Hooray, I’m taking advantage of my temporarily working computer by providing you fine folks with a quick post on how to go about starting a new book.
Let’s start with a materials list. You will need:
- At least one notebook
- A working computer
- A backup plan to save files
- A binder, 1″ wide if you don’t use many paper goods, up to 3 or 4 inches if you print everything off
- A good stock of pens or pencils
- A highlighter
- Divine inspiration
- Sheer determination
Now, I know that you know your characters and think that you will never, ever forget their unique quirks. But at some point, after a day of chugging caffeine or other desired beverages, when you’re living in a mess because you can’t stand to step away from your writing until you see this one scene through to the end, you are going to write something dramatic, ask your character to respond–and completely space his usual gestures.
Then, you’ll have to plough through the pages searching with bleary eyes for an instance when he reacted in a fashion that helped to define who he is. And you’ll probably find it, after about three times the length of time that you thought it would take. Then you’ll have to reread what you last wrote, recall the experience, and get back into the writing zone.
It doth sucketh.
And I know that is in no way proper grammar even for bad Middle English.
Back to the point, you need to make up the following pages and stick them into your binder. Print them off. It is easier than searching through folders or desktop icons, then scrolling through pages to find the one you want.
You will need to make:
- Character Profiles
- A Summary Page
- A “Big Beats” Page
Now, there are plenty of example character profiles, including Biographies and physical descriptions, blah-de-blah. These do little for you as a writer. In the heat of the moment, you need to have the character caught in the moment, not being read back to you like a Criminal Minds profile. Let me give you examples of what I wished I had done for the Character Profiles:
- In the physical description, copy/paste the actual words you used when introducing that character. If aspects go unnoticed by the main character that he/she will notice later, jot down a quick, descriptive note
- How do the other characters respond to this character? Intimidated, indifferent, disrespectful?
- What are the things this character does that sets him/her apart? How does he act when surprised? Saddened? Shocked? Excited? Happy?
- Basic biography as described by the character. Unless going to Yale was a Really Big Thing to him, it isn’t all that important.
I’m sure that others have told you to do a Summary Page, but I hadn’t heard of it. I just decided it was the easiest way to keep the story on track when you start to go down the bunny trails. This is what your Summary Page needs:
- A paragraph or two of what the story is about, like what you see on the back of book covers.
- A 50 word “nugget” which condenses the story.
- A 25 word short short, which boils the tale down to the heart of the story.
Likewise, there is the Big Beats page. A beat is a major event that transforms a character, twists the plot, or otherwise is a source of surprise. How many of these beats you write down is up to you, but you typically need these:
- An Inciting Incident
- The Initial Turning Point
- A Twist
- Motivation to Continue
- A “The World is Against Me” Point
- A Dramatic Reversal
- The Ending
Notice that I pay the most attention to the beginning and the ending. This is because I am utterly backwards of most writers and I love writing middles. Writing beginnings and endings are a lot like staggering through a city while blinded folded with Verizon Wireless Navigator as my guide. But, if you get lost in what Jim Butcher calls The Great Swampy Middle, you’ll want to define these points better.
So, once you spend a few hours doing these things, you should hole-punch them and stick them in the binder. Maybe print off a working cover to make the binder look sorta pretty. If you want, you can print off the chapters and stick them in behind the organizing material. I find printed paper is easier to edit than doing it strictly on the screen.
Enjoy your hard work, and let the real writing begin!