Before you get started writing your book, it’s a good idea to acquaint yourself with the story you want to tell. Now, I will say that this might feel anti-climactic for you spontaneous pantsers out there, but just hear me out.
Knowing the story you want to write does not mean you can’t still dive headfirst into the story world with no plan, no plot, no strategy. I’m not talking about outlining or plotting or anything that will constrain you from freely exploring your ideas.
This particular advice won’t affect your pantsing proclivities, but it will offer you solid footing as you first step into your world. From there, it’s going to be up to you and the process you choose to write the story. Regardless, clarity and focus at the start of your journey can go a long way in helping you stay reasonably on track with your story, thus enhancing your enjoyment.
STEP ONE: What is your book about?
If someone were to ask you this question, are you prepared to give them a one-sentence breakdown? Or will you kind of hem and haw over various characters and possible trouble that may matter to them?
Writing a one-sentence summary of your book, otherwise known as a logline or premise statement, is a helpful pre-writing step for any writer, any project. It’s a good idea to come up with this while you’re working on Discovery stage. Be prepared to modify it as you learn more about your book.
Why is a premise statement important? It is the essence of your story and can set you off on the most compelling storytelling path possible. The strongest premise statements give us the main character and their story problem (what he wants, the obstacle in his way, and why it matters).
Who is fighting whom for what (and why)?
The “why” might be negotiable, but I like to add it in at this point because it helps us remember that no story is interesting if we don’t care about it on a personal level. This also helps us remember that story problems need to be unique so that they stand out from every other book out there.
What makes a story problem unique?
How your character reacts and deals with it.
STEP TWO: What is the genre and why would people want to read it?
What is the genre?
Be clear, so very clear on your genre BEFORE you get going on Discovery. Here’s why: each genre is unique with its own sequence of story beats that readers automatically expect. If you aren’t aware of these specific incidents within the genre you are writing, you won’t click with your intended audience.
Audiences who read Romance, SF/F, or Horror read Romance, SF/F, and Horror for a reason. There are certain expectations they hold, and it’s up to you to deliver.
I realize this borders on “formula” and “plot convention.” Here’s the deal: if you’re writing for yourself, then the only person’s expectations you need to meet are your own.
However, if you want to be published and find an audience, then you have to adjust in accordance with readers’ expectations. Do not go into book publishing thinking you can change readers and the way they look at books.
Of course, your book is unique and you shouldn’t cave to pressure that makes you feel like you’re being inauthentic. That is why knowing YOUR ideal reader is so important. Only you can know how far to push the boundaries with your ideal readers. Make sure to spend time researching, asking questions, and truly exploring how to wow YOUR ideal reader.
Why would someone want to read my book?
This is a tough question to answer when you go deeper than “Because it’s a romp of a read!” There are four key components that readers generally look for in an enjoyable book:
- Built-in Conflict
- Emotional Impact
First and foremost you need to write for your enjoyment. Because, hey, if you aren’t having fun and loving your characters, that lack of passion will bleed through your story.
Write the story you want to write, for yourself, first. Choose the process that works best for you, whether you pants, plot, or whatever practice honors your Natural Writing Forces.
Worrying about your audience too early in your experience with your book will hamper your process. Consider your ideal reader to get things rolling, but only in the sense of understanding the book will fit expectations. After you’ve completed a full draft, you’ll be better equipped to tailor the story to meet your readers’ wants. Trying to do it too soon, before you know how your story will evolve and all the nooks and crannies within, will push you into writing a formulaic story instead of one that sincerely comes from your heart.