So, you have a balloon idea for a novel or you have already written one and thinking about doing another? Getting an idea for a novel is easy. However, getting a concept for a book is the easy part.
Okay, this is how I translate an idea into an actual novel.
Step 1 – Book concept and theme…
The idea balloon must be firmly anchored by its content. If you simply have an idea, that balloon will end up in a galaxy far, far away. But you are telling yourself that you already have the story content, no? You might have an idea, but what is the story?
Translate that idea into a possible story
Every novel must to contain a defined scope. It all depends on how complicated or simple you want your opus to be. The possibilities are endless, but you must make a firm decision at the outset and choose what the scope of the book will be, then stick to it! Nothing wrong with writing a complex novel, but the crafting gets very much more involved and there are lots of crevices to fall into for the unprepared. See how I started on my writing path: www.stefanvucak.com/on-writing.html
Step 2 – Research and character identification…
In every endeavor, to ensure success, you must research, research, research. If you are still struggling to develop that idea balloon, take a step back and review your concept and theme. If you are past that, consider what you will be writing: drama, thriller, action…
At this stage you are all excited and tempted to get stuck into the writing before all those brilliant flashes and scenes fade away. That’s a no-no. Certainly, write down snippets that give you a warm fuzzy, but tuck them for later use. Consider these gems as elements of your research. Impulse jumping on a computer and pounding away can work well for a short story, but not for a major work, no matter how good you are.
How do you do the research?
These days there are so many information sources. Your local library is a goldmine of useful material. And, of course, the Internet is a bottomless well of stuff, and you don’t even have to get up out of your chair. Not everything on the Internet is accurate. So, research from several sources and cross-reference. Don’t be fooled; this exercise can be exacting and tedious, but it is absolutely essential.
Once you have the static background all mapped out, the next and most important part of the research step, and perhaps the most demanding, is identifying your characters.
Who are your characters?
A story can be distilled into two main elements: what happens, and who does what to whom and why. You must identify:
- Who is the main story character?
- Is there more than one?
- What do they do in the story to makes them central?
- Who are the secondary characters?
- Who are the bit players?
All this effort culminates in two important outcomes that should give you a really warm feeling – I hope. The background research has provided a backdrop for the book and given you confidence that the concept is sound. The second, you now know who your characters are and basically what they will do in the story.
Step 3 – Defining your characters…
When you are writing a novel, you are writing about people. If it’s not about people, then you are writing a user manual.
In days long gone, I was more interested in the process: the how and what, not the why and by whom. Such writing is easy, as processes tend to be static – most of the time – and talking about inanimate objects or action scenes where guns blaze or starships chase each other, is fun and can be eminently readable. In any really good novel, it is people who do things, not machines. But people are quirky, unpredictable, and a general pain. They are much harder to write about if you want them to be real. Unfortunately, that’s where the story is.
How do I define my characters?
By now, you should have your cast of characters lined up against the wall with ID cards on their chests. This is the time to roll up your sleeves, put on your thinking cap, and make each one of them real. You need to:
- Define physical characteristics: height, weight, facial features, distinguishing features such as scars, limp, or whatever.
- Mannerisms: does the person twitch, scratch periodically, slouch, stoop, point with his finger…
- Dress, color, food preferences…
- Emotional makeup: cool, analytical, emotional erratic, judgmental…
You may very well ask, why bother with all that? It seems like a load of hard work I will never use in the novel and I already know what my characters are like. Perhaps, but you are fooling yourself.
The invaluable benefit of doing this step is that it provides consistency and an anchor for your characters. You are giving them a personality. I have read books where in one chapter the main character is six foot two, and in the next, he is five foot ten. Instead of having blue eyes, he suddenly has brown ones. There is no excuse for such sloppy writing. In a novel that spans several hundred pages, your characters must behave consistently and be real!
Step – 4 Write the story outline…
Before I put pen to paper or touch that word processor keyboard, I have to know what I am writing about. Sure, I have a book concept already defined, but a concept is not the story. Writing an outline is where the hard work really starts.
How do I write an outline?
What I do first is build my story skeleton – the wire frame. This can be done any number of ways: bullet points, a series of sentences/paragraphs, even a process flow diagram. They all work. What I do is start by jotting down the initial scene ideas and build from there. I know by now the main plot and the ending, but it’s the in between bits that need joining and filing out. An initial outline is meant to deliver a structure around which everything else is built. If you end up doing this part wrong, you shouldn’t be surprised when bits start falling off, or the agonies you will suffer during the actual writing when the thing doesn’t hang together. Writing can be an exhilarating, creative act that generates an immense high. It can also be a cause for depression and thoughts of jumping from a tall building. To avoid the latter, get the basics done right and enjoy the buzz.
Again, how do I write that outline?
Once I have my skeleton wired up, writing a detailed outline depends on the story’s complexity. The more involved the story, the greater effort must be done with the outline. If you fail to do this, then you’ll get stuck, an event called writer’s block – more depression. Sure, there are always little things that can hold me up while writing, but I never get stuck on a plot or sub-plot element, and that’s because I have thought it all through already. Warning! Don’t get carried away with your outline and start to actually write scenes in unnecessary detail! You will only be wasting energy.
Step 5 – Start writing the story…
There are certain mechanics to writing and every author is different – whatever gives you a high. For me, I use the old-fashioned pen and notebook. In so many way, that first sentence and paragraph can set the atmosphere for the whole novel, and you better get it right. It sets the mood and flavor that will be followed through the rest of the work, or should.
You are on your way!
Once that first bit is written, I’m off, my pace limited only by the need to refuel. There is nothing so satisfying than having words flow and things happen that my pen can hardly keep up. The raw process of creation can be giddying – until you hit a pothole or two, which always happens at some stage. Once in the computer, the whole process is repeated: pen to paper, paper to computer, editing. Oh, keep backup files – always – and more than one. See my article on editing: www.stefanvucak.com/author-tools—editing.html
The fun part while writing is that your characters will develop a life of their own and end up saying and doing things that could surprise you. They sure as hell always surprise me. But that’s okay, and it means the characters are real, not merely two-dimensional cardboard cutouts. However, as the author, I must control what they do or the thing could descend into irrelevancy. Everything must conform to the story outline! Read another of my brainteasers: www.stefanvucak.com/point-of-view-and-head-hopping.html
Step 6 – Finishing your opus…
The first thing I do when I finish that opus is to leave the thing alone for a little while, which is not all that hard. After many months pounding away on the keyboard, it doesn’t take much convincing not to look at the damned thing again. But to truly finish it, I go over the whole novel, first on the computer, then printing everything out and looking at it with a critical eye. Once this pass is done, you must be prepared to do it all over again at least twice more with some time between each. And every time, there are errors to pick up. As an author, I am never completely satisfied the book is perfect. Still, I must draw a line in the sand somewhere and leave it, prepared to move onto something else.
The final end
Behind every great book lies a lot of hard work, and a lot of it must be done before you even start writing. So, prepare well before you put pen to paper and you will ensure a successful outcome. If you omit the planning, research, and character development stages, don’t be surprised at what comes out the other end.
Stefan Vucak is an award-winning author of the Shadow Gods series of books. His contemporary political thriller ‘Cry of Eagles’ has won the coveted 2011 Readers Favorite silver medal award. www.stefanvucak.com/my-blog.html
Stefan Vucak is an award-winning author of seven techno sci-fi novels, including With Shadow and Thunder which was a 2002 EPPIE finalist. His Shadow Gods Saga books have been highly acclaimed by critics. His recent release, Cry of Eagles, won the coveted 2011 Readers Favorite silver medal award. Stefan leveraged a successful career in the Information Technology industry and applied that discipline to create realistic, highly believable storylines for his books. Born in Croatia, he now lives in Melbourne, Australia.
Iran’s nuclear capability represents a clear national threat to Israel. Although concerned, the United States and Europe are reluctant to increase sanctions. Frustrated that nothing is being done, Mossad decides to force the United States into action. A black ops team sabotages a refinery complex in Galveston and plants evidence that incriminates Iran, confident that an enraged America will retaliate. Congress and the public urge the U.S. president to bomb Iran, but the administration lacks direct evidence. With carriers positioned in the Gulf ready to strike, the world waits to see if the Middle East will explode into open conflict. With tension mounting, the FBI uncovers a shocking truth. It wasn’t Iran at all, but Israel! A government falls and America forces Israel to confront the Palestinian problem.