You’re ready to write.
You have an idea. You bought a notebook, some pens, some highlighters. You know which genre you’d like to try. You’re feeling pretty freaking unique and original right about now.
So. How do you begin your novel?
This post is going to outline my method a little bit. There will be detailed posts about these things in the weeks to come, but for now I want to give you an idea of the beginning stages of a book. The idea-to-first-draft process. I’ve written 3 books over the course of 6 years, and have gotten a pretty solid method down during that time.
Please keep in mind:
- I am, as I stated in my very first post on this blog, an amateur. This is by no means an end-all-be-all how-to-get-published writing system (there is no such thing, by the way, and please run away from anyone who tries to convince you otherwise).
- This method works for ME. It might not work for you. But trying it out might help you pinpoint what WILL work for you.
Okay? Okay. Here we go.
This is how I get started, once I’m committed to taking a story idea “all the way.”
- I write down all of the ideas I’ve ever had about the story in one notebook. This becomes my ‘research and plotting notes’ book. I usually highlight or * ideas I like best, but I like to have all of my possible threads–good, bad, weird, implausible–in one place, just in case I need them later.
- Next I write a very general summary or outline of the story. This helps to give me an idea of how the above threads will fit together. However, I am NOT an “outline writer” in the traditional sense. I don’t make it detailed and I don’t stick to it throughout the whole process. I just need to jot down the basics of the story for the next stage.
- Once I have a general idea of the basic plot, I pick apart the story and find as many holes as I can. What already doesn’t work, even in this fledgling concept stage? Can I fix it? I don’t worry too much about “perfecting” the plot at this point, but if there are major logic-problems, I’d like to know as soon as possible, so that I don’t waste time writing things that will never work or make sense (although it’s pretty inevitable that will happen anyway).
- In evaluating the plot, I begin to recognize which subjects I need to know more about. This is one of my favorite parts of being a writer: research! I’m a sucker for it, and I will do a ton of it just to get one tiny detail right.
- At this point, I make a reading list. I refer to this as “Reading for Research,” and there will be a big post about it soon. But I don’t just include true “research,” such as historical texts and the like. I include fiction as well: I like to see what other authors have done with subjects similar to the one I will be writing. Being a writer is, first and foremost, being a reader. I also tend to include graphic novels, which can help me visualize certain time periods better than a history book will (if the artist has done his or her research…and generally they have).
- Start reading! I write all of my reading-notes in my research notebook, and usually will color code them based on what the information I’m writing down will be used for. For my current book, I have a monk character and a wanna-be-knight character. So, for example, I highlighted every note having to do with monks, temples, eastern religion, meditation, etc. in pink for the former, and all of the notes having to do with knights/warfare/weaponry of Medieval Europe for the latter.
- While reading, I also jot down possible plot/sub-plot ideas inspired by my reading (these get highlighted in a different color). My plots are usually fairly general, still, at this point, so a single fact in a book can sprout an entire subplot or character that I hadn’t thought to include before. This is why reading for research is so important to me! The books I’ve written would not be the same without the reading lists I’ve used while writing them.
- As I’m working my way through the most important or relevant books on my reading list, I begin the process of world-building. Because I am a fantasy writer, this is a MAJOR part of my preliminary work, and typically there is so much of it that I’m world-building all the way through to the last draft. HOWEVER, if you are NOT a fantasy writer, that does NOT mean you get to “get out of” world-building. It is an absolute must for every single writer of every single genre (in my opinion). If you want your world to feel real, you have to world-build. I don’t care if your book is set in Everyplace, USA and that you made it up to be some sort of generic suburb, you freaking draw a map of the block your characters live on and you figure out where all the houses and trees and shit are. Figure out what time period your story is set in, because that will inform your choices for wardrobe, music the characters listen to or shows/movies/plays they might watch. The setting and time will inform the food they’re eating, the type of house they live in. What kind of floor plan does their house have? Do they own a car? All of that is world-building, friends, and all of it serves to make the book come alive inside your readers’ minds.
- Lastly (for now), I begin the Shitty First Draft (don’t worry, there will be several posts about this most embarrassing of drafts soon). There’s a very precise moment when I’ve read all that I need to in order to begin “actually” writing. However, I keep reading for research until the book is completely done. Final draft, critiques in, “The End.” For the Shitty First Draft, I start an entirely different notebook. Actually, my SFD’s usually take two notebooks, and no one but me will ever see them, EVER. But, as I said, more on that soon!
We have come to the end of the preparation phase! Remember to stay tuned for detailed posts on the above items. We are only just beginning!