This week I’d like to share with you the convoluted and not always easy process of developing your story idea — the one that’s been rattling around in your head, waiting to be written. Ideas are pretty easy to come up with, but organizing the storyline, the characters, the conflict, and the action take a lot more doing! Your brilliant idea must now evolve to create situations to introduce your characters. Where is this great story idea going?
It’s not as easy as just letting your imagination flow and letting it go where it takes you. From the introduction, to the drama, to the conflicts, and their final resolutions, a finished product must follow a set of rules for your story to be the great success you’d like it to be. I’ve talked about those rules in previous blogs, so today I’d like to tell you how my “brilliant idea” became the finished book I hope you will all read someday!
I like to write adventure stories with a touch of magic. Myths that are part of our world’s culture and legends have always intrigued me, so that is what I choose to write about. It’s important for you to write about what interests you, whether it’s science fiction, romance, or a thinly disguised autobiography. If your story idea intrigues you, write about that. Be yourself, because that is what will shine through. It’s not a good idea to write something just because you think it might sell. That story won’t have your full involvement, and it will show.
I’m just starting research on the fourth book in my Alex Cort Adventures series. I have a title, and an idea of where the story is going, but I don’t have all the characters “imagined” yet that I will need to tell my story. This is another step for you to think about in developing your story. Who is going to “tell” the story? I use that word with caution, because it is very important to show what happens in a scene while the action is commencing, not just tell about what happened after the fact.
Secrets of the Crystal Skulls, my third story in the series, takes place just after Atlantis is destroyed by a sorcerer. I have an ensemble of characters I like to include in every story, so I already know that adventurer Alex Cort, archaeologist Andrew Seaton, and a young woman named Angel, who calls herself a witch, are going to be involved. My stories wrap around these characters, and each of them contribute to the action of the story with their own points of view. If you only have one book planned, even if you plan a series, it is important to create “character arcs” that show how your character(s) evolve and grow. How will they be different, better, wiser, than they were in the beginning of your story? Conflict and Character Arcs are two subjects your editors will mention to you often. Be sure to include both!
The other characters you will need are those who bring conflict: How do they connect to your main character? How to best introduce a romantic partner? It’s hard not to give too much away in the beginning. It’s important to sprinkle “backstory” bits of information about your characters throughout, not just dump in a paragraph or two at the beginning. Weave this personal information you created for your characters into the storyline. It isn’t always simple, but it is important to lead your readers into becoming involved with, and care about, your characters.
When writing is a joy, you’ll never have writer’s block!
Video: Alex Cort Adventures, Book 3: Secrets of the Crystal Skulls
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Readers often ask me how I come up with my characters. So, here are some character development tips based on how I do it. It’s pretty interesting how it happens!
My story, like A Shadow Away, starts with a myth or legend that interests me. That legend determines what country (real or imagined) the story will take place in. I’m also interested in archaeology, science, magic and metaphysics, so I weave those elements into my stories as well. Those decisions lead me to outline events, actions, mysteries, problems — and the people who will be needed to experience the “drama.”
Character Development Examples
My characters evolve from the story I want to tell. My three favorite characters appear in each story of my “Alex Cort Adventures” series, starting with A Shadow Away.
First is Alex. He loves adventure, has a curiosity about this world, and isn’t afraid of danger. Magic is a mystery to him (not to me), and he finds himself attracted to a woman who mystifies and unsettles him. It’s up to Alex to get Andrew out of trouble when he gets over-enthusiastic.
Dr. Andrew Seaton is an eccentric British archaeologist who’s always getting himself into trouble. He gives me the chance to take us all on expeditions and searches for long-lost treasures. With him, I can share what I’ve learned over the years with my long-time interest in archaeology. Andrew’s approach is scientific, but he loves legends and superstitions, so he adjusts to magic pretty easily. With him I can write about everything from science to superstition.
Last, but certainly not least, is Angel. She calls herself a witch and has her own kind of magic. With Angel I can write about magic, fantasy, and the supernatural.
As for how they got their names, they named themselves. And each has their own point of view to add to the scenes of the story. When I have to come up with answers to a glitch in the plot, the most amazing thing happens when I am stumped for a solution. Time and again, it’s one of the characters who comes up with the answer. I can’t give them all the credit, though! Another solution for a glitch in the plot is to reverse the scene, or characters, or give the problem to a different character. Seeing it from a different perspective sometimes provides the clue I need for a solution to keep the story moving.
Creating a Villain
The villains vary, depending on the location and plot of the individual stories. In A ShadowAway, Andrew’s corrupt colleague and a black-market art thief want the jeweled statue linked with the lost city of El Dorado for themselves. The second book, All Under Heaven, for another example, has a sorcerer, a magician, mythical elemental dragons, and a ghost. They are all fun to write about, and I hope you enjoy reading these stories as much as I did writing them!
I hope you have a happy summer. Whether you travel, or stay home with some time for yourself — take A Shadow Away with you for an adventure in your imagination!
Video: How Do You Go About Writing a Book?
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Imagine you’ve just finished the perfect novel and edited it yourself way more than once. But even when you think you’re done—you’re not done. Now comes the professional editing portion of your writing program. In today’s post, I hope to shed some light on the book editing process, and all of the various book editing services out there.
You can always have friends and family read what you wrote, but they aren’t professionals, and besides, they care for you, so you can’t count on getting workable feedback you can use to improve your writing. And your writing can be improved, no matter how attached you are to your brilliant ideas!
After I finished what became known as the “First Draft” of A Shadow Away, I researched editors for a professional opinion—and found there are about five different kinds. Be specific when you look for an editor. Ask about their experience and training, and it’s important to know what genre they specialize in, so they will have an affinity for your work. Be aware of untrained editors, because they could actually do more harm than good. Get recommendations from your writing group or someone who’s been down the road before you, and check their work.
I started with a Content Editor to make sure my story flowed, with no holes in the plot. She also checked that my characters were strong individuals, and that the voice and setting of my story were all written well.
After I made corrections based on her comments and suggestions, I was ready to engage a Copy Editor for another go-round of re-writing any mistakes in grammar, punctuation, spelling, etc. Luckily, I have a good grasp of the nuances of the English language, but my biggest trouble is knowing exactly where commas should go. They are peskier and not so obvious as I once thought!
A Line Editor is a good choice for you if self-publishing is your goal. They combine the jobs of both Copy and Content Editing, so you’re getting two editors for one, which is a good thing if you’re on a budget. A Line Editor will thoroughly check your manuscript word by word.
After all the editing and rewriting, you are now ready for a Proofreader. Their job is to find any mistakes that may have been overlooked in each of the editing processes. I know, right? You’d think your manuscript has been edited to death, but mistakes do creep through no matter how diligent you and your editors are. So always be on the lookout for new errors!
The final rewriting begins after Beta Readers review your book. They shouldn’t be professionals in the publishing business. You can prepare a list of questions for them if you like, then check sites online where you can find beta readers willing to give an honest assessment of your work. The best are avid readers in your genre.
You are probably wondering what all this is going to cost. Find out whether the editor or proofreader charges by the word or the number of pages, and whether they offer a package deal for second edits and proofreading. Be sure of all your costs up front—and get it in writing first!
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You’ve done all your research for your story — now what? In today’s post, I will show you how to create a storyboard for a book.
When you’ve completed your research, the next thing to do is create a “Beat Sheet.” It’s a way to organize your story into a sequence of events. Each action is a “Beat” that you can write down on a legal-sized notepad. It doesn’t have to be a whole sentence. Just jot down the action points of your story. I keep my notepad as a back-up, to compare my first ideas with what I come up with later in this process. When you’re done, use those beats to create sentences and paragraphs, and you’ve created your “Outline.”
Don’t panic! You don’t have to “reinvent the wheel.” There are many book and online sites by reputable authors willing to show you how to structure your story and develop your characters. There are formulas about how a story should be told, and it’s best to learn the rules before you decide to break them!
Now that you’ve got your outline, it’s time to put all the pieces together. The best way to organize your outline so you can work with it is to create a storyboard. It can be a cork board with pins, or whatever material and size that works for you and your living space. It’s important to choose one big enough to hold all the scraps of your ideas for your book. I chose a white board about 4 feet by 3 feet. It’s large and sits on a heavy-duty easel held by clamps. It’s what works for me.
I didn’t know all this before I wrote A Shadow Away, which was written by a method called “seat of the pants.” I was lucky to have a good background in storytelling for my first book, which leaped from my imagination fully fledged—with revisions, of course. Remember what even a notable author like Steven King said, “Writing is rewriting.”
Before writing my second book, All Under Heaven, where Alex, my hero of the “Alex Cort Adventures” series, is teleported to ancient China, must rescue Andrew and save a doomed ghost, I took time to research “the rules” and found all the things like plot points and structure and beat sheets I’m sharing with you here. And that’s when I learned about storyboards.
I use 70 divisions for my board, divided into the 4 different parts of my storyline: Introduction, Create the Drama, Escalate the Drama, Resolve the Drama with a satisfying ending. To help me find the section I want to work with, I numbered small post-its from 1-10, 11-20, etc. up to 61-70, and stuck them, evenly spaced, on the left side of my board. What’s great about a board set up this way, is that you can shuffle your plot ideas around as new ones come to you or when you need an extra section to expand on a previous idea. It’s very flexible this way, and the board also allows you to scan the flow of your plot after changes, to make sure you’re staying on track.
At first, I just posted my ideas under colored pin-magnets, which you can also get at an office supply store. I didn’t number each note until a friend pointed out how awful it would be if my board got knocked over. I didn’t even want to think about that happening! Previously, I had color-coordinated the four plot parts, but after I got that advice, I numbered every single one of the notes placed in the 70 segments, and paperclipped each segment for double protection. It took some time, because I was nearly through posting my plot ideas, but it’s worth doing for peace of mind.
I hope this idea works for you. It will simplify your life, believe me!
For a more comprehensive tour of my latest storyboard, watch the video below:
Video: How to Create a Storyboard for a Book
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These days many people feel they have a story to tell and want to write a book. If you are one of them and don’t have a clue how to get started, here are five helpful tips for how to start writing a book.
Before everything else, do your homework!
There are several different kinds of research that must be done before you ever sit in front of your computer or pick up that pencil to create your work of art. Learn from others who have gone before you and made mistakes. It’s not necessary to “reinvent the wheel” when published authors want to share tried and proven ways to structure your story and develop your characters. Buying their books is an investment in your future.
If you don’t know where to start, begin by writing what you know.
When you write about a subject you are familiar with, you have a deeper understanding and appreciation for that subject than if you picked something to write about because you think a certain story might sell.
Even more important than knowing something about your particular subject, is to select one that interests you. If what you write about is interesting to you, there is a good chance your topic will be interesting to others, as well.
Learn all you can about the story you want to tell.
Now the second phase of research begins. Don’t be disappointed! Research can actually be a lot of fun when you are learning about a topic you enjoy or one that interests you. Libraries are full of books from which you can glean information. I mention libraries first, because they are a great place to be quiet and organize your thoughts. I take a notebook with me and write down all the interesting facts I find surrounding my story. You will learn a lot of other facts along the way, and that can be very interesting too.
Computers are the more usual mode of creating documents these days, I know, but there is something satisfying about the mind/hand coordination of the written word when doing research.
Don’t worry about what is pertinent, just write down everything you think might have some bearing on your story. You might not use all the facts you garner, but you will find enough useful information that can be put somewhere to add depth to your story.
Some people like to listen to music, but I find complete silence and undisturbed writing time is the best way to get my thoughts on paper. You will find what works best for you if you are really serious about writing your novel.
Create a storyboard.
The best way to organize your thoughts about your storyline is to create a storyboard. I use a white board with colored magnets to anchor the different parts of my story.
There are four basic parts to every novel, and each has a purpose. The first part introduces your story idea and makes the rest of your story meaningful. The second part places in jeopardy the characters your readers have come to care about. The third part increases the level a drama, and the fourth part deals with the resolution of the hero/heroine’s conflicts, the pay off for everything he or she had to endure, and a satisfying ending.
I wrote my first story by the “seat of your pants” method. That is an actual term! Some writers choose this method when the story flows into their imaginations. The characters they’ve created “come to life” and the story takes the writer into that imaginary world, complete with action and dialogue.
I was fortunate because I had a good idea of plot structure and the points necessary to move my story along. Again, there are many “How To” books by published authors who are willing to show you how to structure your story from introduction to denouement. Focus on the plot and setting, decide on the characters who will best tell your story, and how to introduce the conflict(s) facing your hero. Will the main character narrate? Whose point of view is important to your story? These and other questions can be found at reputable websites. Don’t be afraid to explore! There is a lot of useful information available. Choose what works best for you.
There are rules about how a story should be told, and it’s best to learn the rules before you decide to break them!
When you feel prepared — just start!
Don’t worry about being perfect, just get your thoughts down at the beginning. Later on, as you get into your story, you may think of better ideas, or another way to approach a situation. It’s always easier to correct some idea with a better thought than to wait for the perfect inspiration, which may never come.
I hope these tips help you to get started. Writing is an exciting journey, and I hope it brings you joy. I wish you the best of luck!
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A Shadow Away, which became the first story in a planned six-book series called “Alex Cort Adventures,” almost came about by accident. Several articles I wrote had been published before, but I never thought of writing seriously.
In the beginning, my objective was to create a world for myself. A magical world of adventure with people I liked and wanted to spend time with. It’s been a while now, so I don’t remember exactly how I got started, but I do remember that things of interest I’d read before started to present themselves as scenes and parts of a story. Then plot ideas and dialogue unfolded in a smooth stream from my imagination. There was a story I wanted to tell. Everything I’d learned and studied that I found of interest, I wanted to share.
That formed the gist of the story that became “A Shadow Away.” Once I had the main character in mind, which was Angel, the rest of the story and characters and dialogue just came easily as I listened to them bring the story to life. Angel called herself a witch and she had her own kind of magic. With her I could write about other dimensions, fantasy, and the supernatural.
I studied archaeology and have been interested in it for quite a few years. Many facets of science and exploration interested me, too, so I read books and subscribed to magazines, and learned about everything from quantum mechanics to the universe. Now in this planned magical adventure series, eccentric archaeologist Andrew Seaton lets me share all kinds of interesting topics from scientific discoveries to superstition. Alex Cort was basically me in the beginning, someone with a curiosity about this world and its myths and legends.
I think the clue to writing an interesting story that will appeal to your readers, is to write about what interests you. If you find it interesting, and write about it creatively, others will want to read your work. A lot of advice is given to write about what you know. It’s a good place to start, because when you know a subject well, you can add depth to your story.
That reminds me of another thing I learned about writing on the fly. The story may come to you easily—that’s great! Just remember that the first draft is only the beginning. Set it aside for a while when you’re done, then go back and read it through. I know, you’ll think it’s perfect, but as you read it again, you’ll see places where you can improve the dialogue, flesh out one of the characters, or fix a hole in the plot. Everyone you show it to from friends, to editors, to beta readers (people who critique your story before its published) will have an opinion. So, show it to people you trust, then analyze their comments and take what rings true for you.
I’ve enjoyed this time with you. Write me back with any questions or comments, or tell me a story about your own journey!