the same novel, so consider that possibility as well.
If you are using third person, your best bet is to focus on the character who has the most to win or lose in each chapter.
WRITE A HIGH-IMPACT SUMMARIZING PARAGRAPH
Can you sum up your entire book in one paragraph? Try it and you will find it is not nearly as easy as it sounds, but for clarity and focus it is crucial that you do so.
In this summarizing paragraph you should have the conflicts, the goals, and the main motivations of the chief characters. In it you should answer the questions of who, what, why and why not (conflict).
Practice on an old short story you have written. Once you can do it with a short story you should be able to do it with a book after a little practice.
NOW IT IS TIME TO ADD FUEL TO YOUR STORY
Just as an engine needs a spark from the spark plugs to run efficiently, your story needs similar sparks to continue running for a long period of time. These sparks are what carry the story. They add intrigue; they add momentum; and they continually capture the attention and imagination of the readers.
Most writers are quite good at writing the initial spark, but they falter when it comes time to add more throughout the story. Thus their story becomes front-heavy and then drowns in repetition later on.
If you are planning on writing a book of 75,000 words, then plan on having a minimum of three such sparks. For a book with 100,000 words, add a fourth spark.
THE LENGTH OF YOUR BOOK
If you just read the section about sparks, it then stands to reason that the more sparks you include the longer your book will be. It also stands to reason that the longer your book is, the more difficult your task is.
If you are just starting out as a book writer, plan on between 50,000-75,000 for your first book. Follow the K.I.S.S. principle and don’t try to become the next great Russian novelist by writing 250,000 words.
Once you have decided on the length you can plan on the placement of your sparks. One spark should always be at the beginning of the book. Obviously, if you are going to have three sparks then you will want on at the beginning, one in the middle and one towards the end.
One other thing that beginning novelists trip over from time to time is the inclusion of back story. Many first-timers will try to include way too much back story at the beginning of the book. Don’t do this; it only serves to weigh down the book and slow its momentum. Instead, plan on a little back story early on and then dollops of back story throughout the book.
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Now You Are Ready to Begin Your Journey
Finish those suggestions and your first step will have been taken. Please note that these suggestions barely require any writing at all. This is your planning stage. You are building the foundation before framing the walls. No, building a foundation is not exciting or sexy, but without it your walls will collapse….so do it!
Once you have done these things we can move to the next step, mainly identifying characters, deciding on some enhancements, some sub-plots, and some setting descriptions, and if you stay tuned I promise to deliver an article about Step Two soon. In the meantime, you have your homework so get started. Take that great idea that has been bouncing around in your head, and begin pouring your own foundation.
I know it all seems overwhelming but you can do it. I have written two novels now and I begin my third in a month. The first one was tough because I didn’t have a clue how to do it. The second was considerably easier, and I have no doubt that the next one will be easier still.
Like any other skill, it just takes practice.
2014 William D. Holland (aka billybuc)
“Helping writers to spread their wings and fly.”