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?


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!


25 comments on “A Novel in 3 months (week 1) – preparation

  1. Paula,
    Firstly, your blog is amazing! It’s so lively and beautiful to look at. It certainly gives me food for thought about my blog – it meanders everywhere (ie: lacks focus).

    Secondly, I’m hooked. What a great idea. It’s sort of like having a mentor. My ‘paid’ work starts next week, but I will try to keep up (geez, already looking for an out).

    Last but not least, your post was incredibly informative and inspiring.



  2. Aack, the GMC!! This is what I struggle with (always seem to get my internal and external conflicts all muddled).

    But I do have your little ‘craft’ magnet stuck in front of me Paula, hopefully it will keep me on track 😉

  3. LOL – Look who’s here! Bootcamper 109’ers are like sponges – we see an opportunity to learn and we’re there. And Paula, you always have such great ideas and comments. Thank you for sharing with us. PS Shayne. Your blog might meander but it entertains and makes me think Best of all makes me laugh.

  4. Done! Not sure I can post here as this ms will do the comp round once finished.

    Yes Jenn, we’ll need to do a bootcamp roll call, lol.

  5. Meant to say…

    Using Kris Marshall (Colin from Love Actually) for my hero, and Isla Fischer for my heroine.

  6. Hey everyone! Nice to see a bunch of familiar names here. Hope you can stick with us, Shayne. I find a lot of encouragement in a group (as my Outlook group folders can attest!)

    Anita – Please, be as vague as you wish if you need help. If you get stuck, you can use this as a kind of brain storm. And I looove GMC – thrilled out of my skin to know the GMC Queen, Deb Dixon, will be at our conference this year :::fan girl squeeee!::: I love your visuals, too 🙂 I like playing the ‘why?’ game with GMC to get deeper into the character – e.g. heroine wants to marry. Why? For financial freedom. Why? Because she needs to escape her controlling father. Why? because he’s using her in a pawn for political gain. (and so on). There’s always a deeper reason when you start to dig.

  7. Paula, here is my GMC (hopefully generic enough)

    Hero – wants his inheritance because he needs it for work success, but can’t because he has to marry to get it and doesn’t believe in marriage.

    Heroine – wants money because she needs it for work success, but can’t because of family debts and family must be put first.

    ‘work success’ generic word use (they’re very different things for H/h)

  8. Hi!
    What a fabulous blog, Paula. Thanks for taking the time out to post for us, okay me, who’d rather clean the oven than actually sit down and write. I’ve made a mental commitment to do the three month journey. Looking forward to it.

    Now, where is Mr. Jiffy…


  9. Hi Paula,
    This is a fantastic idea! Thanks so much – just at the right time for some of us needing a boot into the new year.

  10. Hey Paula

    OK – your blog I am going to sign up to follow now and hopefully go along with on your journey.

    Wow what an interesting concept to share with us – you process and how you do everything…

    Thank you for sharing with us – can’t wait to see how it all unfolds.

    Bye 4 now

  11. okay, Anita, my question to you – WHY does your hero want work success? and WHY does he not believe in marriage? You don’t have to answer here if you don’t want 🙂 but have a think about those two things. Something must’ve happened to him in his backstory that makes him do what he does. And are they deep-down related? Here’s a raging, off-the-top-of-my head example… work success = acceptance (his father measured success in monetary terms and he’s always needed his father’s acceptance but denies it to himself) and marriage = vulnerability (been horribly burnt in the past by either ex or his own mother). One suggestion if you’re going down the burnt-ex path: if your character has sworn off love/marriage, make sure it’s more than just one relationship gone wrong or something deeper that truly affects the character because it needs to be strong enough to form that character’s core belief. In my current wip, my heroine has sworn off relationships but it’s more complex that just a shitty ex – rather a stream of shitty exes and a REALLY shitty childhood. Basically touching into that whole abandonment/acceptance issue because whenever anyone gets close, they hurt her. And of course, that’s layered into the story so it’s not just one big info dump (more on that later!)

  12. Great post Paula. The pantser me gasps but I can see where having an outline can be of huge benefit as well as knowing the import GMC. I’ll be following this threat with great interest.

  13. Okay here is the first part of my Preparation:

    A Novel in 3 Months
    Title: Having Her Best Friend’s Baby

    Hook: Best Friends become lovers – Marriage of Convenience

    Setting: Newcastle or Sydney around the beach areas

    Time Frame: Early Feb to late Nov

    Lexie Chambers and James Darcy have been friends since 1st grade and have a strong working and personal relationship. So it seemed natural to Lexie, that when she decided to have a child, that she would turn to her best friend and business partner for help.

    James Darcy is less than impressed when Lexie tells him she wants to have a baby and wants him to be the father. He is even less impressed when she announces that it’s just his sperm she wants and not his body. The last thing James wants is to course problems with their friendship, so why is he so insistent that they conceive the baby the natural way?

    What will taking the step from friend to lover mean to their friendship? Are they willing to pay the price?

    Shall be back tomorrow with GMC


  14. Hey Helen! You don’t have to give up all your pantsing – I do a lot of it in my head using the info I get from the GMC 🙂

    Sandii – is this aimed at Sweet? Great start! Be really interested to see what you’ve got for their GMC.

  15. Hi!
    Will working out who, what and where for the new story. I’m doing Angela James’s Self Editing Workshop and getting rid of filter words and adverbs in my current WIP. I had an embarrassing amount of both of them. Don’t ask about exclamation points.

    Loving this workshop. Thanks again, Paula. Exclamation point (I don’t think that counts.)

    I also did a workshop with Shayla Black on storyboarding for pantsers, like me, plotting your novel onto a board. It helped me see where the story was going and not getting stuck in the middle.


  16. ah-ha! Are you a workshop junkie like me, Sandii? 😀 I’m about to do one on WordPress (just to make sure I’m using all the functions I can) and Angela’s one sounds great. I have a deep and meaningful relationship with the dash – as you can see.

  17. Hi Paula,
    I’m aiming this one at Sexy or Sexy Sensation.

    Here are my GMC:

    HIS GOAL: To make his business a success and to have his partner Lexie look at him as something other than just a friend.
    HIS MOTIVATION: James wants to prove to his father that he can make his own way without the help of family money.
    He has loved Lexie for years and she is the only woman he would ever think of settling down with and give his children the stable home he never had growing up.
    CONFLICT: His father can be over powering and believes his way is always the best.
    He wants to help Lexie conceive a child, but NOT via IVF.
    HIS CORE BELIEF: That he will never make a good husband or father as he never had an example of how to act like one, plus he is often told he is like his father.

    HER GOAL: To have a baby she can love and who will love her. Have her parent accept her for the person she is.
    HER MOTIVATION: Wants to prove to her family that she is responsible.
    CONFLICT: She wants to conceive her child by IVF. She is afraid if she and James cross the line from friends to lovers she will lose him as a friend and a business partner.
    HER CORE BELIEF: That soon or later everyone she loves will turn his or her backs on her.

    Now this is where I normally struggle as I’m never sure if my GMC are strong enough.


  18. Hi Paula

    Great blog site and if it will help me to stop procrastinating I will definitely join in of the A Novel in 3 Months. Have trouble with my hooks, GMC and personal motivation. Where do you get your energy?



  19. I’m a plotter so I always organise my ideas before I start. It will be interesting to see how someone else works. I’ll be following your process/progress over the next three months.


  20. Hi Shona! I think the key here is ‘organising the ideas’, whether it be in your head or down on paper. My head buzzes with so much ‘what if?’ and alternate theories that I need to write them down to get it straight. (kinda like Sookie Stackhouse’s brain, I can’t shut ’em off!)

    Shelley – I’m motivated by that feeling of selling another book and not having to commute 2hrs a day 😆

    Sandie – wow, you’ve been busy! This sounds like something pretty good. The problem with listing stuff like this is you can think it’s not strong enough. Obviously there’s more threads to it and the proof comes when you actually write the story 🙂 My most recent submission has similar conflicts, where the h/h’s fathers play a big part in that (I actually got the final proofs for The Billionaire Baby Bombshell last week and am doing those while I multi-task!)

  21. Also, everyone, I am actually writing a new book for this exercise too, so you’re not alone! I may not post examples from it (I have a deep suspicion of jinxing myself) but I will use examples from my other books.

  22. Hi Paula

    Thanks for doing this Paula. I’ve been off the writing radar for quite a while. Your book in three months has my brain ticking over. Your expertise and enthusiasm will see me through to ‘the end.’ Ciao Roseanne

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