Questions of how to write a book arise quite often in the course of my work as a professional ghostwriter. They come from everyone, too, from new authors just starting out to experienced writers on their tenth book.
They all wonder about the same things.
Writing a book is like putting together a complicated puzzle. Everyone is going to be a little different. What works for one book might not work so well for say another book later in your career. The same can be said for authors. A writer must, above all things, be open to the process of writing.
Sometimes, however, if we take the right steps, the puzzle is less complicated.
While there is no one-size-fits-all course on how to write a book, I can offer you some pointers on where to begin. These are my tips, tricks and some sage advice that will help you get off on the right foot.
How To Write A Book: The Beginning
Let’s boil the book writing down to its three most important component parts.
First, there is the main character. This is what writers refer to as “the hero” the person that the reader follows throughout the story. Whether you’re writing fiction, memoir, or non-fiction, the story in nearly every book engages the main character.
Is your character a young man? A child? Maybe it’s a young woman with her whole life before her eyes.
Second, you need to sort out the book’s setting. Where is all of the action in the story taking place? Is your hero a lowly slave girl from Roman times? Is she a Queen during Medieval times? Or is she a liberated woman of the ’70s?
Setting dictates a lot in a story. From those three examples, you can envision very different challenges to each character. The world around your character helps formulate their views, day-to-day concerns, life priorities and ultimately…
It forms their core conflict. The third and most important leg of your story is the central conflict the hero must overcome. Without conflict, there is no story, and without a story, there is no book.
An Example Of This In Action?
The easiest example that always comes to mind is the movie, The Wizard Of Oz. And yes, before you ask, it is OK to talk about a movie. I often use this story to illustrate these points because everyone is familiar with it.
Who is the main character? Dorothy, obviously. She is a sweet farm girl from Kansas.
The setting here is, of course, the Land of Oz. As a setting, Oz challenges Dorothy in a myriad of ways. She must adapt to strange and unfamiliar surroundings. She changes her journey with each of the friends she meets. Finally, she must defeat the vengeful Wicked Witch Of The West or else lose her head.
If her house had landed across the state line in Nebraska, Dorothy’s story would be boring. But it’s not.
Lastly, the conflict. For Dorothy, conflict is centered in her simple desire to get back home. She is a lost girl that wants to get back to Kansas to see her family, but the setting and ultimately the titular Wizard of Oz presents a series of conflicts to her need.
How To Write A Book: Tips, Tricks & Advice
My first tip on how to write a book is to orient yourself on those three key fundamentals. Answer them like questions. Who is the character in your story? Where are they? What stands between them and getting what they need?
The character should really speak to you. Why? Because you’re going to spend a long time in their head. The setting they inhabit should be rich enough that you can draw on it for interesting side characters and scenery
The next tip is this. In order to create a dramatic, memorable conflict out of those core components, you need to start orienting your thinking toward contrasts. What do I mean by contrasts?
Your Roman slave girl? What if she is dangerously outspoken about issues of freedom? There is a serious conflict that puts your character at immediate odds with her world. What about your medieval queen? Does she harbor a dark, secret love in a neighboring kingdom? What if that liberated woman is forced to take a job contrary to her values?
Do you see how that works? These are immediately recognizable conflicts, universally understood if you tried to explain them to a friend.
My advice is to sit down and write out as many possibilities that you can possibly think of. Before you get overwhelmed, understand that you’re not going to use them all, but brainstorming an extensive list gives you options.
When Do I Start Writing?
Once you’ve settled on the core components of your story, it is time to begin the writing process… but I don’t mean “once upon a time.” Not yet, at least. Once you know your fundamentals, it is best to start working on a book outline.
A book outline creates a map you can follow while writing. There is a long and time-honored debate in the writing world between “plotting and pansting” (the latter meaning, flying by the seat of your pants) and it’s a worthy one to take up.
Some people plot their books down to every single scene while others just wing it and see what happens. The tip here is to know there is no right way and there is no wrong way either.
My advice, however, especially to the new writer, is to try plotting your story first. See if that works. You may find that plotting actually works for you, and if it doesn’t, you’re not beholden to it.
The danger in just winging it is, well, you can write for a long time before you discover you’re lost. If you want to finish your book (which really should be your end goal) some structure in the beginning stages would be helpful.
If you would like to read more on the topic of how to write a book, check out these additional articles.
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