March 9, 2021
by Samantha Hoffman
Many of us have stories, personal and otherwise, that we think would make a great book, but not many of us ever write them because the process of writing a book seems so daunting. And it is. But if you never try, your story will never be told. Who knows? It could end up the blockbuster book of the year! Just for the record that's really, really, really unlikely, so keep your goals realistic (but one can dream).
How do you begin writing a book?
Organize Your Thoughts
Optional: Find a lovely leather journal or a funky little notebook with a colorful cover, something you can dedicate to this project where you can organize your thoughts. Of course you can use your computer or a piece of lined notebook paper, but wouldn't it be nice to start with something special? Write in it as you go along to keep track of all the little details and ideas that pop into your head as you write your story, and you'll love having this record of the process when you type The End.
Think about the story you want to tell. Write down the beginning, middle and end.
Establish your protagonist. Readers want to engage right away with that person. They want to know their sex, age and personality, and what this person's goal is in the world of the story.
Make a list of the other characters as you know them right now. Write a brief description of them - their physical appearance, their personality, what they want. You can add to this as you go along, and you will, because you'll see that characters pop up all on their own.
Write a brief synopsis incorporating your beginning, middle and end, and filling in a few more details, paying attention to the high points and low points (you must have both). I don't recommend outlining the whole thing at this point, though you can if you want to, but now is the time to keep it easy and unintimidating. Doing even a brief synopsis will go a long way toward knowing what story you are telling.
What is the inciting incident, the BIG THING that gets your story moving?
Create a setting; where will your story take place? Is it a real place or fictional? Readers want to be able to visualize this world.
Now...sit down and start writing. Where you begin now may not be the beginning later, but just start. You'll move things around once you get the story fleshed out. I advocate not editing as you go. Get it all down and then go back later to edit. If you edit as you write much of that time will be wasted because big chunks will likely be deleted in the second draft. Why edit something that's going to be cut anyway?
Commit. Set a goal, but again, keep it easy and unintimidating. If you vow to write 1000 words every day you will most likely fail, and probably give up. One of my favorite tricks is to set a goal of writing at least five minutes every day. Who can't do that, right? Most often five minutes will turn into ten or half an hour or even several hours, but even if you only have the time to write for five minutes, you've gotten back into your story and the ideas will start flowing. It will get you thinking about your story, and thinking equals planning, creating and dedication. It's all writing.
If you still don't know how to begin, try this:
Consider Your Favorite Books
To help structure your story, analyze books you know well, and love. Make a brief synopsis of the story. Fairytales are really good for this because they're short and complete, with a story arc, a moral and engaging characters. Cinderella, for example:
A young woman's world turns upside down when her beloved mother dies, and her grieving father marries the wicked Lady Tremaine, who has two cruel daughters. As if that's not bad enough Cinderella's father dies, leaving her all alone in the stepmother's clutches to serve as her maid. (It should keep getting worse and worse for your character as it does for Cinderella.) The shabby and neglected Cinderella wants to attend the king's royal ball but there's no chance of that until her fairy godmother appears and, voila! she goes to the ball where she meets the prince who falls in love with her but she has to leave before he finds out who she is. Cinderella loses. So sad. The end. But no...the prince will not rest until he finds her, his true love. He does, of course, and they live happily ever after.
Pretty simplistic, right? Most stories are. It's the journey to getting there that makes the story unique. That's where you come in.
I've made synopses for books, plays and movies, and it's great for helping me understand a structure that works.
So, after all that, do it! And most of all...have fun.
Writer, editor, personal assistant, private chef, runner (8-time marathoner), film and theatre buff, traveler… Author of What More Could You Wish For (St. Martin's Press).
V.P. of the Chicago Writers Association, Executive Director of Let's Just Write! An Uncommon Writers Conference.
Visit me at www.samanthahoffman.com
Read my latest short story, Only One Syllable, published by Hypertext Magazine.
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