Turning an Idea into a Book

Turning an Idea into a Book

old_booksThere are probably many book ideas going through your head, even now. They come from everywhere– personal experiences, stories others have told us and those that just seem to be conjured up through pure imagination. But it is a lengthy road from idea to book. Most ideas never make it to book form; and for many, rightfully so. Others can and should be developed. Let’s take a moment to examine the process of turning an idea into a book.

Record your book idea

When you get an idea write it down. Contrary to how it feels when your adrenaline is pumping, you will forget if you don’t record it. Please understand you will end up with more ideas than actual stories but that’s O.K. But if you cannot remember them, it won’t matter. Start a journal or a log of sorts and as the ideas progress with characters, setting and conflict add this information to your entries.

Flush out your story

Write out the conflict behind the story. All stories whether fiction or non-fiction must have sustaining and driving conflict. Conflict is simply the dilemma which your protagonist finds herself in; it is the driving force behind the story.

Provide Sustaining conflict

This is not something that is quickly wrapped up or resolved. There are obstacles, ebbs and flows which your protagonist must work through.  Ensure that there is a journey to end or solve this conflict. If, as you are flushing this idea out, you don’t see it, and you can’t reasonably create one, there won’t be a story. It will fizzle before it even starts.

Provide Driving Conflict

The conflict must drive your protagonist; there must be something at risk. Why is he so determine to find a cure for this disease? Will his wife die if none is found? Is his reputation at stake?  Or, why is she so determined to get married now? Is her biological clock winding down?  Is it her mother’s dying wish to see her married? The driving conflict can be physical, mental or even spiritual. But the stakes have to be elevated enough that the protagonist is willing to risk all to solve this problem. If it is not important enough to your protagonist to risk all or nearly all, it won’t be important enough to your reader to continue reading.

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Find resolution for the conflict

 If the idea you have for a story as an experience which you are currently going through (mainly for non-fiction) it may yet make for a great book, but  it must have some type of resolution. For example, you just found out your husband has been having an affair for the past five years (I really hope not!). You are obviously right in the throes of it. At this point, you don’t know what the end is going to be. Well, pick a resolution point based on where you are.  Perhaps, so far you’ve learned you are too trusting. You always have been. Take us to this point. How did you get there? Tell that story. Perhaps it is still too fresh, but you feel it has been interesting so far—even book-worthy. Writing can be cathartic. Keep a journal. Write. One day it just might make an interesting story.

The resolution is the final part of the story. And there must be something learned, gained or changed at the end. Either the conflict will bring you full circle or things will change completely. As your idea progresses, you will be able to see the end at the beginning even if you haven’t quite figured out how to get there.

Find out if your book idea is marketable:

I saved this for last because these days there are markets for almost genre. But if your book is a romance/thriller/book of poetry you may have a little trouble finding a market for it. Usually you have the market already subconsciously tagged in your head. But often you don’t. As you work your way through your idea, keep the market in mind. Don’t let it completely drive your story or it can block your creative flow, but simply keep it in mind.

You may have a million ideas. Sometimes you will know right away that an idea won’t work based on the above information. Sometimes you won’t know how far you can go until you begin to write because the idea is so alive and thrilling. But you will know. Some ideas may have to be merged with others to become stronger and more sustainable; some need to be completely done away with. But keep writing them down, keep the creative thoughts flowing and soon you may find yourself with a beautiful and engaging story.

Finding Time to Write Your Book

Finding Time to Write Your Book

I often hear people complaining that they can’t find time to write. Between work, school, kids and all of the other factors that equal life there just isn’t time. Well, would you like to know that secret? Would you like to know how we published authors are able to do it so deftly? How do you write that book? Are your ears bent? OK. Good.

There is no secret.

Nope. No clear-cut, foolproof super-method on how to write your book. The bottom line is you have to make time. You know that same time you make to watch that favorite reality show you recorded on the DVR. The same way you make time to whip up that special desert your family cannot do without. The kind of time you carve out to watch the can’t-miss, once-in-a-season football game. I know you’re saying, well wait a minute, those are necessary pleasures and I’m not giving those up. I’m not suggesting you give them up—at least not all of them. But you will have to make some sacrifices.

You see writing, like exercising or dieting or doing anything that will produce beneficial, long-term results—takes some sacrifice. And as I wrote earlier, it doesn’t take long stretches of uninterrupted time as your household runs amok and your children douse themselves in paint and glitter just to remind you of how neglectful you’re being. But you will be surprised at how small, even tiny chunks of time add up and produce beautiful results.

Although I’m sure I’ve told this story before, it deserves a retelling. I wrote my first published novel, In Three Days while working the midnight shift at a hotel. My co-worker and I would work into the wee hours reconciling reports, assisting guests with this and that and making sure patrons weren’t taking skinny dips in the pool while everyone else slept. At about 4 am things begin to quiet down. It was our time to relax and unwind. And around that time sleep would creep up like a thief as we searched for something in which to occupy ourselves. It was during this time I would manually shift into second gear and write. I was never able to get more than three pages done.

 

waiting

Dawn was on the horizon and sleepy patrons’ calls began at about five or six am. Three pages, five days a week was all I could muster. But a year later and I had a full novel. Writing steadily and consistently is all that is required. And the marvelous thing is that once your story is going at a nice pace, you can’t wait to get at it again as you see a real, live book in the future.

You might say I can be that consistent. Well a half an hour a day, anytime a day will still push your story along. When I worked at the grocery store (yeah, I’ve had quite a career) I would stand there minding U-scan, bored until my eyes were crossing and I would grab a napkin or paper towel and write. I had many such napkins and paper towels over the course of several months. And all were parts of my novel. It was during such times when my creativity began to flow fast and uninhibited.

You may say, wow I’m just not that motivated. The thing is you need to develop a habit. The only way you can label yourself as writer is to actually write. Sure there will be another day, hour, a better time to write your book—once the kids are grown or things slow down on the job or the wintertime when you’re stuck inside. But what would happen if you started today? You might just be surprised.

The Relevancy of your Faith

The Relevancy of your Faith

disappointments

Note: This post was originally posted in December of 2013, but I felt impressed to repost. Feel free to share!

I’ve watched one or two of those reality shows that gather some of the brightest and gifted minds in the entertainment industry for a game of show; those who have fallen by fame’s wayside for one reason or another and are now attempting to make their second or third resurgence via reality TV. (The genre is a forgiving haven for those cast from the spotlight.) We are always asking, whatever happened to…

After a few painful episodes of this show and that one, I came to this realization: mere talent is not the main variable to success. Being the smartest or most gifted person in the room is become less and less a deciding indication of your escalation to fame. Do such things give you an advantage? Yes, sometimes. But often they are the greatest hindrance.

Those people that believe they are particularly bright, gifted or beautiful or have some kind of peculiar and intriguing talent usually rest in that very talent. They rely on it like an eagle does its wings. And when it fails, the fear settles in as they flutter around seeking Plan B. And no I’m not seething with jealousy or any kind of envy. I am just an observer.

Most of us have to confess our fears and insecurities upfront before we experience any kind of success. Our fears are daunting and undeniable and have to be dealt with head on. For that group of exceptional they can hide it for years behind the glossy beauty of talent and gifts. This is not to say that the rest of do not possess some kind of gift. I believe we all do. But for the majority no one hears us flawlessly playing Beethoven’s Fifth at six years of age, most of us aren’t 6’2 at 12, dunking shots off of grown men. No, for most of us we have to seek and find that place where we fit.  We have to work hard and face so much failure we threaten to quit every day.

It is here that our faith becomes the most relevant factor. It becomes the single most undeniable force; this is the fulcrum for our success. It is the Plan B for the most talented but necessary for us all.

Consider this: more than 300,000 books are published in the U.S. each year; and that is not including e-books. To sit for days, weeks, months and sometimes years at a keyboard with the sincere hope and belief that within that haystack someone besides our parents, siblings and spouse will find us takes some kind of faith. There will be many times where this feeling of ridiculousness will overwhelm you and you will question the validity of your project. And you will press through. Writer’s block will leave you stumped and confused. And you will not give up. Sometimes, you will count time vested as time wasted. You will blow this off.

And when the work is done, they will tell you that the real work hasn’t even begun. You’ve got to market that baby, they will say. You will sigh and roll your eyes and huff. Then you will get to work. You will read; how to publish a book in 30 days; 21 ways to double your Twitter followers in a week; Five thousand Fabulous Facebook Followers. A tiny voice will whisper that it is all gibberish and worthless. And you will initially be convinced to believe it (some of it will be), but quickly realize that doing nothing will result in eminent death of your project. And then your faith will push you, prod and demand from you.

And finally when you have done all that you can do your faith will compel you to release the reins. It is then you will see it clearer. Your marketing will make sense. Those who are needful to you will become more apparent. And most importantly, your faith has moved the hand of God. And He my friend is the most relevant factor of all.

Man in the Arena

Man in the Arena

Just a little inspiration for a Tuesday….

 

roosevelt_quote

 

 

Don’t worry about the ones who question your reason for doing what you do. Go at it with all you’ve got.

1muhammad ali

Painting of Muhammad Ali by JaBrion Graham

The world needs to hear what you have to say.

 

SPEAK

 

Your Novel’s Characters are Real People

Your Novel’s Characters are Real People

I love having conversations with people who have lived exciting lives; they’ve leapt from waterfalls with an 80-foot drop, fought Texas Longhorns and lived in the Sahara. Ok, I don’t personally know any of those kinds of people. But I do know those who, are in unconventional living situations, overcame fierce personal battles and are living their dreams. It is always interesting to talk with them.

funny bullfighting

 

But honestly what I love more are those conversations with ordinary people, on ordinary subjects. You know, they are unpretentious, unassuming souls living their lives in simple fashion. It is from these people that I’ve learned the subtleties, the idiosyncrasies that make people who they are. For the most part it has been these folks who have taken precedence in my work. Their mannerisms are not calculated or contrived; they are simply being themselves. If you can capture the essence of this group in your writing you can create clear, vivid pictures of any character you develop. In these people lay the core of who we all are—even those waterfall jumping, bull-fighting folk.

Compare it to an artist who draws a straight illustration (like the kind a developing artist would create) and contrast it to one who shadows and shades to catch the nuances of attitude and demeanor. It is this capturing of character that is crucial our work. It means that we allow people to… be and to express themselves as we watch, listen and take note. It allows us to move away from the cookie-cutter characters based on some T.V. show or some cliché. If you want to know what a dumb blonde is really like, watch one. Listen to what they say. You may find yourself observing a dumb brunette or someone who isn’t dumb at all, but just perceived as such. O.K., you’re writing about Laura’s rapper boyfriend Ty. Well, insist on meeting one (or someone like him). You might discover that when he opens his mouth and speaks that he is not the empty-headed, one-dimensional thug you originally thought him to be but is indeed quite intelligent, maybe even a Yale graduate? Capture the rapid blinking of the eyes when someone is nervous, the way she continuously clicks her nails together or picks at a pimple on her face.

 

Jay's self image 2

Capture the totality of the characters. Write about their scent–too much perfume, the scent of perspiration mingled with fading cologne. Write about how she never gives a full toothy smile as she is hiding some disfigured or bad teeth. Talk about her thinning hair and how she keeps it in a bun but hints of her scalp peek through the thin strands like the moon light through thread-bare curtains.

Am I the only one who looks at people and find myself writing a full-fledge description of their appearance and mannerisms (It’s fun and a little annoying when you can turn it off.)?  Remember unless you are writing about aliens or vampires your characters are real people. And even vampires are real people—sort of.

jays self image1

Do a personalized sketch of your protagonist. What makes him tick? Why is he always angry? Is it because his mother was verbally abusive? Is this why his anger is mostly geared towards women? Tell us about his mother. What was she like? Was she slow moving? Were her words spat sarcastically? Was she condescending? Describe the specifics that make her stand out—or not, for that matter. Show us the relationship between mother and son. Describe how his palms would become sweaty when she entered the room and how he could never raise his eyes to her. Build your character block by block. It doesn’t have to be described in one long expository paragraph (please don’t) Take your time. Interweave it into the story. Have fun with it. And most of all make us believe it!

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