Whether you are writing a self-help work, like I am with Balance your Life, or fiction, as my colleague R. R. Harris is penning with Double Take, it pays dividends to be organized. “An outline is crucial and saves so much time. It tells you where the story is going.” John Grisham
So, how should you start?
TITLE: Give your work a name, or something that can reference your project.
GENRE: : Be flexible as this may change as the plotline and characters and your thoughts morph and develop. List all of the genres that your story might fit into.
POINT of VIEW: Will it change from scene to scene or will the main character narrate in first person throughout? An author friend of mine said that when she began her autobiographical “coming of age” novel that her original intention was to have the first-person voice change as her character grew and matured. However as she drove further and further into the hinterlands of her work, she realized how maintaining that direction complicated her writing and de-railed it from flowing freely from her consciousness. For example, she would have to ensure that her teenager was not speaking with the voice of a worldly and wise, middle-aged maven or vice versa.
Some authors choose voice from scene to scene by weighing what character stands the most to lose. Although unless skillfully written, this approach can leave a reader wondering what is going on and especially, who is talking.
WHO wants, WHAT do they want, WHY do they want it and What/who stands in your character’s way? Not sure where to begin?
“What if X happened? That’s how you start.” Tom Clancy
“Don’t wait to be struck by an idea. If you are a writer, sit down and damn well decide to have an idea. That’s the way to get an idea.” Andy Rooney
SETTING: Can make a story gel into a dish fit for the Queen or alternatively turn it into cold tasteless soup that even hungry flies shun. Of course, there are endless possibilities. You can create memorable characters as at home in the book’s setting as a well worn slipper, but who enliven it and blaze brightly at the slightest provocation. Perhaps others triumph despite all odds or seemingly invincible villains meet their match in a unforeseen avalanche of choices that could not have been forecast.
“Most of our lives are basically mundane and dull, and it’s up to the writer to find ways to make them interesting.” John Updike
HOOK/SPARK: Yeah, the night was dark and stormy and she came to the door with nothing on but the radio, but then what? What will I write in the second paragraph and on page 87 that will keep my reader into the book? Will the last sip of my book be as satisfying as the first, or even more so?
As an author I must constantly ask – have I set-up conflict, created suspense and action and left the reader panting for more? Am I solving a problem the reader has, conveying knowledge or fulfilling a need?
“I want the reader to turn the page without thinking that she is turning the page. It must flow seamlessly.” Janet Evanovich
DON’T QUIT: “Nobody cares whether you write or not, and it’s very hard to write when nobody cares one way or the other. You can’t get fired if you don’t write, and most of the time you don’t get rewarded if you do. But don’t quit.” Andre Dubus
Becca Chopra, author of The Chakra Diaries