If you checked out Part I of the series, you’ll have everything you need to get started on this section. If so, let’s do it!
Once you’ve cleaned your area and got it all nice and comfortable, the next task in starting your book is, well, starting your book. I’m sure by this point you at least have a rough idea of what your story is about, and this is where the world and character building begin. Of course, there are probably hundreds of different articles out there on how to build and flesh out amazing characters, from physical traits to deep-rooted emotional baggage, but the most important thing to remember in this stage is that it’s your character. People can guide you through the process in so many different ways, but it’s imperative that you allow yourself to create things the way you want to, instead of just following an article step by step. (Including this one.)
We’ll break this down into two sections: Planning and Outlining.
Most of this stage can be done in your off-time, which is helpful if you’re busy with a normal day job or a family. When you have a few spare minutes, write down some small things you think of. The name of a city, what kind of climate it has or what the population is. One tip I can give here is to think of character backgrounds first, that way you can search for specific names or surnames that match. I know that for me personally, characters that are not only deep, but consistent, are much more alluring and rope me into a story better. Let’s break it down:
- Names – Cities, countries/territories, people, destinations, objects, spells. Create your own local lexicon to keep your story straight.
- Relationships – Map out families, factions or anything else that has a hierarchy. Not doing this can lead to unnecessary plot holes.
- Plot Arcs – Different small stories that help to move the main story along. Use a wide range of characters and give background when you can.
- Plot Twists – It’s very important that you keep twists and any other type of complicated bits straight. Having a visual aid really helps in this area.
- The Ending – Starting off a story with no idea how it’ll end is tricky, and some say even ill-advised. It doesn’t have to be exact, but at least have a rough idea.
The most time-consuming part of this process is building characters and worlds, and these are the most important parts of your story. If your characters aren’t deep enough and your world is too small or poorly described, you risk not hooking your reader and having them put down your book. One thing to remember is that the way the story is told is just as important as the story itself. I’ll separate these into their own categories.
- Physical Traits – Plan out not only full physical descriptions of what your characters look like, but also things that they do. Bite their nails, spit, laugh a certain way, etc. Each character’s uniqueness is decided by their traits.
- Emotional Traits – As above, uniqueness also includes the emotional part of a person. Are they vengeful? Jealous? Prone to fits of laughter? Do they prefer inside or outside? Shy? Extroverted? There are a lot of things to choose from here, which you can find on lists like this.
- Alignment/Morality – A lot of times people want the bad guy to be romanced by the pretty female protagonist and be the bad-boy-turned-soft fantasy. While this is possible, your character needs to be written that way from the beginning. It’s not uncommon for people to change their allegiance or way of thinking, but who/what it changes to and why is heavily dependent on your character’s traits.
- Look for help – Don’t be afraid to search the web for some guides or examples of good characters. No good writers did it all by themselves, and it’s okay to borrow a little bit, as long as you keep your own voice. Check out some of the resources listed here to start.
- Consistency – Consistency is a huge part of your world. If your city is located near the equator, it’s not going to snow. Ever. (Well, aside from nuclear winter.) Make sure you plan out not only where the location of your story takes place, but the weather patterns, surrounding areas and possibilities of extreme weather. You might not need it all depending on the type of story you’re writing, but it never hurts to have a really in-depth look at your world.
- Layers – When creating a fantasy world, there’s a ridiculous amount of things to take into consideration. If you’re unfolding your story in a completely fictional world, you have to not only create the world itself, but everything that goes inside of it. Government, laws, races, jobs and currency are only a few of those things, and those are all very complicated in themselves. Anyone that has ever viewed the Harry Potter Lexicon can tell you the herculean effort J.K. Rowling put into her world. If you plan to go that route, make sure you know what you’re in for.
- Look for help – Same as in the Character Building section, there are tons of guides out there to help you out in this area. Some people have spent countless hard hours putting together masterlists of all of the best information on the internet. Do yourself a favor and make their work count for something, while making your work easier on yourself.
A lot of the outlining section has to do with taking everything you did in the planning section and putting it into an easy to read arrangement. This section depends on you and how you work best. Some people are more visual than others, and other prefer audio. You have a variety of choices to carry this out, of which the following can be considered:
- Physical – Get a piece of posterboard from the Dollar Store and do a family tree-style listing of all of your ideas. Tack it up on the wall by your writing station for easy viewing.
- Digital – There is quite a bit of software out there that can make this task frightfully easy. Of course, if you go this route you should be prepared to shell out a little bit of money, depending on the program you intend to buy. I haven’t used any personally, but I’ve heard good things about Scrivener. You can even use some free tools like Trello that, while intended for different uses, actually work quite well for this.
- Keep on track – The purpose of even doing an outline is to keep your organized and on track with your novel. If you go through the trouble of making the outline and then neglect to keep it updated with changes and milestones passed, you can even more easily get tripped up and have difficulty regaining your bearings.
I’m personally more hands-on, so if I have a story that’s somewhat complicated and I need to keep track of arcs or certain character interactions, I just use a plain old notebook and pen. It’s easier for me to cross things out, switch them around (by drawing arrows) and figure out where I’m going next. The trick is finding a solution that works best for your type of environment and workflow.
That’s it for Part II, stay tuned in the next few days for Part III – Problems & Solutions. Thanks for reading, and if this guide has helped you at all, consider sharing it with someone else to help spread the knowledge.