In the Beginning…
We often think that the beginning of a book is the first line, but I think we’d be remiss not to mention the planning that goes on long before the first line is penned. Writing a novel is a daunting, time-consuming task. It begins with an idea, and blossoms from there.
While some writers begin by putting words on page and seeing where it goes, they often find themselves stuck, sooner rather than later. This is often a sign that not enough planning has been done. If this is how you begin your books, that’s fine. However, just understand that, at some point, you need to turn your eyes to the future to find the logical conclusion to your novel. I know of several writers who refuse to begin until they’ve figured out the end. Still, other writers begin at the end, then work backward to figure out where the story should open.
Regardless of how you begin here are some points to consider when you reach your planning phase:
What’s the “What if?”: Most books begin as a “what if?” For example, “What if a group of children stumbled into a fantasy world through a magic wardrobe?” Or “What if someone could see dead people?” Or “What if normal people discovered they had extraordinary powers?” What’s the curiosity drive, the big-picture, sellable idea? Can you put it into one sentence?
What’s the point?: Why must the story be told? What does it offer the reader? This is something you may discover further into the writing, but it is an important question that must be asked. At the end of the book, the reader should be left with something (generally a strong sense of some emotion, either hope or fear or love or sorrow or completeness). What is it you want them to be left with?
What’s the plot?: What will happen in your story? When will it happen? What major event (or events) will rocket your “What if” into a full-fledged novel? These should be organic, and should not be forced. They should follow a natural course of logic and action.
Who’s involved, and why?: Once you’ve figured out the basic bones of your story, you’ll need to figure out who’s involved in the plot. Resist the urge to use the typical hero (they often end up as one-dimensional caricatures). Instead, think of someone less likely to appear. You want to write a novel about a spaceship? Instead of an astronaut, put a teacher on board. In Jurassic Park, only one character was a “din0-expert.” One was a mathematician (a chaotician, to be precise), one a lawyer, one a billionaire mogul, one a botanist, one a computer expert, and a couple of kids. They’re all needed for the story to work, but their areas of expertise are not in what you’d immediately assume.
What’s the ultimate end?: Even if you don’t know exactly HOW it will end, you should know about WHEN it will end, and the major plot points that must happen. Ultimately, you’ll have a happy end or a sad end. Your character will ultimately succeed or fail. You should know in what way they will do so. This may change as you write, but if you have at least an idea of what you’re writing to, you’ll be able to better overcome writers block along the way.
How much time do you spend on each of these areas? Which give you the most trouble?