Updated: Aug 22, 2019
Have you ever had a really good idea for a book?
Like, nobody else could ever come up with that idea, and the world won't be as good of a place without it.
But how to write it. That's the question.
Probably the question the most people ask me is how I write a book. Not to toot my own horn, but going from an idea all the way to a completed, published book is no simple task.😊
Though I'm not an expert, I do have some tips and methods to writing a book.
Most people don’t know this, but I’ve written three full novels. One of them, my second, frustrated me so much in the revision stage that I had to give it up and move on with other stories. (We’ll see if I ever figure it out and get it published.)
For each of the three novels, I’ve used a different method to write them.
“Perfect” was kind of an accident. In my senior year of high school, I got into short stories, and I started writing “Perfect” as a short story. I didn’t even finish it, realizing that there was too much, and it had to be bigger. So I took the general plot that I had from it and pretty much just added a bunch of characters, scenes, and additional plotlines to make it a complete novel. I didn’t do much outlining, didn’t really work on the characters outside of writing the story. It just all came together.
I wouldn’t suggest doing that for anyone else. I didn’t know what I was doing at the time, but somehow, it worked. So with book #2, the one that was never published, I went to the other extreme. I spent four years on it, while the others took between one and two. I still have the notebook where I wrote out every single chapter in a few sentences, and I had multiple pages for each main character, giving me everything from their childhood fears to their favorite food. Unfortunately, even though I knew everything about my characters, I didn’t like the way the novel went. So, I guess the moral of the story it that I need to have a good plot, because no matter how much work I put into it, it doesn’t matter if the plot isn't good.
“I’ll Take the Lie” became the sweet spot in the middle. I discovered Randy Ingermanson’s snowflake method, which changed the way I outlined my novels. I’ve used this method on three other book ideas I have, and it really helps to slowly but thoroughly plot my story without all the headaches of getting it wrong after I’ve written half the book already.
The snowflake method basically starts you with an idea that you then develop in more and more detail. You start with a sentence that tells exactly what your story is about. Then you broaden it into a five-sentence summary. Then five paragraphs. And finally five pages. By the time you have five whole pages of your story, you can tell if you have any gaping plot holes, anything that needs to be rethought.
And then comes my favorite part. The entire outline of my book, chapter by chapter. I bust out Excell and start making a chart. I don’t do this exactly like he suggests, but I’ve added my own columns. As you can see in the picture, the columns could change depending on how many POVs you’re writing from, how long your chapters are, whether it goes back in time or all progresses at the same time. This is the outline I have for “I’ll Take the Lie.”
It looks intimidating, I know. But this is the most fun part for me. I have to come up with the little fun scenes, the details, the fun conversations I want to put in. It takes a lot of time, but once it’s finished, I don’t really have to think much when I start writing the book. Before I start a chapter, I take a look at my chart, see what needs to be put in, and know exactly what I’m writing. It takes the difficulty out of it.
Now I know that’s not for everyone. I really enjoy Stephen King’s book “On Writing.” He doesn’t plot his stories, and he has a very different way of writing his novels. And, of course, it works. But I guess, as he’s written over fifty books, he can do whatever he wants.
I actually don’t plan out my short stories at all. I just let my imagination go, because there’s not as much room for error on smaller plots. That’s how I do it right now, but it might change in a few years. There’s no right or wrong way to do it. I've experimented a lot, and this is what works for me.
Writing is fun. But it’s not easy. I don’t think I’d be a writer if I didn’t love it. It takes a lot of discipline, but it’s so worth it when I hold the first copy of my novel that I created, every single word.
So if you don’t love it, you might be better off finding something different to do. If you love it, don’t give up. It’s worth all the work to see the finished product.