A Novel in 3 months (week 1) – preparation

Last Movie Watched: Raiders of the Lost Ark
Latest Song on the iPod: Beyond The Sea by Robbie Williams

So starts my series of weekly posts on writing a novel in three months.  These are a comprehensive approach to the way I write a book but there’s one caveat – it’s my way which means it may or may not work for you.  It’s by no means the only way of writing, nor is it the best/comfortable/logical for everyone.  But with every book I write, I come to better understand my process, the how I write, which in turn, curbs my annoying habit of procrastinating when a deadline looms.

I’m a plotter by necessity: my editor needs to know what my story’s about before a contract is offered.   This doesn’t mean the story cannot veer from its original synopsis – generally, if I make it work, everyone’s happy.  And for me, having a synopsis/story outline is like driving with a map.  Without one, I may get to where I’m going but there’s going to be a hell of a lot of detours, time wasted on wrong turns and the inevitable doubling back.  Takes me twice as long 😥 so you can see, I’d rather not waste all that writing time!

So let’s begin, shall we?

Preparation

I’m going to assume you have your writing space and time carved out, ready to write.  So the first thing that comes to mind for me are my main characters, specifically, the hero and heroine.  Their names may (and often do!) change, but generally, their occupations, goal/s, motivation and conflict don’t.  So, in around 1-2 pages, I fill in the following:

BOOK TITLE: Don’t stress about this – I normally just call it after the character’s names to start.

HOOK/S: (e.g. boss/secretary romance, marriage of convenience, secret baby, lovers reunited etc).  For single title writers, this can be your ‘high concept’ line – e.g. male Beauty and female Beast in Regency England.  Crime-solving Ghost Whisperer set in New York.   Ex-CIA female assassin must save the world from a vampire President.

SETTING: where the story takes place

TIMEFRAME: over what months/years the actual book takes place

BRIEF BACK COVER BLURB DESCRIPTION: think two paragraphs of short, sharp grab – if you get stuck, head off to the local bookstore or go online to read up on some already-published blurbs.

HERO NAME: age, height, hair/eye color, physical description, family affiliations, career, basic character traits

HERO’S GMC: goal (what they want most in life), motivation (why they want it) conflict (who/what is standing in their way).

Let’s talk about this for a bit.  A goal is a want or  a desire and can be either internal or external… preferably both.  External is generally something tangible (money, house, new job, family or person); internal is something inside the character they may not even know they’re striving for (true love, belonging, acceptance).  A while back I did a workshop on GMC (I’ll post  notes on my website shortly!) and made a comprehensive list of wants.  They go something like this:

  • Freedom
  • Adventure
  • Unconditional Love
  • Honour
  • Acceptance
  • Money/wealth
  • Family
  • Status quo
  • Status
  • Respect
  • Revenge
  • Justice
  • Power
  • Security/home
  • Knowledge

Motivation – is all about why they do what they do.  I keep a quote above my computer: “the key to strong motivation lies in the character’s past”.  Characters can and do make choices that readers wouldn’t make themselves, and the key to keeping that reader  vested in your story, you must lay down enough groundwork (i.e. backstory), for them to understand and empathize with those decisions.

Conflict – This isn’t about fighting, arguments or bickering between your characters, but rather obstacles or roadblocks in your character’s way. It can be a difference of beliefs (he’s a vampire, she’s doesn’t believe the undead should have rights), loyalties (she wants revenge for her father’s death, he killed her father), lifestyle choices (she wants kids, he doesn’t) or even differing goals (she wants to find the Atlantis treasure to pay off her dead husband’s debts, he wants to share history with the world).

HERO’S CORE BELIEF:  This is extremely important, especially when you come to write your black moment/redemption scene.  A ‘core belief” is a statement or motto your character lives by which they believe to be true.  for e.g. “Love means losing control”,   “happiness cannot be bought” or “all non-humans are an abomination and must be eliminated”.  It doesn’t mean it is true, only that they believe it to be so.  And this comes about through good and bad events in their lives which then shapes their choices (both subconscious and conscious) , influences their career, love interest/s and the way they interact with friends, family and colleagues.  We see this happen in real life through children who’ve been abandoned, abused, gone through trauma… and even ones who’ve had a comparatively uneventful childhood.  And so it should be for your characters.  For example, Cal Prescott’s core belief in The Magnate’s Baby Promise was “walking away is not an option”, a deeply ingrained belief that he has to address by the end of the book.

HEROINE NAME: same as per above.

HEROINE’S CORE BELIEF: same as per above.

I also like to use visuals on my WIP board – the h/h’s homes, anything important to the story, and of course, actual photos of what they look like.  Currently, I have a picture of Zac’s yummy Gold Coast apartment, a pair of to-die-for high heel sandals that he buys my heroine, Emily, and what I envision they look like – Eddie Cahill (left, as Zac) and a cute blonde model (Emily) I found in the Ezibuy catalogue 😀

So that’s your task for this week.  Your characters.  I’d love to have some of you post your summaries.  If you have any questions or get stuck, feel free to yell and I’ll do my best to answer!

What do you want to achieve in 2010?

Last Movie Watched: Honey, I Shrunk the Kids
Latest Song on The Ipod: Desensitized by Invertigo

Every month when my writing group meet, we’ve gotten into the habit of setting writing goals.  We check what’s been done that current month,  then set our goals for the next one.  We may not achieve all we’ve set out to do but it does ensure we get at least something done.  And every December we devote some time to goal setting for the following year.

I never used to set goals.  “I can’t tie myself down to a list,” was one excuse.  “I can’t be bothered,” or “I’ll never meet them anyway,” were two more.  But if you want to achieve something – writing a book, plotting a series, saving up for that holiday – then you need to have a plan.

So, how to set your goals.  By following the SMART rule:

Specific:  “I will complete my next historical manuscript by October.”
M
easurable:  “I will write x amount of words a week.”
A
ttainable:  “I will get published this year” is NOT in your hands, so committing to this is a fast track to failure.  Instead, focus on what you can control – your word count, where and when  you submit your book, spending x hours on your writing.
R
ealistic:  saying “I’ll write a chapter a day, every day” may seem like a noble goal, but if you have kids, a partner, sick relatives, a full-time job, etc, you may be overstretching.  I write during school hours and after the gym, so realistically, my writing time is from 10.30-2.30pm, Monday to Friday.    I have done midnight stretches when I’m on an editing deadline but I really hate doing that so I’m aiming to plan a bit better this year. 😀 I also like to use a weekly page goal, so I don’t beat myself up if life intervenes and stops me from writing every day.
Timely: give yourself a time frame or limit to aim for – by next week, next month, before conference.

So, for example, “I will write a chapter a week, and complete the first draft of my 50k manuscript by June. ”

While I make my goals for primarily writing-related things, you can apply it to almost anything – “I will exercise at least 3 times a week and cut down to one cup of coffee a day.”  “I will tackle one drawer a day and have my wardrobe spring cleaned by the end of the month.”

Another important aspect of goal setting is to WRITE IT DOWN  – on a list above the computer, in a diary, Outlook, wall calendar.  Or, if you’re like me, all of them 😀  If I can’t see it, I forget about it.  You can also enlist your partner/parent/writing group to keep you on track.  But ensure you pose limits on their well-meaning, “have you written/gone to the gym/drunk your coffee today?”  Because there’s nothing worse than someone who nags you about stuff you know you should be doing 😛

So, my goals.  Since reading Vicki Hinze’s most excellent To-Do List (reprinted here in Melinda Goodwin’s article) I have a few to focus on each year.   They are:

Writing/Sales

  • I’ll complete two books by the end of school term 3 (October)
  • I’ll finish a new proposal and begin querying agents by June

Promotion

  • I will post to my blog at least every two weeks
  • I will design and develop two new promotional products for RWA’s conference (August)

Business

  • I’ll attend RWA’s national conference in August
  • I’ll enrol in Theresa Meyer’s “Developing your Author Brand” on-line workshop (Feb)
  • I’ll visit Harlequin’s Sydney office (Jan) and become more familiar with their roles and responsibilities

Craft Education (developing/strengthening skills)

  • I will seek out online courses and/or workshops to develop my world-building skills
  • I’ll begin a series of weekly blog posts on writing a book in three months (also listed under Outreach)

Reading

  • I’ll read at least two new-to-me authors

Outreach (helping others)

  • I will judge for at least one RWAust contest
  • I will read for RWAmerica’s RITA contest
  • I’ll begin a series of weekly blog posts on writing a book in three months

Whew!  So there you have it.  My goals for this year.  Feel free to use my headings to set your own goals, and even make a mission statement about what you want to achieve this year.  I’d love to hear yours!