Whew! It’s been a full day.I must say though, it feels good to write out the steps I’m following for building my book. See, I really AM doing something with these long days at home!
Anyways, most of what I’m going to say I learned from Donald Maass’ book “Writing the Breakout Novel”. This is the best book on writing novels I’ve ever read, and as a major agent in the industry, Maass really knows what he’s talking about. (I’ve got an autographed copy yeah!!!)
So to begin. Before I begin outlining my book, I have to understand the story I’m telling. I have to know what my book is ABOUT. This is what I call the central conflict– the big bad problem. Conflict that holds our attention is meaningful, immediate, large scale, surprising, not easily resolved and it happens to characters that we care about. Got all that? There might be several things going on in your story but to give it clarity (and make it easier to sum up and sell to an agent) you have to pin down the big problem in two sentences or less.
My central conflict may surprise you, but to simplify it- there`s monsters coming out of people`s closets. And they`re killing people. 🙂
Because my book is the second in a series, I’ve already laid the groundwork for who my characters are. If you are reading this and you are thinking about writing a book yourself, now would probably be the perfect time to start brainstorming your main character. Consider your conflict and ask yourself, what kind of qualities does my main character need to deal with this? How is he going to make it through, how is he going to get in his own way, and above all how is he going to change? All little hint- if you write a story about a character that doesn’t evolve and learn from his experiences you’ve written a tradgedy.
My main character is a boy with newly discovered magical powers who can follow the monsters back into the closet… and that`s just the beginning of who he is.
Now put on the brakes. Before I go a step further, I need to develop a theme. A theme is the glue that holds everything together. While a novel is primarily about entertainment and nobody reads them to be preached at, I still need to have something to say. We live in a society with moral values, a story that says nothing at all about the human condition is weak. Top selling authors are very opinionated people! I went back to my notes on what I really want to write about and why, and drew from that. I decided I wanted a major theme in my book to be one about the cost of love- the sacrifice that it ultimately requires.
Once you figure out your theme, acknowledge it and put it away. The point of a theme is to add depth and build layers into your story, not to pound a good story into the dirt with moralizing. Used sparingly, at key moments through action or dialogue, a bit of theme goes a long way.
Okay. So I`ve got my central conflict, I`ve got some characters that fit well into the story and I`ve got an idea of the theme. Now I`m going to build my conflict with complications, complications, complications. Basically I need to figure out how can I make it worse? Harder? More tragic? Who can I kill, whose heart can I crush? What is the very worst that could happen? I need to envision it and then do it. Donald Maass says that every writer needs to be part sadist somewhere deep down. Pretty much the best thing to do is drive full speed into danger, laughing wildly as you do it.