So. You want to write a book.
That’s amazing! Congratulations!
As a new author, writing your first book is a big deal, and I’m sure you have a ton of questions right now. I totally get it. But go ahead and give yourself a pat on the back! The fact that you’re taking the time to research and learn is huge. A lot of people put off writing books because they don’t think they can, or are overwhelmed by how much they don’t know.
Trust me, I was one of those people.
So again: GO, YOU!
Now, I’m a huge advocate of teaching the book-writing ropes to people who want to be creative writers. And even if you don’t know how to write just yet, know that you can indeed become a creative writer. In my opinion, anyone can.
That being said, I want to share 5 things every first-time author needs to know before writing a book. These are important parts of the writing process that can trip up a lot of new writers, and even some pros! Let’s dive in!
1. Your story will change
Yes, it’s true. Whether it’s a small sub-plot or a massive revelation, your story will most likely change as you write it.
Honestly, what can we expect? When you map out your book, you’re working with the bare bones of the story. Fleshing it out means filling in those gaps to create something cohesive, interesting, and evocative. During that process, you may find one of those original structural pieces may not fit anymore.
This is 100% normal.
And remember, you are not bound by any rules or stipulations that say ‘nothing can change!’ Even more, the ability and awareness to make the necessary changes in your story- the one you’ve worked so hard on – requires toughness. You might really really, really like a certain scene or character, or love a particular sub-plot, and someone will tell you it doesn’t work.
My advice? Don’t be precious. Don’t let sentiments overtake the quality and consistency of your work. If you think an aspect of your story is crucial to keep, consider how you can redirect it so that it works in favor of your narrative.
I had to do this just last month for the book my editor is reviewing. He told me my main character’s magic isn’t clear, and that I should change her power to something else. I was like, “Are you kidding me??” Her magic is the center of the whole story! What do you mean, ‘change her gift’, you crazy person!?
He expressed his concerns, and it was difficult to listen. I wanted to argue, to be angry, to disregard his thoughts. Still, I listened.
He then pointed out two different scenes, and how her abilities don’t seem to make sense in comparison. After hearing him and reading through those scenes, I was so surprised. Because he was right. It wasn’t clear at all.
In my mind, I knew exactly what Kia could do. I knew everything about her magic. But my portrayal of her abilities was incorrect and inconsistent. Any reader would have been confused!
In the end, the changes pulled the story together with amazing strength. And yes, I had to change my story. But it was more effective.
If you remember anything: Always listen to your reader when they are confused. How you choose to fix it is 100% up to you.
2. You get to know your characters as you go
Yeah, it’s true. Not every author knows everything about their characters or backstories before they write. Some map out whole backstories in depth before they even begin their book. Others learn as they go.
Any techniques are fine. It truly depends on who you are as a writer, and what works best for your workflow. Do you like to know what to expect at all times? Have a well-crafted plan? You might want to character map. Are you a bit more experimental and go-with-the-flow? Try writing your character into the scene and see what they do!
Either way, no matter who you are, you will undoubtedly learn something new about your characters as you write. You’ll think of a backstory that ties together past and present, or you’ll realize there might be another underlying motivation. No matter what happens, don’t suppress these feelings as they arise. Explore the revelations and accept the flowing nature of book writing.
Takes a bit of pressure off, eh?
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3. Not every detail matters
*** This is SO important. ***
Let me be honest. I don’t want to hear about everything the protagonist eats, thinks, wears, or touches. In fact, no one does. Why? It’s boring and takes away from the story.
A well-written narrative includes only the details that drive the story forward.
Take a moment to consider this.
If a detail doesn’t move things along, don’t include it. Now, this doesn’t mean you can’t have any details. Because who would read that book? We need the details that matter.
If your details contribute to:
- Story tension
… keep it.
For instance, let’s say you’re reading a scene where a normal teenage girl is out for a jog. She gets jumped by four men and tries her best to fight off these attackers. You’d call that a life-or-death situation, right?
Now let’s say in the middle of hasty fighting, our author includes three sentences describing what the attackers looked like and were wearing.
Wouldn’t that seem strange? Here, this average girl with no combat training is fighting an overwhelming number of men off, and she’s studying the specifics of faces and clothes? No way.
In this context, details like that would be useless and distracting. She would likely only notice two or three defining features before experiencing a fight-or-flight response, which can cause memory loss as it is. Even more, unnecessary details slow down what would be a very fast-paced situation.
Authors new and old will fall into this mistake because they want to enrich the story and make it more impactful. But not all details enrich a story.
To flip it on its head, let’s say this girl is a Kim-Possible-Type teen and is basically CIA Jr. If she’s good at approaching intense situations with a meticulous, calm, and observant plan, she might study their clothing. She might make a note of a scar on one man’s temple, and how another smelled like Cuban cigars. This makes sense because it is in her nature and character to do so, and adds something interesting to the progression of events.
4. Your characters will jump into the driver’s seat
Rule: don’t let plot drive the character. Let your character react to events naturally.
If you write a story only meant to go to event from event and you make your protagonist follow the straight line, you might be sacrificing the character’s integrity. They won’t be rounded or complex people. Just sort of like puppets going from scene to scene.
By sinking deep into your character, you can understand what they would do/how they would react to each situation. Follow that. Like we talked about above, your story might change. And this is ok! Stories aren’t just about the plot, but about the people within those plots. Stay true to them.
5. Perfection isn’t possible
There is no such thing as a perfect book.
Repeat this, and release all standards you have made for yourself. You don’t have to be Tolkien or Patterson. There is no ideal style or flawless story. Every book is unique, and every book could be changed for the ‘better’ in someone else’s eyes. Even further, there will always be someone who thinks you failed.
I don’t say this to discourage you – quite the opposite. I say this to release you from fear. You cannot write a book that everyone will love, just as a painter can’t make a painting everyone will love. This is the nature of art. You create something and release it to the world. What they do with it is entirely out of your control.
Invest in creating a piece of art that you love, that you are proud of. No one can ask any more – even from a first-time writer.
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