I’m starting a new manuscript. Mostly because I had this burst of inspiration a few weeks ago that’s finally had enough time to simmer, but also to help preserve my sanity while trudging through the query trenches. The idea of “starting to write a book” is so intimidating, and while it’s always a scary prospect, I’ve gotten into a sort of preliminary planning routine that seems to be working for me. While I’m certainly no expert, I’ve done this a few times now, and I thought I’d share a bit about my process.
After I’ve mentally toyed with my shiny new idea for a few weeks (or a few months), I dive in to Lori Wilde’s Got High Concept ebook. Going through her various brainstorming exercises helps me flesh out my idea, narrow the focus of the story I want to tell, and get to the heart of my of my characters’ backgrounds, desires, and vulnerabilities. I’m also able to come up with ways to really challenge my characters, as well as integrate plot devices, enticing topics and universal themes.
By the time I finish with Got High Concept, I’m able to write a compelling pitch that helps me stay focused on the heart of the story. Big rule: the pitch must be twenty-five words or less. Later, I use this pitch to craft a three-line pitch, and then a query. The pitch I came up with for Where Poppies Bloom (before I ever started writing the story itself) was: Guilt-ridden Callie Ryan chooses between life with the golden boy who dulls her pain, or eternal escape with the ghost who holds a dark secret.
Ordinary World/Opening Image
Inciting Incident/Call to Adventure
Resistance to Call to Adventure
Meeting with Mentor
1st Turning Point
Rosy Glow/Celebration scene
2nd Turning Point
All is Lost/Dark Moment
The Road Back
It takes me awhile (like, several weeks) to get my beat sheet completely filled in. Once I do, the story starts to feel more manageable, not like the jumbled mess of actions, reactions and interactions it was in my head. I use my beat sheet to then craft a more detailed scene outline, one I follow pretty closely once I begin to write. Of course my scene outline isn’t set in stone. I add and delete as I go, because once I start writing, the story begins to come to life and certain aspects inevitably become more or less important.
I should mention that all this planning is done in conjunction with researching whatever aspects of the story I need to (setting, random legal/medical stuff, names, dates, whatever…). While my process may seem formulaic (sometimes I wish I could just start writing and see where I end up!), an organized start is exactly what I need to gain enough confidence to dive in to a two-hundred-fifty page story.
What about you? Are you a plotter? An outliner? A user of Post-It notes? A fly-by-the-seat-of-your-panster? How do you prepare to begin writing a story?