Finally the time has come! Hallelujah and do the Snoopy Dance! You’ve done your research, got your computer or notebook ready, put some writing music on in the background, and you are ready to go for it!
Here is my list of to-do’s and an explanation of each.
Where do you start? Okay, for most writers, you start at the beginning. Set the stage. Set the mood. Share where your character is, what they are doing. Start walking down that path that leads to that big turning point in Chapter 14.
But sometimes a writer’s ideas come in a different order. I once wrote a book where I wrote the last chapter first. I knew exactly how I wanted the story to end; I knew the ending before I even knew how they would get there. So I wrote the final chapter first. Another time an idea struck me about a particular love scene I hadn’t gotten to yet. I had a moment’s inspiration, so I wrote that part before my character even gotten into that situation.
It’s okay to write out of order. But for most of us, we start at the beginning. Introduce the cast of characters. You don’t have to introduce the main character(s) in the first chapter. Just make the people you DO introduce are interesting in one way or another.
Prologue? Epilogue? There are a lot of “how-to” books that tell you not to have a prologue or epilogue. That they distract from the main story. My how-to says that, if you feel a prologue sets a general feel or a premonition to the story, as long as it’s not too confusing or too exact, go for it. An epilogue sometimes works if you want to show how things turned out after the end of the main story. I have a prologue and an epilogue only in my first book; I have a prologue in the third book, which is nothing more than a paragraph from the second book.
But remember — sometimes people don’t necessarily want to know what happens once the “story” is finished. The story you told is finished. Leave their future to the fates. Or another book.
Do not filter your thoughts. I can’t emphasize this enough. If you feel you need to explain settings, surroundings, set up, go ahead and write. You will find yourself cutting sentences and paragraphs and even chapters later. When the magic hits, go for it. Whether it’s the romantic part, the murder part, or the flashback part, just get into what you’re writing. Don’t worry what comes out. You’ll fix it later.
Set a writing schedule for yourself. I know sometimes that’s easier said than done, but if you bring your determination to write into this dimension you will find time. Stephen King locked himself up in a room for eight hours a day. Other writers wrote when they got home from work or when their babies took a nap. It doesn’t matter when you write, only THAT you write.
Often setting a routine is a good way to get into writing on a daily basis. Set up your writing area with things that bring you inspiration. Coffee, glass of wine, notebooks, other books, reference books, music, snacks – it doesn’t matter what you bring to the table. You’ll forget half of the stuff around you once you get going anyway.
Tell others that’s what you’re doing, and do it. Don’t let others’ opinions sway you one way or the other.
Try not to edit as you go. We all do it, but it slows you down mid-thought. If you must reread your work for coherency, write a few chapters at a time. Know that you will reread, edit, and reread your story a thousand times after you finish writing it. Trust yourself and go with the flow.
Don’t use words that are too big for your character. Ever come across a big word in something you’re reading and find you really have no idea what it means? We often write more spectacularly than we speak, but make sure your characters are speaking within their upbringing and influences. If you want your characters to have an accent, if they come from a different time period, read books from that area, catch movies, and research their forms of speech. Don’t use words that are too big for your audience. The reader will eventually get tired of trying to figure them out. Don’t fake your knowledge. Oh – and a P.S. on this point – make sure you know what the word means.
Dialogue. This is one of the hardest parts of any novel to write. Do your characters speak like normal people? Do they think more than speak? Keep their tone the same speaking and thinking. If one character jabbers, make sure they always jabber. If speaking in half sentences is their style, make sure all their sentences sound the same. Think of how you speak with your family and friends. Your boss. The man from the IRS. You have a different tone with different people. Keep that thought in mind as your characters interact.
Also remember your time period. They spoke differently in Colonial times or Roman times than they do in the 2000’s. Don’t use today’s slang to express yesterday’s emotions. There is nothing worse than reading about days gone by and suddenly a character shouts “groovy!”
Make sure your ending makes sense. Have it conclude the journey your characters have been on. It doesn’t need to be a happy ending, but it should be a satisfactory ending. Tie up all loose ends (that is why you write an outline so you don’t have someone dangling out and left to dry). No open endings unless you are positive you are writing a second book. And even then have some sort of conclusion to the adventure they were just on. Let your reader catch their breath. Put yourself in the reader’s seat — no one wants to be left hanging.
Have every book you write be able to stand on its own.