You've found your passion, now what?
“The best way to become acquainted with a subject is to write a book about it.” Benjamin Disraeli British politician (1804 - 1881) Last time we talked about writing what you love, on the topic that excites you. But once you understand your passion, have figured out what you want to write and know enough about your subject to begin the work, then what?
Some authors will tell you to outline the plot of your story first—that it will save you a lot of grief if you work all the details out before you begin. One author friend has developed what he calls the Snowflake Method, which works great for those who love structure. (Check out his website on how to write a novel using the Snowflake method here.)
Other authors will tell you to first create your characters and get to know them inside and out before you even type a word on your computer screen. Is one way more right than another?
Stories do need a good plot and structure. Most fiction typically starts with an inciting incident that plunges the hero onto a journey that will change their life forever. As the story progresses the journey grows increasingly difficult until the hero reaches the point of devastation when all seems lost. At this point of no return, the hero must risk all to accomplish his goal. In the end, we must see that the character has changed. If he comes out the same person he was at the beginning, the story will have had no purpose.
Characters need goals. The stronger the goal, the better the story. Luke Skywalker’s goal in Star Wars is to become a Jedi like his father and help save the universe from the evil empire. Edmond Dantes’ goal in The Count of Monte Cristo is to exact revenge on those who stole his freedom. Kathleen Kelly’s (played by Meg Ryan) goal in You’ve Got Mail is to save her shop from being put out of business by the giant bookstore around the corner. (I picked movies as examples because I learned more about plot from movies than how-to books on writing.)
Aside from a great goal, characters need strong motivation to reach what they want and lots of conflict to stop them from getting it. The higher the stakes, the greater risk to the hero, the better the goal, and the more you will keep your reader interested.
So, once you know what you want to write, the next step is to develop three-dimensional characters and a well-structured plot to help tell your story. The task can be a little daunting, so here are some suggestions to help get you started:
Read good books on the craft of writing. Some recommendations are: Plot & Structure by James Scott Bell 45 Master Characters (a Writer’s Digest Book) Writing the Breakout Novel by Donald Maass Goals, Motivation, and Conflict by Debra Dixon Self-Editing for Fiction Writers by Rene & King
Read omnivorously. Analyze parts of stories you like and try to figure out how the authors did what they did.
Watch movies with the same goal—to analyze plot structure and character development.
“The way you define yourself as a writer is that you write every time you have a free minute. If you didn't behave that way you would never do anything.” John Irving US novelist (1942 -)
I’ve met a number of people who tell me they plan to write a book someday. They talk like writers, go to conferences, read books on craft, but they never actually write. Too many people want to “have written” rather than actually do the writing. So write!
How you go about writing, be it plot first or characters first doesn’t matter. As long as both are well drawn in the end, that’s what will keep your readers reading.
Next time, I’ll tell you about my Idea Board and other writing tips.