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Ready, Set, Write! Planning, Preparing, and Writing Your Novel This Year

Originally published January–March 2015

This is the year you’ve promised yourself that you’re finally going to get around to writing that novel. So let’s get ready, let’s get set, and let’s write.

Get Ready: Is Your Setting Ready? #ReadySetWrite |
Ready. Set. Write.: Planning, Preparing, and Writing Your Novel This Year

    This is the year you’ve promised yourself that you’re finally going to get around to writing that novel. The one that you’ve always dreamed of writing but have never actually sat down to do.

    Or this is the year that you’ve resolved to finish your manuscript. Or this is the year that you’re going to write two, three, or more manuscripts—but you just aren’t sure how to do it since it takes you a year or longer to get one story down on paper just right.

Get Ready: Is Your PREMISE Ready?

    I have a story idea, thanks.

    Well . . . story premise is a bit more complex than a story idea. Conversely, premise is not nearly as complex as plot.

Get Ready: Are Your CHARACTERS Ready?

    Now that you have your PREMISE nailed down, it’s time to start thinking about characters. Since we’re not actually writing yet—or really even in deep preparation for writing—now is the time to really just concentrate on who’s going to be in the story, not on deep character development.

Get Ready: Is your SETTING ready?

    Sometimes, the geographic location of a story is an integral part of the premise. Other times, we have to figure out where the best setting for our story will be. And this is something you need to know before you get into the planning stage.

#ReadySetWrite: Get Set--Writing Your Opening  Scene(s) |
Get Set: Developing Your Backstory

    This is known as giving your characters extended lives. Just as you exist before and after the few weeks you might spend caught up in some project or conflict, your characters need an existence beyond the scope of your story in order to come across as real people, rather than just two-dimensional caricatures who vanish like a puff of smoke as soon as their role in the story is over.

Get Set: Picking Your Point of View and Viewpoint Characters

    Now that you know the backstories of your characters and storyworld, it’s time to start preparing to choose in what style and in what viewpoints your story will be told.

Get Set: Getting to Know Your Setting

    Last week, we discussed backstory and the importance of knowing the backstory of your setting, in addition to your characters. But now it’s time to get to know your setting even more intimately.

Get Set: Doing Your Research

    If you do a good bit of your research before you start writing—research that may start even way back when you’re developing the premise of your story—when something comes up as you’re writing, you’re either already going to have notes on it, or you’re going to know which book or website from which you’re likely to find the information you need.

Get Set: Determining Your Story’s Tone

    Will your story be lighthearted? serious? Will it be dark and moody or bright and cheery? Soulful and somber? Or fun and witty? Cynical and sarcastic? Or witty and irreverent?

    That’s what it means to set a tone.

Get Set: Setting Writing Goals and Timelines

    It’s all well and good to be ambitious and say you’re going to have the rough draft of your manuscript finished in three months—or even less time. And, if you’re an experienced writer and you know your own production ability, then you know whether or not that’s a reasonable goal.

Get Set: Figuring Out Your Characters’ Desires, Goals, and Motivations

    There are a couple of things lurking in the work you’ve already done up to this point which will be important to dig out and define at this point: your main characters’ goals and motivations.

Get Set: Structuring Your Story in Seven Steps

    The easiest way to not only make sure you have enough story to reach your desired word count—as well as to have something that keeps you on track when you feel lost or derailed somewhere after about chapter 3—is to use some kind of outline structure. If you’re writing genre fiction, this is a little easier, because there are certain markers, certain landmarks your story needs to hit in order to meet reader (and publisher) expectations.

Get Set: Getting into the Draft-Writing Mindset

    One thing that can make writers, whether trying for a first manuscript or a fiftieth, want to give up is the failure to realize the difference between regular writing and draft writing.

Get Set: Setting Up Your Writing Space(s)

    We as writers are blessed with the ability to ply our chosen art form anywhere we might find ourselves—from jotting notes on paper restaurant napkins to what-if’ing on the order of worship during a long-winded sermon to plotting a three-book series on a butcher-paper table cloth during a dinner/concert. But this isn’t the most practical way to go about writing an entire manuscript, much less trying to do it on a deadline, self-imposed or otherwise.

Get Set: Writing Your Opening Scene(s)

    Rather than repeat everything that’s already been written about crafting the “perfect” opening scene, let’s discuss what it means to sit down and write an opening scene—or a dozen—for the book you’ve been getting Ready and Set to Write.

Writing Your Story Scene by Scene #ReadySetWrite |
Write: Writing Your Story Scene by Scene

    When you sit down to work on your story, don’t think about “writing the story,” think about “writing a scene.” If you don’t think about what you’re doing in terms of small chunks, then it’s going to be overwhelming and is the quickest path to writer’s block.

Write: Using Dialogue to Bring Your Story to Life

    Because we’re dealing with words on a page, not being spoken aloud by actors with the benefit of staging, lighting, props, and direction, we have to hit somewhere between these two screen writers—with excellent dialogue that keeps readers’ attention engaged while also building tension and moving the story forward without getting bogged down in exposition or being so awkwardly phrased as to be uncomfortable or unbelievable—all the while balancing it with dazzling narrative and action.

Write: “Stealing” Writing Time and Revisiting Your Goals

    As I’ve stated in another post, everywhere is a good place to brainstorm (or write). But how often do we either recognize and/or utilize the opportunity to “steal” that time and actually use it for writing?

Write: Storyboarding to Avoid the Sagging Middle

    As with most of the rest of the aspects of writing, there are just about as many different ways to do this as there are writers. For me, there are actually two steps to how I storyboard.

Write: Building Your Momentum (and Word Count) with #1k1h Writing Sprints

    Sometimes, when you’re in the middle of your manuscript and you just can’t seem to move forward—and even storyboarding doesn’t help—the only thing that does help is setting a timer and making yourself write, marathon-style.

Write: Generating Conflict and Collecting Narrative Debt

    This is what the middle of the story is about: the triumph of our characters over any conflict we as the writers can throw in their paths. Be mean to your characters. Take away from them what they treasure most in this world and give it to their arch-nemesis. Strip them of everything. Treat them like Job and see what they do.

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