It can be exciting to start writing a new novel.
You have a fresh idea, you can picture your characters, and you’ve begun imagining cool scenes to use in your story.
The only problem is: it’s all in your head.
There’s still a lot of work to do before you can present it to your readers.
You must figure out how you want to start your story, decide how much you need to plan out before getting started, and what kind of plot structure you wish to follow before you can even begin writing your book.
Trust me. First drafts are hard work. Especially if you aren’t prepared before you start writing.
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve made that mistake.
I get so excited I jump the gun halfway through my preparations and start writing without even knowing where I’m going.
And I have several half-baked stories sitting on my hard drive as a result.
Knowing what you’re going to write about is key to finishing your first draft.
And the best way to do figure it out is to write your premise.
Once you do, you will have all the pieces you need to write your first draft. So, let’s get started!
Step One: Know Your Story
You can’t start writing without knowing what you’re going to write about. Simple, right?
You may have a vague idea of what the story’s going to be about.
But often, it’s not as defined as you need it to be to reach the end of the story without faltering in the middle.
You should be able to summarize your idea in one well-defined sentence.
If you can’t, or your sentence is too vague, then you’re not ready to start writing yet, and you have some more work to do before you can begin.
This is generally known as your logline or elevator pitch.
It’s a brief description that captures the essence of what your story’s all about and is designed to capture the person’s interest, so they want to know more.
For example: A girl leaves her home in the mountains only to discover the outside world is ruled by an evil emperor.
Step Two: Choose Your Protagonist
Who is your story about? This will be the character(s) most affected by the story’s conflict and who has the most impact on the way the story will end.
They should have the most at stake, to gain or lose.
Your story should be tailored to your protagonist and their problems. Their actions will determine the story and its ending.
For example: An independent, self-assured young woman.
Step Three: Determine the Story’s Main Conflict
What problem must your characters overcome? Here you choose the enemy, be it a person, nature, society, or themselves.
Whatever you choose will be the source of the conflict that drives your story.
You cannot have a story without conflict, so make sure to choose something that holds enough power over the characters to stand in their way at every turn.
For example: The emperor is searching for a way to unleash an evil god on the world.
Step Four: Choose Your Stakes
What consequences will your protagonist face if they fail to solve the problem? This is the protagonist’s motivation to get involved in the conflict.
The stakes must affect the protagonist directly, or they have no reason to get involved.
If they can walk away, then your stakes are not strong enough, or you have the wrong protagonist.
Try to choose stakes your readers can sympathize with to create an emotional connection and make them care what happens.
For example: The emperor wants to sacrifice her people to release his god and enslave humanity.
Step Five: Determine the Ending
If you don’t know your ending ahead of time, you will find it harder to plot the steps your story needs to take.
This can lead to a lot of rewriting when you reach the revision phase and is best avoided.
Your conflict and stakes should determine the way the story ends.
You should be able to picture what needs to be done to win, even if you haven’t planned all the steps yet.
For example: She must stop the sacrifices before the god absorbs enough power to enter the mortal plane.
Step Six: Bring Everything Together into One Sentence
You want to capture the core of the story in one sentence.
The [protagonist] faces [main conflict] and must solve it before [consequences].
As you can see from my example below this can be worded however you want as long as it encompasses what your story is about.
For example: After leaving her home in the mountains, a young woman must find a way to stop the emperor from sacrificing her people to an evil god and enslaving humanity.
Make sure to include how the story begins and ends to make it easier to plan the steps needed in between.
Plot your story as heavy or light as you want to as long as you cover all elements critical to the story.
Knowing the direction your story will take can act as your compass as you write the story.
You are less likely to get stuck a hundred pages in when you know what your story’s about and where it needs to head.
Whether you’re a pantser or a plotter, this technique is sure to guide you from start to finish.
It can also be used to narrow down your choices when deciding what to write.
But more on that next week. See you then!
How do you plan your stories?
FOR FURTHER READING
Renea strives to help writers develop the focus and skills they need to finish their first novel, offering writers practical writing advice they can apply one step at a time.
She is the author of Conquering Writing Pressures: Living a Balanced Writing Life in a Busy World where she helps writers find the courage to accept life will never be perfect. And if we want our dreams to succeed, we must fight to make them a reality.
She currently lives in St. Joseph, Missouri, with her husband Joe, her three children, and her five lovable furballs.
From a young age, Renea was mad for books and reading, and especially loved Robert Jordan’s The Wheel of Time series, which she read in the ninth grade.
She is an avid reader, with her main interests residing in history, mythology, and fantasy, along with some romance and science fiction in her earlier years.
When Renea’s not writing, she enjoys genealogy, role-playing games, and dreams of traveling the world. In a past life, she plucked chickens and milked cows.