As promised, I’m going to start a series called The 6 Month Novel. Why 6 months? Why not. 6 months doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll have a concept on January 1st and a submission ready novel by June 30th. But it gives you a specific timeline and the steps I and other authors use to take a novel from cradle to–if not the grave–at least get it to the nursing home.
The goal is not to teach you how I write. The goal is that, by the end of this series, you have your own step-by-step method to writing your novels. I say novels because I want you to see this as a continuing career. You’re a professional writer (yes you are). And professionals have their own systems for completing goals, tasks, and projects. Your system won’t look like mine. Or Suzanne Collins’. Or Stephen King’s. You can’t use their systems. It wouldn’t work for you. So as we go through this, make notes. What works for you. Make your system so that you can repeat it over and over again.
Because each of us writes differently, I’ll try to include steps for both the strict plotter and happy-go-anywhere panster. In reality, we all plan. Our brains are sending out feelers all the way to the last chapter to see what might happen, or what we want to happen. A good panster instinctively knows how to there. The other half of us need notes, note cards, and at least thirty applications on our computers to help us keep track.
I will also be referencing Scrivener a lot. It’s the most popular writing program out there and the one I prefer. Hopefully I’ll be able to pass along a few tricks. If you’re not using Scrivener, no biggie. However, they do offer a 30 day free trial download, so I recommend you give it a shot. It’s amazing what it does for your organization. Though it will not write the novel for you.
Okay? With me so far?
Nurturing your Idea
So let’s start with the obvious. Today I want you to write down your idea. And idea is just that. A giant shark terrorizes a small tourist town. A future society chooses children from its districts to fight to the death. I’m sure you have more than one idea floating around in your brain. If you’re already working on a project, write down the idea that sparked it.
Then take it to a concept. The concept adds the “what if?” What if a new sherrif of a coastal tourist town must battle the politicians and a killer shark? What if a young girl is chosen to fight to the death against impossible odds in a futuristic society? You’re just adding a hero, a protagonist. Start thinking about the irony here. What if the sheriff is afraid of water? What if the young girl must overcome her severe distrust of people and form alliances with the very people who want to eventually kill her?
Then we get to the premise. Here you bring it all together. Your entire novel will hinge on this, so keep it close. The premise brings in the Hero, the goal, and the antagonistic force in one or two lines.
Jaws: A new sheriff in a small New England tourist town must overcome his fear of water to battle local politics and a giant, man-eating shark during the peak of summer tourist season.
Hunger Games: A young girl in a dystopian society must learn to trust even those who’ve hurt her in order to defeat twenty-three opponents in a battle to the death.
This IS Writing…take your time
You may spend a day or several weeks coming up with a killer premise. Take all the time you need. This sets the tone. Read it to friends or share it with your critique group. If they’re not excited to read your book, you may have to begin again. Hey, it’s two lines. Better than 90,000 words written and edited only to find out no one wants to read it.
Okay? Do your homework. If you’re working on a project, revisit your premise. Are you still on track? If you’ve deviated, write the new premise. Does it sound lame? Chances are you chose the wrong direction. Your premise doesn’t lie. If you can’t make it sound interesting in those one or two lines, you don’t have a story. Don’t skimp on this step!
Feel free to share your premise in the comments. We’ll be kind, but brutally honest.
Recommended reading: Story Engineering by Larry Brooks.