Things you should know before you start your novel
Before you can make the most of your writing time, you need to know where you’re going. Planning what you’re going to write can be as easy as saying, “I’m going to write the first chapter today.” Or it can be a scene or a section of dialog. But as every pantser knows, there’s going to come a time when you don’t know what happens next. Having a guide before you start writing helps when you hit the wall or have written yourself into a corner.
You can make your writing plan as visual as you need it to be. It can be on a plot board with colorful post it notes, or it could be a few words jotted down in a journal or a notebook. You should have something that you can refer back to when you can’t remember what color your heroine’s eyes are. Don’t trust your memory. I’ve woken up from a dead sleep with a brilliant idea and instead of writing it down, I’ve gone right back to sleep. I almost never remember it in the morning.
I also find it helpful to know the following things before I start a novel:
What is the inciting event? (Beginning)
In a romance, this could be the meet cute. In a thriller, it could be when the protagonist answers the call to action. In a science fiction novel, it could be the start of a five-year mission.
What does the protagonist want? (Goals)
Bonus if you know how they will change from where they were at the beginning of the book to where they are at the end of the book. Michael Hauge calls this getting them from their identity to their essence. Identity is how the characters see the world around them based on the good and bad things that have happened to them. Essence is their true potential, where they have overcome their inner demons and have reached the pinnacle of their happiness.
What’s stopping them from getting it? (Conflict)
Along the way from identity to essence is all the trials and tribulations, both internal and external, that the protagonist goes through. These will be the story beats and the turning points of your plot. The conflict will drive your story.
What are the stakes? (Motivation)
The stakes will keep the readers flipping pages because they must know what happens next. The stakes don’t always have to be saving the entire world. It could just be saving the protagonist’s little world. If the protagonist fails, something awful has to happen. Something that the reader is going to worry about.
What is the “black moment?” (Setback)
This is the point in the story when all hope is lost. It’s also called the dark night of the soul. In a romance novel, this is where reader is convinced that the heroes will never get together. In a mystery, it’s when it looks like the villain is going to get away with the crime.
How does the book end?
Does the protagonist succeed? At what cost?
Once you know how the book ends, it’s like having a destination in mind at the end of a long car trip. There are several routes to get from New York to California, but if you know eventually you’re going to wind up in Hollywood it will keep your journey on track. Just as you may want to spend a day or two in Vegas before hitting your final destination, in your writing there may also be side trips and other discoveries.
Don’t let yourself be so locked in to your plan that you reject anything that doesn’t fit. Sometimes, the greatest plot twists are when the writer was just as surprised as the reader. Of course, then you should go back in and seed in clues so that the plot twist is believable. But that’s what second drafts are for. In fact, most pantsers find that their first draft is just a big synopsis filling in the above questions. However, even the most detailed plotter should allow themselves to be led down the rabbit hole when inspiration hits.
USA Today bestselling author, Jamie K. Schmidt, writes erotic contemporary love stories and paranormal romances. Her steamy, romantic comedy, Life’s a Beach, reached #65 on USA Today, #2 on Barnes & Noble and #9 on Amazon and iBooks. Her Club Inferno series from Random House’s Loveswept line has hit both the Amazon and Barnes & Noble top one hundred lists. The first book in the series, Heat, put her on the USA Today bestseller list for the first time, and is a #1 Amazon bestseller. Her book Stud is a 2018 Romance Writers of America Rita® Finalist in Erotica. Her dragon paranormal romance series has been called “fun and quirky” and “endearing.” Partnered with New York Times bestselling author and actress, Jenna Jameson, Jamie’s hardcover debut, SPICE, continues Jenna’s FATE trilogy.