So, you want to write a book. For the next few weeks — maybe with a break for other writing announcements or reviews — we’ll tackle the five Ws and the H … that’s What, When, Where, Why. Who, and How. Today we’ll tackle the What. They are all interconnected.
There are many writers who make a living as a writer. But the majority are just squeaking by or writing to an audience of one. Those in the latter categories are who I would like to help with this overview.
I do believe everybody has a story to tell. We don’t share because we don’t know how to tell the story … then we get frustrated … then we give up.
It all starts with an idea. It might be a thought, something you saw that triggers an emotion, a dream. The key is developing that idea. Will it evolve into a short story? A poem? A novel? A journal jot? A blog post?
That’s entirely up to you, but the first step is getting the thought on paper (or computer screen). From there you can develop the idea from concept into something more tangible.
That’s where your creativity comes in. A lot depends on your audience. If you’re writing for yourself, for instance, like in a journal, you can use shortcuts with abbreviated words that trigger your thought. You can flesh out the words as much or as little as you want while keeping true to yourself.
If you’re writing for a wider audience, say in a blog post or – hopefully – in a novel, you have to develop the words more deeply. You have to understand what you’re writing, but more important, make sure your readers understand what you’re writing. And that sometimes can be tricky.
It’s not uncommon for authors to know what they want to say, yet completely miss the mark with their prospective readers. Yes, that tidbit is from experience.
Rule No. 1 to remember is you are vying for a prospective reader’s time. If you want to keep them engaged, you have to write at their pace. If you haven’t captured them in the first couple of sentences, you’ve probably lost them. With poetry and short stories, that hook time is even shorter.
So it’s important to develop the idea quickly. In the newspaper business, we called it the lead – those first few sentences which told readers what the story was about. You follow it with the details as you weave the story.
The same is true for any writing venue (except personal journaling). Your lead will determine your readership. We’ll get into the hows later, but I can’t underscore enough how important it is to know what you are intending to write about. The whole story revolves around that central thought. Your characters and scenes are the spokes linked to that hub. The “what” becomes the vehicle that carries your work from start to finish.
I’ll give you an example. In my newest book, My Name Is Sam … and Heaven Is Still Shining Through, the “what” was a story about life – one girl/woman’s life. After I wrote it from start to finish I realized I didn’t give readers a reason to read. So I went back and wrote an Introduction. I introduced my lead character (Sam), incorporated the ending, connected the meaning of the secondary theme of Heaven Shining Through — the title of the original novella – and invited readers to follow Sam’s journey through life with the following:
“Friends, everyone has a story. Some are dramatic. Some are humorous. Some tug at your heart. Mine is ordinary. Many would classify it as pedestrian. As I look back, there was no ‘ah hah!” moment, just a string of ‘ahs’ weaving a tale of life, love, loss, some sorrow, but oh so much joy! Just a free-willed suburban girl trying to figure out this journey called life.
“As you read my story, you’ll find some drama, some humor, some heart tugs. I know because I lived it. And through it I was constantly reminded of God’s presence in the ordinary as He allowed heaven to shine through.”
And I capped that Introduction with a personalized “Love, Sam” and the disclosure the book is a Christian-based fictional memoir.
If anyone reads that Introduction – which is also the promo – the “what” becomes clear. It’s Christian-based. It’s fiction. It’s written in a memoir style.
The genesis of the “what” in this book was actually the novella. While received well, a constant critical comment included phrases like “should have been a novel” or “too short and there could have been much more detail to develop the characters more.” So I expanded what I had in the novella with more character development and continued the story beyond the original.
The underlying “what” in the novella was the restoration of a relationship between Sam and her mother. It was told through the prism of a flashback to Sam’s life — her early home experiences, her wilder side, meeting the love of her life, Chad, her growth as a wife and mother through sorrow and blessings, and the presence of God in an ordinary life.
That’s what you have to decide. What is the underlying story? What idea do you want to develop? Most important, what do you want readers to get from your manuscript?
It’s not enough to have an idea. You have to be able to develop it.
THOUGHT TO REMEMBER: Why is a car’s windshield so large and the rear view mirror so small? Because our past is not as important as our future. So, look ahead and move on.