That All-Important Prep Work

Wouldn’t it be great if we could sit down at the computer (or typewriter or writing pad) and breeze through the writing of a fabulous book? Unfortunately, that’s not likely to happen. Like almost everything else that is worth doing, it requires work—and preparation.

Readers are often astute, detail-oriented folks who will likely catch any inconsistencies that slip by the writer. For example, does Susan have blue eyes in chapter three and brown eyes in chapter seventeen. Has she suddenly jumped from twenty-five to almost thirty without the benefit of passing time. Is her boyfriend from Massachusetts when he’s introduced to the reader and later from Oregon. The list of possible conflicts is almost endless, so let’s focus on the fixes that help avoid these pitfalls.

Begin with an outline. This provides a map that keeps us on the road toward creating a cohesive story and is a great place to start. It need not be exactly as the example below, but it does need to exist in some form that includes necessary information to help avoid story conflicts. Also, it must be easily accessible to the author throughout the writing process.

Hooking Your Reader in 5 Easy Steps

 Before getting started, what do we need to know? Our audience!
Who will read our book or article?

Concept/Subject Matter
     Where do we get our ideas?
          1. Personal experience(s)
          2. Experiences of friends/family
          3. Newspaper article
          4. Television news
          5. Imagination/What if…
         1. Fiction
          2. Nonfiction
          3. Fictionalized nonfiction
          1. Accuracy vital (check at least 3 sources – not all on Internet)
          2. Educate/inform reader in subtle ways

     Where is story going?
    What is its purpose/goal/audience?
     What obstacles do the characters (or readers) face?
     How will it end? (may not be know at outset if fiction)

Character Sketches
Main characters (extensive)
          1. Family tree
          2. Education
          3. Personality traits
          4. Character flaws
          5. Likes and dislikes, hobbies
          6. Backstory (childhood, marriage, children, work, etc.)
          7. Physical appearance/characteristics
     Minor characters (less extensive)
          1. Some family history
          2. Education (if relevant to story)
          3. Personality traits
          4. Character flaws
          5. Likes and dislikes, hobbies (if relevant)
          6. Some backstory
          7. Physical appearance/characteristics (if relevant)
     Know your characters
          1. Avoid cloning
          2. Make them live and breathe for the reader
          3. Give them individualized traits, habits, speech patterns, etc.

First Draft
Get story/article down on paper
          1. Let creative juices flow
          2. Don’t worry about form or format
          3. Follow (at least in general) the outline and character sketches
          4. Put it aside for a few days or longer before beginning rewrite

Create opening hook to pull reader into story
          1. Review opening of first draft
               a. What will make it more dynamic?
               b. What will make the reader want to keep reading?
          2. Dialogue vs. narrative — which works better?
          3. Write more than one way and compare (also ask others)
     Getting advice/honing the craft
          1. Check out local writing groups
          2. Consider one of these: developmental editor/book doctor/writing coach
          3. Check local or online writing workshops/classes



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