how to begin your book

Many of us share a similar dream of writing a book; there’s a dignity and feeling of immortality in publishing your work, whether it’s a memoir, an informational text, or a novel. I’ve been setting my focus on writing a fiction story, a task which seems overwhelming and impossible without breaking it down.

Building a world for your story to live in, along with the fictional characters and story line, is tough without visual elements and voracious note-taking.

1. Find a blank notebook

This doesn’t have to be the fanciest journal on your shelf that you’ve been saving – in fact, I avoid the fancy ones. There’s an internal expectation that I need to fill those journals with words and stories that are already fully formed. The journal you’ll need will be unpretentious and ready to have clippings glued to its pages, notes scrawling in the margins. This is where your story is born.

2. Flip through magazines

My story came to life as I was collaging; each magazine clipping I found that reminded me of a character, setting, or a plot point gave me a clearer image and intricate details of what to include in my story.

Glue your clippings in your notebook, one page for each character, and made notes about their qualities, their history. Draw arrows to the clippings to give more details on the character. Write their name in big letters at the top. When you’re writing and need to remember who you’re working with, you can always find your first thoughts on this page.

3. Draw a map

Draw a rough map of your setting, including buildings and locations you foresee including in your story. If you are using a setting that already exists, like Seattle, print out a basic map and glue it in. Star the important locations and draw in what you need. Take a page and take plenty of notes of the ideas that develop while looking at the map, even if they don’t fully make sense yet.

4. Family tree

Develop a family tree of your main characters, going back a couple generations. You might not even mention your character’s grandmother, but having that information in your back pocket might help you. Make sure to write down if they are deceased (include a year), where they live, age, and connection to your character. If you aren’t sure yet, leave spaces blank for you to write in when you get a clearer picture.

5. Themes and character growth

For some people, themes and character growth will reveal itself while they’re writing. For me, I like to have an idea of what themes I’ll weave into the story line. The themes can be general, like:

  • coming of age
  • life & death
  • good vs. evil
  • love
  • redemption

I take some notes on how my characters will unveil these themes, and their growth from the first page to the last page.

Some of them will not change at all, called a static or flat character. You want some of your characters to be dynamic or round, to be changing as the story grows and to be layered, distinct personalities. Write down how you foresee them changing.

6. Chapter ideas

Now comes the point where you take notes on what you want to happen in each chapter. This can be as detailed as you want; let it be a flexible structure for your art to flow from.

Jot down a couple chapters at a time – don’t feel as if you need to structure out the whole story right away. Chances are, your story will change a lot from the time you begin writing to the time you finish.

7. Write

Now is the time. If you get stuck because you don’t like what you’re writing, keep going and change it later. If you’re stuck on a chapter or section, take a note of what you want to happen and move forward. Set a time every day and write.

Don’t forget to keep recording notes in your notebook as you develop your characters and story line. It will help you in the long run, and who knows? It might be worth a lot of money someday.

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