How To Get Started On Your First Book
If you're thinking of writing a book, you're in the right place. Having six books of my own, and coaching writers through many more, I know what goes into the process of writing a book. In this blog post, I've laid out the high-level steps to writing your first book.
Develop Your Main Character
Begin to develop the main character for your book. This will be the character that is in most of your scenes. Have a clear picture of who this person is. Does they have any distinguishing physical or personality traits? Is this character dynamic or static? Does the character have any flaws or strengths? Does the character have any backstory that you can use to develop this character or will you invent the history as you write the book?
I'll post a more in-depth character creation guide in the future, but start thinking about this now.
Develop The Story's Outline
Before writing any book, you have to know what the book is about and what happens in it. It seems obvious, but you'd be surprised how many people launch into writing 'to see where it goes'. From my own personal experience I can tell you how that goes, and it's not pretty.
Once you know what the book is about, you have to develop the scenes that make up the core of your story. For example, if you're writing a romance, you need to know the scenes your readers expect. Shawn Coyne, author of The Story Grid, calls these the 'obligatory' scenes. I have the perfect tool for pinning these scenes down, but there are plenty of resources out there if you want to do some digging.
Your outline is your plan for the events of the book, what they mean to the characters, and what they do based on those events.
Establish Your Story's Timeline
Readers need context when they're writing. As well as what's happening at any given moment, they need to understand when it's happening — and so do you.
You need to establish what that timeline looks like. To do this, you need to identify what major events your story encompasses — the beginning, the middle, and the end — and then ask yourself during what timeframe those events span. They Both Die at the End by Adam Silvera spans one day. House of Suns by Alistair Reynolds spans about five million years. Gosh.
Keep in mind the major milestones that your story covers, then apply them to your timeline.
Plan & Write Your Scenes
Writing a novel can be overwhelming. Now that you have your story's outline and timeline, you need to break it down into scenes.
Scenes are the individual events that make up the plot of your story. They carry the action, the emotion, and the conflict. They are the meat and bones. Without scenes, your story would be nothing more than a synopsis. Scenes are what move your story forward. Each scene should be written in such a way that the reader is turning the page.
Writing a good scene might seem to be a straightforward process, but it’s not quite as easy as it seems. A good scene has to have the right elements in order to be effective. A well-written scene can help readers imagine a character’s surroundings, feel a character’s emotions, appreciate a character’s motivations, and understand the actions they take. If you’ve ever felt like your writing is lacking, it might be because you haven’t paid close enough attention to what makes a scene work.
A good writer is always explicit about what the character is thinking. We care about what a character is thinking because we want to relate to them. We want to feel like their goals are also ours and that we can stand in their shoes when it comes down to making decisions, too. Many writers think that keeping the protagonist’s thoughts in confidence will create a sense of mystery, but it's actually knowing what they're thinking that ticks all the boxes for us readers by bringing us a piece closer into knowing them personally, which makes us feel more invested in the outcomes of their quest!
Scenes are the building blocks of your story. Plan 'em, then write 'em.
Hire Someone Who Offers Development Edits
Assuming you've finished your first draft, you've already written something that at least resembles a book. It may not be very long or it may not be very good, but you need to get it from a rough, half-finished manuscript into a real, publishable book.
That's where a book coach comes into play. They'll read your entire manuscript, then give you their professional feedback in an in-depth editorial letter. Years of human evolution have created rules to story design. If you get it wrong, readers will simply put your book down and find another book that holds their attention.
Developmental editing is sometimes referred to as a development edit or a manuscript assessment, but check with your potential book coach as to what exactly you're getting for your money.
There is so much more to writing a book than this — covering everything will take years — but you should be able to apply the steps I've listed to writing your first book.
If you are still not sure which direction you’d like to go, I would love to help. Go ahead and book a free, thirty-minute call with me, and I'll be happy to talk things through. I won't give you the hard sell — I took a sales job when I was at university and lasted three months.
If I'm not the right coach for you, I can find one who is!