Anyone can write. Just like anyone can sing, anyone can act and anyone can dance. Whether they do it well or not is truly a matter of interpretation. But can anybody “create”? I believe they can. However, I also feel it takes proper instruction, skill, commitment and the determination to follow the creation through to its completion. Some of the common sayings I hear all the time is “I used to write. I just can’t find the time. I have a good story, but I can never finish it.”
*pats on back* It’s okay. Writing a book isn’t something that can be done in a night or a fortnight. The book I’m working on right now, I started writing over two years ago. Writing a book is a project, the same as building a car by yourself or planting a garden. You have to tend to it and help it grow.
Thus, I’ve written this little manual to help you out. This is the process I use to write fictional books and I’m only ending the steps with the completion of the first draft. Keep in mind that this process may not work for everyone, but it’s the seamless flow that’s worked for me since I graduated from film school. To my credit, I have thirteen completed works on Amazon.
Step 1. The Premise – The premise is the general concept or idea of what your story is about. It’s that “what if” question that’s found while brainstorming. Think of that summary that’s found on the back of a DVDs. The length of it can vary from writer to writer. It can be one or two sentences or it can be a whole paragraph. Personally it takes me about 2-3 pages because my stories are always complex with multiple perspectives wrapped into one. Hang on, let me give you an example of what I’m talking about. For instance in the “Ghost of Cloud Beaudry”.
Cloud Beaudry promising young law graduate with aspirations of becoming a successful defense attorney. On the surface, he looks like a bright, respectful and virtuous young man. Under the surface, he’s cursed and tormented by the sights and sounds of dead killers and their victims. When his single promiscuous mother is murdered with the local sheriffs reluctant to do anything about it, Cloud strikes up an unlikely partnership with spiteful young ghost who was murdered by her sorority sisters fifty years earlier. Together they solve a string of mysteries and use the paranormal to get back at the unrepentant.”
When you write you’re premise, I’d try to get down as much as possible, as much as you can remember and want to put in your story. Don’t worry about completing a beginning, middle or an end. Don’t even worry about it making sense yet. As long as you have a conflict and a resolution in mind, as long as you have a character who wants to achieve something or overcome some obstacle, write that down.
Think of it like the seed. This is the starting point by which your story will eventually grow. I don’t focus on character names or even the character’s backstory yet. This is just the part where I talk about what’s happening and why is it happening? What is it that the main character wants to achieve and what’s stopping them?
Step. 2 – The Inspiration – After jotting down the premise, I always like to make sure I write down what has happened to me in my life that sparked the idea of the story. It’s not like I’m just laying in bed and a story just comes to me. There’s always something I learn, or something that’s entered my world that stimulates my imagination. Writing the inspiration down is important because very often, I’ll be in the middle of writing a book when a new premise comes to me. I can’t just abort the book I’m writing to start a new one. So I write down the premise and what inspired me to come up with the premise.
Thus, when I’m finished with a book, I already have my next project lined up. As time passes, you change, improve, grow more mature, thus your mindset and way of thinking won’t likely stay the same. So reading what inspired you to come up with the story can bring you back in time and refuel your imagination for the story. It’s also good for if you’re working on a project and you’re a six-months to a year into it…and you find yourself losing sight of the original intent, or direction of your story.
Examples of inspiration can come from an enlightening debate or argument that you had with some one. It could come from a new study or article you read. It may be an escape from a painful experience, or an entertaining a new movie or TV show. Then there’s music. New music is always a good imagination churner. I can’t tell you how many battles I’ve seen when I listen to metal music. I know I can’t be the only one who dreams of movie trailers to a songs of any genre.
For instance with the “Ghost of Cloud Beaudry,” I was inspired to write it after I read an article about the top ten most haunted college campus in America. UGA of Athens, Georgia was one of them. My main character was inspired by the intellect and misanthropic views of “Light Yagami” of the “Death Note” series. And of course, there was a girl who was my object of affection at the time. If I ever forget (I won’t with this story) I can easily re-read the ghost article or watch me some “Death Note”.
After I read the article about haunted campuses somehow I ended up wandering around this giant building that I was working in at night. In some of the hallways, the lights were off so my mind started to toy with me a bit. Was that a shadow? Did I just see another face by mine in the reflection of that window? Am I scared? Why am I scared? They’re spirits while I’m a solid tangible being. That’s when it hit me. There are so many stories and movies about people running scared from ghosts. What if I wrote a story about a human who not only wasn’t afraid of ghost, but he commanded them to do his bidding. Viola!
Step 3. – Research- I’m reluctant to make this a step at all because in my experience, I’m constantly doing research throughout the remaining steps. But if you’re story revolves around any theme that doesn’t pertain to what you personally had to go through in life, it’s a good idea to do some research. You can track down people who are experts in the field, read up about it online, visit a library for reference material, or even watch documentaries. For instance, David Ayer of “Training Day” fame wrote “End of Watch” based on his lifelong friends who was LAPD officer. That, and of course he grew up in South Central LA.
With the “Ghost of Cloud Beaudry,” I used UGA as my setting. I’ve never been to UGA, thus I had to do research on the school campus, the layout, facilities and student programs. My main character is a law grad, so I had to research different practices of law and the hiring procedure of law firms. With it being fiction, you’re better off making up the names of buildings and businesses while taking into account the local culture and socioeconomic structure.
Step. 4 – Character Development or Biography- This is the part where you brainstorm about all of the main characters and use your creative imagination to put yourself in their shoes. This is where you decide their races, their genders, their background, their strengths, weaknesses. Are they good looking, or non-descript. What do they enjoy doing? What do they hate doing? What are they trying to achieve? What have they already accomplished?
I believe that on a subconscious level, if they aren’t blatantly aware of it, every writer has their own preference in the kind of persona they’re either trying to promote to the world, or a character flaw that they want to expose. Most likely, if you’re new to writing, you’ll probably mold your character in the appearance and personality of someone you know on a personal level, or a character that’s garnered your respect and admiration from another piece of fiction. Keep in mind that as you progress with these steps, you might change your mind about a character in order to get them to fit in with the story so it makes sense, and there’s nothing wrong with that. The process of any writing project is an organic one. Things are constantly changing, constantly growing.
For instance, “Cloud Beaudry grew up a single child to a single mom who hid the fact that she was just as cursed as he is. He’s very respectful, humble and oblivious about his good looks and charm due to that he was grossly overweight all during high school and bullied because of it. Cloud’s seen his single mom go through a string of abusive men, the type of men he abhors and is determined never to become and strives for academic excellence because its always been the one thing that made his mother proud of him. As much as he’d love to spend his career keeping criminals behind bars, he knows there’s more money in criminal defense than prosecution. He hopes to make enough money so that his mother can quit her waitressing job and leave all of those abusive drunkards alone. Of course when his mother is abruptly murdered by one of those drunkards, Cloud’s priorities come spiraling down.”
Step. 5 – Beat Breakdown – The beat breakdown, or the outline is the frame of the story. In the film industry, the beat refers to the main occurrence or what happened in the scene. For instance:
– Cloud attends his mother’s funeral. He hears southern detectives in the distance calling his mother a whore who got what was coming to her. His anger is amplified by the screams of victims crying up from their graves.
– Cloud attends class of favorite professor, still dressed in funeral clothing. Other students think he’s weird, only Jessica shows concern.
– Cloud meets professor after class. Professor encourages Cloud to think about what he wants, not what his mother wants.
– Montage of Cloud attending other classes, establishing his intelligence, inquisitive nature and strong individuality. Montage ends at night with Cloud studying alone in a hall. Malicious spirits harass him, forcing him to think of his dead mother.
Boom! Those four beats take up the first ten pages.
That’s it. We don’t write too much dialogue unless the dialogue is something extremely important that you need the characters to say. We don’t focus on describing too much of the scene, or the character’s appearance. Just the main beat of what happens in the scene. It’s usually no longer than one to three sentences. A good practice is to use note cards for your first project. If it doesn’t fit on a note card, than its too long.
We go beat by beat until we have a beginning, middle and end. It’s important to do this rather than rushing into writing the book in full detail, because if something doesn’t fit, it’s easier to get rid of a beat, than to go back and rewrite a whole or part of a chapter that doesn’t make sense. If you do have to go back and change a chapter, then you’re practically going back in time. And you know what they say. If something changes in the past, it affects everything. You do this too many times, and you can get discouraged and throw the story in the fire.
Step. 6 – Churn Out the Pages (Script, Treatment, Novel or Short Story)
We’ve gotten to the part where you finally just sit down and write. You’ve come so far. Just like a house, you have your foundation, the premise. You have your design, the inspiration. You have your tools, which are the character’s biographies. The beat sheet is the frame. Now all you have to do is fill in the gaps by building the walls, windows, doors and the roof.
You have everything you need to complete a written body of work from start to finish. This is the most difficult part because it can take months and sometimes years to complete, starting from the prologue down to the last chapter, especially if you’re working two jobs or raising a family. This is where you show how committed and determined you are. You have to set aside time where you can completely isolate yourself from everything and everyone to get into the world of your book and put yourself in your character’s shoes. This is where you use your literary prowess to fully describe the setting, come up with credible dialogue, the character’s appearance and paint a picture for your reader.
I would’ve created a seventh step that is proofreading, but the purpose of this article is the completion of a novel. Once you have it written, there are so many paths you can take. You can proofread it yourself, write multiple drafts or get someone else to edit it for you. For many of my stories, I’ve already thought about franchising it, pitching it into a movie, video game or TV show. The possibilities are endless, thus the steps can become endless.
That being said, once you’ve finished writing a story from the title page to the prologue all the way to the last word of the last sentence in the last chapter…simply relax. Don’t fight the high but let the sense of completion and accomplishment wash over you. Pop open a bottle of wine, pour yourself a glass and smile knowing that in your writing you just witnessed triumphs and tragedies unlike anything you’ve ever seen before. You’ve experienced the anxiety of heartaches and the warmth of genuine love. You’ve been defeated, but you got back up to reclaim victory!
Throughout it all…you’ve attained self-discovery. Self-Discovery is a gift that’s elusive for most people. And there are those who argue that these kinds of self-discoveries are a false sense of reality. I’m not going to lie. It can be. But then again, I’d argue that it’s no different from the knowledge one attains from a video games or a period piece (film). It’s incredibly shortsighted to dismiss it all entirely, but I’m getting off topic. Not to mention…no. I’m getting off topic.
Notice how I didn’t use a single quote of someone else during my article here. This is because…everyone has their own method of doing things. The procedure I just laid out for you isn’t the only way, or even the best way to complete and author a book. This is what works best for me and I have a proven track record of by God getting things done!
Step 1 – Jot down the premise.
Step 2 – Record what inspired you to come up with the premise.
Step 3 – Research your topic.
Step 4 – Develop your characters.
Step 5 – Create your beat breakdown for structure.
Step 6 – Start churning out the pages.
That’s all easier said than done, I know. If it’s too tough for you, then maybe you aren’t the writer you think you are. *lounges back in chair with condescending smile* Maybe you should stick to blogging and pushing out raving reviews. Criticizing others on discussion boards when you’ve got nothing to show for yourself. I kid. I kid. Just being playful is all.
I welcome you with open arms. I think if you simply put forth the effort, you might surprise yourself. The first time I held one of my printed books in my hand, I couldn’t believe it. People are still talking about “Romeo and Juliet.” They still do remakes of the “Three Musketeers”. Most of our summer blockbusters will be forgotten in 40 years. But our written masterpieces will last for 400. So many people believe in you. Make sure you’re one of them.
*bows* *walks off stage and trips on purpose to show I’m imperfect*