You have an idea for a story. Great! But you don’t know how to begin. No problem. Establishing an outline can be beneficial. It helps to have a plan for what goes where, but not necessary. All will be revealed. You’ll need to decide on a location and whether your story takes place in the past, present or future. Think about who the characters are and what they’re doing in the story. If you want the reader to connect with the main character, give them flaws. What do they do for a living? Who are their friends? Are they important to the story? If so, why?
The dialog should be realistic. Listen to how people talk. Is there slang? Pay attention to your character’s persona. How old are they? What is their level of education? Should a middle grader speak like an adult? Not unless you give your young character the academic skills to use words that are above their grade level.
Depending on what you are writing, some research may be required. Whatever your expertise is in, that’s the text for your non-fiction book. Whether you are a professional mechanic, chef, archeologist, psychologist, write what you know. If your fictional character likes to cook, but you the writer don’t know anything about cooking, toss a few cooking references into the dialogue, or in the scene. Even if it’s a fiction narrative, you still want to make it believable. So, research your character’s habits and hobbies.
Perhaps the biggest dilemma in writing is time. Putting thoughts on paper can be challenging, and with life’s many distractions, near impossible. Whether you write poetry, screenplays, short stories, novels, a blog, or songs, there’s work to be done. This will involve time, patience, and discipline. Maybe you need to shut off the TV for an hour and go somewhere in your home that has less disruptions. You’ll be surprised what you can write in sixty minutes. When the creativity flows (and it will), keep going.
A story needs drama, otherwise why am I reading it? Show conflict between the main character and the antagonist. What makes your main character likable? Or unlikable?
Which point of view works best; first, second or third? Perhaps you prefer multiple. Whatever you decide, stick to your decision. Are you showing, or telling a story? The difference is in the details. You can write everything that’s going to happen, or allow the reader to view it through the character’s eyes.
Still stuck? Writing workshops are an excellent way to get inspired. Join a local writing group. Write in a journal. Read more books in your genre.
The mind has the ability to generate creative ideas. It’s in our programming. Everybody is inspired by something; art, music, a poem. An artist begins with a blank canvas to paint a picture. Express on paper what you want your readers to experience. There are many ways to get inspired. Fresh air and sunshine are essential to all living things, so as a writing exercise take a long walk. Then describe everything you see, hear, smell and touch. Using your personal insights and experiences will enrich any story.
Perhaps you have a special skill or talent. Non-fiction is very popular. Look at the thousands of cookbooks, business and marketing, self-help, relationships, and science books that pop up in bookstores. There’s a wall of books dedicated to gardening! Whatever your trade is there’s someone else in the world that would love to read about it, learn from it. Share your opinions. Make them fun to read. If it interests you, it will interest others.
I don’t recall how the writing started, just that I wanted to write. I knew nothing about the process, writing techniques, outlines, or format. Being dyslexic hasn’t stopped me from exploring the depths of my imagination by envisioning places I’ve never seen; opening doors to worlds that never existed. And if I can see it, then I can write about it.
What you need to know before writing a query: What genre does your book fall under? What’s the logline? Are there enough words? Do you know that too many words can be a problem, too? A novel that has 150,000 words meant for young readers can be uninviting. And if your target audience is middle grade, but the conflict screams young adult, then that’s another red flag. These reasons may be why you’re getting rejection letters. If you don’t capture an agent’s attention in the opening pages, it’s time to re-evaluate your project and/or query letter. No worries, a simple tweak here and there might be all that’s required. Perhaps the book doesn’t match the genre. That’s an easy fix as there are plenty of categories: fiction, romance, mystery, thrillers, horror, historical, non-fiction, fantasy, science fiction, contemporary. Blending genres makes an interesting narrative; paranormal-romance, sci-fi-horror, action-thrillers, or any other combination. If you can’t decide which genre best describes your book, go with the stronger genre that pertains to the story.
Next, consider your target audience. Who will be reading your novel? This will determine how to market and promote your work. What is the appropriate age group for your book? Think of your story as a movie rating. Be attentive to social situations and follow the PG, PG-13, and R rating to pinpoint your audience. If the plot revolves around adult context, then naturally you’ll want to appeal to adult readers. If you’re writing about friendships and issues with growing up, perhaps it belongs in middle grade or chapter books. Teenage love and adolescent conflicts would fall under young adult. Though these details seem basic, it’s important to know your readers.
Depending on your audience, the word count will vary. However, some rules are made to be broken. Short stories range from 1,000 to 10,000 words. On the average, chapter books for early readers can be 10,000 to 12,000 words; middle grade novels 20,000 to 55,000 words; and young adult 55,000 to 70,000. Keep in mind, fantasy and science fiction can reach over 100,000 words as world building fills a lot of pages.
Editing. Have you checked and rechecked the grammar, punctuation, sentence structure? Is the present and/or past tense consistent throughout your novel? Whatever doesn’t belong in the story doesn’t need to be in the text.
The reason for a query letter is to sell your novel to a literary agent. You need a strong hook. One sentence that summarizes the conflict with your character. Example: In order to save his soul from damnation, Henry must enter another dimension.
In a few sentences, tell the story, like it would appear on the back of a book jacket. Who is the main character? What does he/she want? What’s standing in their way? What are the risks?
Add a bio to your query letter. Include writing credentials, blogging, something that connects you with your project that shows an agent why they should represent your book.