This will be the first post detailing what I have learned about how to write a good book. Note, I am not saying a great book. I don’t feel I have written a great book yet, and by that, I mean something like Lord of the Rings, A Tale of Two Cities, Wuthering Heights, Far from the Madding Crowd or Silas Marner. When I do write such a book, I will be sure to update the title of this post. I will make permanent pages for these posts so that they are always available as pages in the menu at the top. So let’s get started
1. The idea
Ideas will come to you in dreams, when you lie awake in bed, when you are walking, or from friends. If it’s the last, be sure to get permission to use it and make sure you credit your friend with something like ‘Idea by X’ at the front of the book. But most important; write it down!
Let’s say your idea is ‘Santa loses his sleigh on Christmas Eve’
So what do you do if you get an idea?
This could be your first urge to write a book or perhaps you have already published. The process is still the same. A single idea will not make a good book. I repeat A SINGLE IDEA WILL NOT MAKE A GOOD BOOK. Turn the idea around and look at it from all sides. Ask yourself these questions:
- Will it interest a wide range of people (or at least a wide enough range to sell plenty of books)?
- Will it involve a situation or locations with which I am familiar and can write authoritatively about?
- Will it sustain my interest during a writing period that may take more than a year?
- Can I think of some main characters to carry this idea forward in a story that will last 60000 words (40000 for a novelette)?
If the answer to all four is Yes, you may be on to something. But don’t get excited yet. A good idea will spawn other ideas and you will need at least 10 for a novel to work. It should also suggest plot twists, a gripping beginning, a middle and a climax, although you may have to invent these separately, and that is fine if the idea is good enough. A really good idea is going to sustain you for a year of writing and spawn all the ideas you need, maybe even too many to get into one book. Then, you probably have a great idea.
Let’s say some of these other ideas are:
Santa has to hire a van
The hire company has no vans
So he has to hire a tractor
But Rudolph is in a union
The union says Rudolph has to be the driver for Christmas deliveries
So Rudolph has to drive the tractor
But Rudolph is a reindeer
So Santa has to teach a reindeer how to drive with specially made gloves
But Rudolph is also married and his wife won’t let him drive.
Santa has to persuade Rudolph’s wife Erma.
What should you do next?
I always juggle an idea around in my head for up to a year before starting writing. I often pass it by a close friend quite early on and if they are not interested, I usually drop it. I rarely suffer from writer’s block, but I think that is because I always work on at least 3 books at one time; one for which I am simply thinking up the idea, one I am actually writing, and one which is being read by beta readers – more about those later – or edited. It takes about 3-12 months to write a book and the same to edit it so there is no point sitting around waiting for an idea to be finished. You may as well be writing or editing something else. This variety tends to stimulate the mind more. So you should have plenty of time to develop ideas once your first book gets going. And don’t worry if it does take you a year to get that first idea into a workable framework, or even longer.
The last stage is to write down a basic framework or outline of the book. It should show the main plot, some of the more important sub-plots, the introduction or hook, the middle and the climax, as well as the ending, which is slightly different to the climax. It can be written down quite early on if you like and will usually show up any major flaws in the idea.
I remember, while on holiday in Spain, writing the first chapter of a book and then realising that it simply didn’t sustain my interest. And if a story doesn’t sustain the author’s interest, it surely won’t sustain the readers. So I abandoned it. I wish I had written a framework first because then I wouldn’t have wasted so much time. Actually, my main point of interest had been the main character but I couldn’t find a story for her. I finally did, more than 5 years later, and you will be introduced to her as Yulia in a forthcoming book.
The next parts will be:
2. Developing the book’s Themes
What have been your experiences of writing? Do you agree or disagree with my experiences? Are you working on your very first book and don’t know where to start? Let me know by commenting.