The problem with most would-be writers is not a lack of time or even ideas. The biggest problem is that most do not know where to start. How do you get the ideas that are in your head onto paper? Or better yet how do you get them into a compressive form also known as a novel. Over the next couple of blogs I will break down the process of getting started. How do you write your novel? Let’s talk about what to do before you begin to write your story.
Keep a Journal
Keep a journal. A journal gives you writing practice. This type of practice is invaluable because it gets you writing regularly. Your entries don’t have to be long or extensive. But I would encourage you to include as many details as possible. Details will be crucial to novel writing. You can journal about anything–a specific experience that has happened during your day or even a specific concern which keeps you up at night. Write your thoughts. Be as honest, straightforward as possible. Remember this part of the process is for you. Not only is it cathartic, but it will get you into the habit of honest writing.
Describe Your Story
Often times when you ask a new writer what the story is about they’ll go into great detail without actually getting to the point. But defining your story doesn’t mean that you should try to concoct theme or give overtly complicated meaning to it. But plain and simply –what is the story about? In screenwriting terms it is the elevator pitch. It is the short summary of your story. Remember no one wants a play by play. They don’t need to know all of the plot points and details of every scene. They don’t even need to know all of the characters and their quirky habits.
For example, The Taste of Salt by Martha Southgate is about a family struggling with generational addiction. The Shack by William Paul Young is about a man’s encounter with God after the abduction and apparent murder of his youngest daughter at a shack in the Oregon wilderness. There. It should be that simple. If you find this difficult to do, go back and evaluate. The jest of the story should always be center in your head, even as you are writing.
Define Your Characters
I like to do a character sketch of each of the main characters before I begin to write a novel. Character sketches allow you to set up the who of your story. Include their ages and personalities; their background and history. This may seem daunting but I find it helps with flow. You will probably add characters as your story progresses. You may even kill off a few. But at least setup framework by creating an defining the main characters. Write out as much information as possible. Appearances are important, but even more crucial are the idiosyncrasies specific to each. What makes them tick? What do they absolutely hate or love? What are their secret desires and habits? Include the juicy stuff they’d rather not share with the world.
Write a brief Outline
There will probably always be an on-going debate about whether you should outline or not. There is no correct answer. Some people write by the seat of their pants and do wonderfully. They wouldn’t dream of outlining. Others take days even months to develop the perfect framework. Some, like me, do a combination of both. It is neither right nor wrong. But I will say that a loosely developed outline gives you a roadmap to where you are going. If you are intimidated by the whole writing process this may be a way to get you focused or at least take away some of the apprehension.
Do the research
They say write what you know—or to put it a better way—know what you write. If you don’t know much, or specifically if you aren’t knowledgeable about the subject you are writing, do the research. There is nothing more annoying than reading a book about a subject and the writer clearly doesn’t know the ins and outs of the subject he or she is writing about. If you are writing a murder mystery, there are books available to help with the specific details of detective work and police jargon. What is the first thing they do when a body is discovered or when someone is reported missing? Exactly how do they question witnesses? Don’t simply rely on your CSI knowledge. Give authenticity to your work by knowing your facts. If your story is based in a particular region, interview people that live in the region, read books, gather the history. If you can, visit the region (any excuse for a quick getaway). There is nothing like picking up the nuances of a particular place. Truthfully you will probably have far more information than you will ever use, but that’s OK. Store the scraps, you may need them later. Nothing is lost.
At this point you have a solid head start. Sitting down to write will be easier, less intimidating. Go for it.
Read, read and read some more
I cannot stress this enough. I am surprised by the level of would-be writers that rarely read. Can you imagine wanting to become a director having never watched a movie? Reading not only increases your knowledge of the world around you, but it’s invaluable to learning the flow of a story. Read everything—fiction, non-fiction, books of the trade. Read often. Learn the texture of a story, the layers and depths that cannot be taught in a classroom or properly described. These are aspects most effectively picked up by reading.