I periodically get asked, “How do I get started writing a book?” My first response is questions. “What kind of book? Novel or nonfiction?” Then I ask, “For children or adults?” If for children, I ask for what audience age. For a novel, I may ask what genre. For example, fantasy, contemporary, adventure, romance, sci-fi, mystery, historical, etc.
Until I know the answers to these questions, I can’t help as much. But I can make these suggestions:
- Imagine where your book would be on the shelf in a bookstore or library. This will help you know what kind of book you will be writing.
- Read books similar to what you want to write. This helps you know the genre. There are rules for many genres, and you need to know them. And it helps you absorb good writing when you read lots and lots of books.
- Read books published within the last five years. This helps you understand what publishers are currently publishing in the genre or age category.
For this post, I’m going to focus on writing fiction.
My next suggestion would be to write the pitch for your story. Sometimes called an elevator pitch, sometimes a book summary or a logline—no matter the label it can help you know where you want your story to go. It includes WHO, WHEN, WHAT, and WHY.
I love this article aimed at children’s book writers from the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators: “Preparing for Online Pitch Contests: How to Write a Killer Logline”by Laurie Miller. Another great resource is this one from a literary agent that has simple examples: “A Pretty Much Foolproof, Never-Fail, Silver-Bullet Query Opening” by John M. Cusick. Both of these are specifically aimed at getting attention for your book when trying to sell it. However, it can really help you focus as you write. You can also see samples in pitch contests on Twitter. For example, #PitMad. Check out the website. Next one is March 4th.
If you’re having trouble with the pitch idea, write a character problem statement. For example, Main Character wants to overcome the bullies in his life. It can be posed as a question. Will Main Character be able to overcome the bullies in his life without himself becoming a bully? Here’s a good article with examples: “How to Define Your Characters’ Story Goals” by Kristen Kieffer.
Story Elements for Fiction
Most of us learned about basic story elements in grade school. We probably learned more in middle school and high school. When writing our own story, we may forget some. So, let’s review. Story elements include: Character, Setting, Conflict, Plot, Point-of-View, and Theme. Some lists add Style or Literary Devices. Others add Tone.
You as the writer must know:
- who your character is (although you may learn more as your write) and what she wants
- where you are setting the story (our world in contemporary times or historical, fantasy world, etc.)
- what external and/or internal conflicts the main character will experience (again you may not know all, but should know at least one before you start writing)
- what will happen in the story (outliners’ plan this out, but even if you don’t outline, you should have some general idea)
- whose story it is and in what POV will it be told (although authors sometimes write in 3rd person and switch to 1st person in later revisions—just be consistent in the story)
- the universal ideas in your story (e.g. good wins over evil).
The style you write your story in or the literary devices you use may develop as you write. Ditto with the mood you establish, but if you know tone ahead of time, great!
Writing for Children
I’m going to focus now on writing books for children which can include for young adults.
Here’s a very helpful article on the process: “How to Write a Children’s Book in 12 Steps (From an Editor).” I do disagree with point 6—it depends on the book. And none of his examples seem to be children’s books.
Make sure you know what kids today are like! They are your audience. And especially if writing contemporary, you must show realistic kids for today’s readers. Here’s a great post by author K.M. Weiland: “Necessary Tips for How to Write Child Characters.”
Next? Finish Writing the Book!
First drafts are just that—your first ideas. Revising and editing will come later, if you finish. Here’s a wonderful quote: “Get those ideas down without wondering what will become of them. It’s the habit, not the single idea, that will set you on a creative journey you can’t even anticipate.” – Angela Burke Kunkel.
I’ll end with a link to another helpful article: “6 Tips to Help You Finish Your Book” by K.M. Weiland.
2 thoughts on “So, You Want to Write a Book…”
As always, very good sound advice, Sue.
Just to differ, I’ve heard some writers write the synopsis before the story. This never worked for me. I can’t imagine writing the pitch before the story, either. I know the MC and the beginning and end. But in between many creative surprises reveal themselves. It is the joy and challenge of first drafting. When the first draft is done, I know the pitch.
Thanks. Yes, I’ve heard of writers doing the synopsis first and outlining first. I can do neither. Writing a pitch ahead of time can work–of course, it may not be the pitch you end up with once the book is written. 😉
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