It is easy to come up with an idea for a book. Anything, a family story, an incident you witness can spark off that train of thought that could lead to a book plot. The hard part is translating that hazy idea into something which will work as an actual book. Most books are upwards of 60,000 words, sometimes double that amount depending on the market you are writing for. So the plot has to be good enough to carry the story through from the beginning to the end.
Sometimes the idea might seem fabulous initially. You can’t wait to start writing, However it can turn out that there isn’t enough in the idea to sustain the book, or that it just doesn’t work. If you are writing purely for your own pleasure that is not so important. Perhaps you want to write about a family history, an incident that has shaped the way the generations have evolved. That is fine, but if you want to write a book that will sell, especially in the realm of commercial fiction, you need a plot which will keep your readers attention and will make them want to share their enjoyment with others.
It helps to have a notebook, the writer’s essential tool, when an idea comes to you write it down, then the seeds are planted. The idea won’t be forgotten as you carry on with life and if you feel there is enough ‘meat’ in the story, you can begin to plot it in preparation to writing.
Authors rarely write without having an idea of where their plot is going. The task of writing a book is not easy. Getting a character from A to B can be extremely difficult. If, like most people, you are juggling your writing around a busy work and home life, it makes the time you spend on your novel such a lot easier if you know where you are going next with it.
There is nothing more daunting than knowing you have to sit down at the computer to work on your book and not know where you are going with it next. That void makes writing very difficult and sets you, as a writer, up for failure. The task of writing becomes hard and is then put off for another day, and another.
Get into the habit of writing every day, that way your writing muscle will develop, and the job will become easier.
There are writers who can and do write great masterpieces by writing whatever comes to them each time they sit at the computer, or who wait until inspiration strikes, but they are few and far between. Most will have detailed plots worked out prior to beginning to write.
At first, try to set aside some time to write, or plan your book. This can be as little as ten minutes a day if you have a tough schedule. At first it is important to let the ideas flow. Jot down everything you have thought about in terms of the book, the characters, the ideas you have for the plot, or what a non-fiction book will include.
It might be that all you have are a few very hazy ideas. Get these down, because it is these which will form the foundation of what you want to achieve. Use ‘empty’ time, when you are in the shower, dropping off to sleep, or commuting to work to think and plan your book.
Once you have the hazy ideas down in your notebook you will find that they take on a life of their own and the plot for the book will soon become apparent.
Because your time is limited it is important to break down the plot into small achievable chunks. Life becomes easier if you break the plot into a number of chapters and write down what happens in each chapter. Most fiction contains from 60 to 120,000 words. Most three page magazine articles are around 1500 words, so that will give you some idea of how much will go into a novel. From the plot you have written down, or the subjects you want to cover in non-fiction, you will see how many chapters can potentially be written. A book of around 100,000 words can be broken down into 40 chapters of 2500 words. Each of these 2500 chapters can then be broken down into mini chunks of 500 words. If you have an idea of what action will happen in each chapter then it is easy to break this down into smaller bits.
Having a plan of where the plot goes makes it easy to write the 500 words. Then when you begin to write you can get the 500 words down and then have the day to consider how you will write the detail of the next 500. In this way your 100,000 words is soon achieved.
It is a simple process to develop your book plot. Sit down with a blank computer screen or your notebook and write your book’s title in the centre. Next write the general idea you have and then as you brainstorm, write all the ideas that you have underneath the title. Don’t worry about putting them in order or selecting between them – just get everything down. These are snapshots of action which will happen in the book.
Once you’ve captured all your key ideas, you can start prioritizing them. Which ones belong in this book? Would any be more suitable for a sequel? Be prepared for lots of scribbling and crossing out. The next stage is to turn these ideas into a chapter-by-chapter outline.
Whatever kind of book you’re writing; your plan won’t be set in stone. You may well find that things change as you start writing, but that is ok. But by having a plan in place from the start you’ll find it a lot easier to stay on track with your writing, from start to finish.
And a well-planned, well written book will dramatically increase the chances that your finished book will be well received by readers.
At the planning stage don’t worry too much about the nuts and bolts of the plot, Once you have an outline you will have an idea of whether the action stalls or not, of if you have enough going on for you to want to carry on writing. If you think it looks difficult, then imagine how hard it will be for a reader to carry on.
In general a book will have an umbrella idea which will encompass all of the action. Don’t have too much going on, one major subject is enough for a book. Often writers want to shoe-horn too much into a book, but one major theme which runs through the whole book is enough. If say, you are inspired by events that have shaped your family, take one of those events and use that as the start point, the umbrella which will be the major part of the action, rather than detailing everything that has happened to the family.
Don’t be intimidated if you have an idea and then have no idea how to develop it into a story. That tiny grain of an idea is a huge gift, treasure it and nurture it and it will grow if you let it into a plot, just give it, and yourself time.
An idea can come from a chance conversation, something you witness, read about in the news, a family history, a scene in a film which sparks off another idea. Unless you want to write purely for pleasure let the idea sit for a while until you understand if it is one which is publishable, is it something people will be interested in reading?
One of the wonderful things about writing is getting those grains of ideas and how they take over your life, demanding to be written. Characters that keep tapping you on the shoulder wanting to have their voice heard. The spark of an idea could be the end of a story, it could be a single scene in a novel, quite possibly it could be a character who springs into your mind and you have no idea where they are going, or what they are going to do.
Keeping a notebook of ideas is of tremendous help to authors. Often there isn’t time to write down all of the pieces of work that spring into mind. Getting the idea down frees up the space in your mind to let you work on the one piece that is of most importance. Later will come the discipline and self-awareness to understand which of the ideas you want to work with, but don’t ever discard ideas, just get them down in the notebook you carry everywhere.
The task of working out a plot is not easy. Begin with the gem of an idea. Write that down and let it sit in your subconscious for a while. Plotting is like developing a road map for where your book will go when you begin to write. It is a very personal thing, no one way will work for every writer, but to give you a general idea for a book of say 30 chapters. Imagine your inspiration has been a chance conversation between two people discussing another friend whose boss was believed to be having an affair with one of his colleagues. The umbrella of that idea is affairs. You could be inspired to write about someone who is affected by an affair, someone who is having an affair, or someone who knows about an affair. From that start point then your job is all about imagination, brainstorming, letting the ideas come to you and see which ones you can work with.
The fun part is to let those ideas come. The hard part is to turn off the outside chatter, both external and internal which stops those ideas in their tracks. If your mind is filled with work issues, worrying about a presentation you have to do, or irritation about something that has happened at home that is all that will fill your mind. You have to get rid of that. Sometimes that is not easy, it is something you have to work at.
Good times for letting the ideas come are during your trip to work, turn off the car radio, or your headphones and just listen to your thoughts about the book plot. Push the things that worry you to the back of your mind and let the plot come forwards and sit in your imagination. Let the character grow and flesh out before your eyes. Other times for mulling over ideas are when you are in the shower, walking the dog, or in those moments before you go to sleep. Always though have your notebook handy, or failing that record your ideas on your mobile phone.
You won’t ‘get’ the whole plot at once. That can take days, sometimes months of mulling over before the plot is fully fleshed out. And again, don’t get too caught up in it as you will undoubtedly find once you start to write that your characters will develop a life of their own and do their own thing anyway. The important thing to have is a guideline for you to follow, something that will make the daunting task of writing, just that much easier.
Often it is easy to know the beginning and the end of the book, the crisis points, and then there may be a lull in the plot just before the final showdown. It is helpful to do a timeline for each of the characters. Annie will go from being unemployed and unemployable to running her own business. Jack will go from being a total couch potato to completing his first marathon. By mapping out each character’s journey it is easier to find slots in the plot, or chapter breakdown for their development to happen.
One extremely helpful way of plotting is to meditate. There are countless books and information in the media which will describe in more detail the practice of meditation. But there is little doubt that it can help work through writers block and will definitely help with plotting. The aim is to free up your mind from the needless and unhelpful chatter and to let the good stuff come through.
While it is possible to get into a meditative state while walking the dog, or during your commute (not while driving!). There is less chance of distraction if you find somewhere comfortable to do it at home or any other suitable place. Firstly, set a timer for whatever time you can spare, a few minutes will help, but try to aim for 15 – 20 minutes. Have an alarm which is gentle, not one which will break into your meditation like a sledgehammer. Try to come out of the meditation as gently as you go into it.
There are meditation apps available which will help if you need the guidance, but they aren’t essential. Then turn off any distractions, your phone, computer and just enjoy the few moments of peace. If nothing else this will help slow your brain activity.
Find a comfortable position, upright with a straight spine, let yourself relax, your shoulders droop and let your palms rest on your legs.
And then just close, or unfocus your eyes. Relax. Breathe through your nose, let yourself become aware of the in-and-out of your breath. Let your mind empty of all of the rubbish that is floating around in there and just focus on your breath. If and when your mind wanders simply return to your breath. The aim is just to free your mind of the unnecessary chatter. It is hard and takes time and practice to let go of your normal state of anxiety. Meditation is a called a practice for a reason – you need to keep at it for it to work.
This time out is one of the best gifts you can give yourself, regardless of whether you want it to help your writing or not.
It is the free space in your mind, that turning off of the needless churning of your mind going over the day to day rubbish that will allow your mind to formulate your plots. You might find it helpful, when you become more practiced at meditation, to ‘ask’ what happens in the book. How do my characters achieve this? What happens here to make this outcome. You’ll find that the answers will be given to you. Perhaps not immediately after your meditation, but often once you have returned to your ‘normal’ state the answer to your problem will just pop into your mind. While you were meditating and had let your brain have a rest from the junk, it had the time to solve the plot problem.
- Plot. Write. Sell – Chapter Three
- Plot. Write. Sell. Chapter Five