Okay, you got pen and paper? Or just a computer? Well then, you are ready to get started. Really, it’s that simple. However, that’s where the easy part ends.
You have a grand idea for the next Great American Novel. Welcome to the club; a very large club at that. So many of us have the same idea. We know we can create a tome that will go down in the annals of history as a creative masterpiece. Thus, we begin.
How to Start Your Story
I like to let an idea fester like a bad sliver. And the longer the better. All of my manuscripts have aged six, seven, even ten months before I ever wrote the first word. As a note, I’m almost done with my sixth such writing. All in the last 19 months. That’s somewhere around 650,000 words in that time.
Where do these “ideas” come from? I really don’t know. Sometimes I dream a certain sequence that I play with and mold into a story idea, and later a plot develops. Then there are the times I see something somewhere and I ask the famous “What IF” question. And of course, my favorite is when I daydream an idea. That’s what happened with Book Two of my WWIV series – Kids at War.
One morning last summer, I was sitting at the cottage in Northern Wisconsin, watching the sunrise. I was deep into my WWIV series having completed two manuscripts in The Smith Chronicles books. I asked myself, “who will be most vulnerable in a post-apocalyptic setting?” I thought for a while, sipped my coffee, and thought some more. Finally, an idea popped. From there I played with it and the story started to develop.
How to Develop Your Story
I’ve seen all kinds of systems for story development. Some like to storyboard the entire novel before beginning. They take note cards of various colors, jot down scenes or plot points, and then pin them to a bulletin board. From what I understand this is a great system with few drawbacks.
Others, like Stephen King, sit down and start typing or writing. They know the general idea of the story. They also have the confidence to allow the story to create a life of its own. This probably is not the best option for you if this is your first or second manuscript. This method requires you to use your brain, A LOT, and if you lose yourself – you story can be lost!
I like to outline when I write. But it’s not a strict, rigid outline. It’s extremely flexible and allows much room for change. Usually, I only plot out the first ten chapters or so. I might make some notes for further chapters, but I know my writing style. I might get to chapter eight and discover things are going a different direction. Or it’s going slower (or quicker) than I had planned. My point is this – allow your story room to grow.
How to Write Your Story
Let me be as gentle here as I can.
Strap your butt to the chair and write. Write until you’re out of ideas, and then write some more. Don’t feel creative on a given day? Tough; write 500 words. Feeling super artistic and pop out 2,000 words? Come on, push yourself; write another thousand.
The moral here is to keep writing. The goal should be to get the first draft done in three months. That’s 90 days; plenty of time. This past February, I created the first (rough, very rough) draft of Book Four in the WWIV series in 28 days. Now, to be honest it's not going to win any literary awards in its current state, but it’s done. The book (actually a manuscript at this point) is on paper and ready for the first round of revisions. I already have an extra scene to add, something to ratchet the pressure up a notch.
If you do all the pre-work, but don’t write – you’ll never get done. No one will ever know your creative genius. People will never discover you as the next Ernest Hemingway, Jane Austin, or George Orwell. Please, if it is your desire, write! You will never know the rush of excitement when you publish your first novel without putting in the time, and doing the work.
Until next time, enjoy fall this year. Get out and appreciate nature in its changing beauty. And since the nights are getting longer – grab a good book and give it a read.