So you have a story idea — an outline, a scene, a character sketch. Fantastic! What’s next? How do you make that brilliant seed on inspiration grow? A book needs three things to be a successful narrative: characters a reader cares about, a setting that feels real, and a believable plot line. We’ll talk about each of these elements in their own posts.
For now, lets discuss setting. Whether you’re a world-builder or not, you can create a real, deep setting with just a few steps.
Step One: Laws of Nature
Every world has laws. In a thriller it could be that it is almost impossible to not leave DNA behind, or the physical limitations of the human body. If your book is set in our world you will need to research these aspects. Fantasy and science fiction worlds have laws too, but these need to be written. Maybe the law is that all creatures or elements have finite energy, and only certain species can manipulate that energy (magic, mana, and element-bending are all examples of this). In science fiction the law might be the speed at which spaceships travel (warp-speed, light speed, worm holes all play into this) and the physics behind interplanetary travel, which would require some research as well.
Once you’ve made your laws you must never break them. Readers notice. You may have heard of “Suspension of Disbelief.” If a world has laws, doesn’t break them, and the entire plot is plausible within those laws, then Suspension of Disbelief remains intact. If some aspect of your plot doesn’t work within your laws, then the plot needs to change. This can add additional hurtles for your characters and that’s always a good thing.
Step Two: Make it Real
Think about all the things you love about your home and the places you’ve visited. It’s not just the history of a place or it’s colors. It’s the way the ground feels under your feet, the way it smells, the sounds around you. If you want a great piece of world-building, (re-)read the first few paragraphs in “An Unexpected Party” in Tolkien’s The Hobbit. Include all the senses you can think of, but moreover, include them through your character. Do they secretly revel in the sweet tang of the subway tunnels? Do they miss the sound of wagon wheels on cobbles in the morning?
Our world is a diverse place. We have so many different people, cultures, and biomes. Even if the entire story takes place in a small town, your world should show diversity and richness — the differing opinions of the owners of two general stores and the houses on the main street, versus those in the rural dirt roads. The larger your world is, the more diversity you need to include.
Step Three: You Are a God
I’m sure most of us have heard “God(dess) knows…” when someone refers to something they can’t fathom. You are the creator of your world. You will always know exponentially more about the world than your readers. This means for your readers to know a bit about your setting you need to know (either through brainstorming or research) five times that. A good analogy is that of an iceberg. Your readers see what juts above the surface; you see the entire thing. If you’re worried about how many details to include, ask your beta readers for setting-based feedback. How much you actually share will depend on the demographic you hope to attract and your genre — you don’t need the same scope when writing a cozy mystery or romance as you do when writing a multi-novel epic fantasy or space opera.
Developing your setting can be so much fun and lead to more stories within the same universe. If you keep these three steps in mind your readers will love your world as much as you and keep returning for more.
Attention: This post was updated on January 24th 2018
So you want to be an author, do you? As a stay at home parent you may think writing is the perfect job. You can be with your children and write to your heart's content. In one sense you are absolutely correct. You can do this from home while being there for your children and it's absolutely amazing. And incredibly difficult. I swear my kids have productivity radar! They know as soon as I close my Facebook window and start to focus on writing or editing.
And at this point I was distracted by said children. The oldest needed food the youngest needed a drink and before I knew it, it was time to make dinner.
Anyway, OH I need coffee --- Three minutes later--- Where was I? Oh right, distractions. There are lots of distractions around us. For example, before sitting down to write this (for the second time)I had to vacuum. If I hadn't instead of typing it, I would have been staring at the dirt on the floor--Sorry had to stop and write down an epiphany for my current WIP. OK, I think my point is pretty clear. Actually writing my distractions in here (and I didn't even include them all) has really shown me how important the things I am about to tell you truly are. I have two boys, the oldest is five and the youngest is three. While my oldest is at school and the youngest naps, is when I can be productive.
(NOTE: I now have three kids, ages 7, 5, and 10months. And we homeschool. Somehow I'm more productive than ever.)
Here are the four things you need to write with children:
Also, I know working and helping to pay the bills (Or paying them all yourself) is very important, but don't forget, your kids are only little once. Every second that writing allows you to spend with them should be seen as the gift it is. So, when you sit down to make that schedule, don't forget to pencil in time to play dress up or ninja turtles. Maybe even snuggle and read a book to your little one.
Happy writing and happy parenting!
Marissa Frosch is the head of marketing at Amphibian Press and also writes under the pseudonym Cameron J Quinn. The first of her Starsboro Series is due out on January 16th. She can be found on Facebook, Twitter, Goodreads and her website.
Writing a book is commendable, whether you’ve slaved away for ten years on a single manuscript or have a brand-new piece fresh from NaNoWriMo. It’s easy to coast on the high from finishing your work and think your book is ready to snag a 6-figure advance. It well might be one day, but you still have a long way to go. The road between completing your first draft and publishing is a bumpy one, but, man, does it have some great views.
Step One: Brag, Brag, Brag!
This is easy — celebrate! Tell your friends, your family, the clerk at your local bookstore. This will keep you excited about your project and build potential fans. When you’re further down the road these people will keep you accountable and give you support if you’re having a bad writing day. Trust me, you’ll need it.
Step Two: Put It Away
This is an often over-looked part of the writing process, but it’s so important. You’ve been up to your eyes in this project. You have been breathing nothing, but the characters and world. It’s time to step back, and for a while. Read some titles on your neglected To-Be-Read list and write reviews. Thinking about why certain aspects of others’ work appeals to you is a great way to hone your own craft. Try some new writing projects — bonus points if it’s a different genre, POV, or length than that of your manuscript. This will further remove you from your manuscript and give you much needed perspective. Work on building your author platform, network with other writers, and listen to what successful authors in your genre have to say. You might have plot or character epiphanies, and be sure to jot them down, but don’t open that document!
It’s hard to say when you’re ready to return to a piece, but my rule of thumb is at least a season — three months or so. The busier you have been, the better.
Step Three: Prodigal Project
You’ve read every book ever. You’ve followed 2170 people on Twitter and have three new projects that are seriously awesome. Time to return to The Manuscript. If you prefer hard copies print out your project — your local college should have free or cheep printing for large projects if you don’t have the resources to print at home. If you’re more of an e-book fan, convert your manuscript to the proper format (Calibre is a great resource for this) and send it to your e-reader of choice. If you want, make notes as you read, but don’t get bogged down with typos or sentence structure. This read-through is all about the big picture. Does the plot make sense? Is it realistic? Are your characters believable? Compelling? Do you have subplots? Have you avoided tropes? Make notes as you read, but don’t revise or edit until you’ve finished reading the project in its entirety — this is the beauty of reading on paper or e-book, versus the document itself.
Step Four: Breaking Bones
You’ve read your book. Maybe it’s good. Maybe it’s terrible. Either way, now you’re going to make it awesome. Open a new document. I love side-by-side revisions, rewriting the entire piece, but with the first draft as a reference. You can worry about genre, word-count, even filler scenes later. Those are the fat and skin of your book. Now you just need to worry about the bones. You might find that what started as a 120K word epic fantasy is now a 80K urban fantasy. That’s OK. This is a good time to lean on your support network of other authors.
Breaking the bones will be hard, but it’s so worth it, and I promise your writing and The Manuscript itself will be stronger for it.
Step Five: Feedback
You’ve finished your next draft. Now it’s time to take your project out into the wide world. Find some Beta readers — reaching out through social media works well, and there are some great sites that help connect authors and readers. Trading with another author at the same point in the revision process is a great way to build readership and read undiscovered work. Find two or three people who read or write your genre and send your first chapter — after asking, of course! See if their critique works for you. Try to find people who are your desired demographic, but still diverse. You want as many opinions as possible. There are sure to be some false starts, but good beta readers are worth their weight in gold.
Remember, your writing will never be perfect and you will need to make changes, but also stay true to your intent and voice. Try to refrain from revising while your book is out with betas. Use this time as a second round of Step Two.
Finally, Lather, Rinse, Repeat. Go back to Step Three. It will feel like you’ve re-written this book a hundred times. You’re going to feel like you’re fantastic one day and a failure the next. On bad days, make sure to take the time to do things that make you happy and ground you. You will start to hate The Manuscript and think everything you write is trash. DON’T DELETE IT. Read positive feedback and search for inspiration in your outside life. If all else fails, step away for a week or two.
Stick through it, though, because I promise it gets better. One day you’ll read through it and will realize it’s exactly as you want it to be.
I’ve never been one for resolutions, but I’m big into the symbolism of a new year. Starting over, putting the past 365 days to bed, it’s all very inspiring. 2015 brought some pretty awesome things — I achieved all the goals I set for the in-5-years plan my senior year of undergrad (two whole years early, I might add!).
Consequently, 2016 has some big shoes to fill.
Writing — drafting, in particular — is tough when I work 40-60 hours a week and spend 4 nights a week in a hotel with some first-class partying co-workers. I had some high hopes this past summer that were left by the wayside in favor of networking with a new company. Turns out being an introvert doesn’t count when everyone is socially awkward.
This potential time-constraint is something I’m factoring into my 2016 goals.
As daunting as this looks when I type it out, I'm so excited to continue this awesome journey and share it with all of you every step of the way.
The writing Process
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