It’s summertime and that means many of us will take vacations of some sort. Maybe we’re staying close to home and exploring places around us. You know you drive past them everyday and never quite make the time to stop. Or maybe you are traveling where the flight takes 10 or 15 hours and you have to deal with jet lag. Maybe you’re on a cruise ship, exploring the world from the deck of a huge vessel. However you’re traveling, it’s a good idea to pack a few things in your suitcase.
The same is true when writers are launching into writing a new book. Today I wanted to share some tips for things to make sure you have in your writer’s suitcase before you embark on a new writing adventure.
1) A What If: Most books start with the idea of a what if. My next book is Beyond Justice, and it’s a foray into a new genre for me: legal romantic suspense. From the time an editor asked to see something to the point I had a proposal to shop took over a year. Why? Simple: I needed a what if that would keep my interest for the year of writing and the year of promoting the book. It also had to be a what if that would capture the attention of an editor and hopefully countless readers. So take the time to massage and brainstorm your what if. Work at it until you have a question that captures your attention for the long haul.
2) A Lead Character: When I’m starting a new book I have to know who the lead character is. Sometimes it’s only the hero. Other times it’s the heroine. But once I know the lead character, I can build the contrasting hero/heroine around that one. The supporting cast will often spring pretty organically to life as I write, but getting that hero/heroine identified and nailed down is critical. Take the time to explore books like 45 Master Characters. This book and many others will help you build contrasting characters that will interest your readers. A couple others I like are Please Understand Me II and Getting Into Character.
3) A Setting: Next a book — just like a vacation — needs a setting. Where will the what if and characters interact? I like to write in such a way that the book could not take place anywhere else. In a sense the setting becomes its own character. Readers feel like they’re taking a vacation in a book, with enough details to be transported to the location. Readers who live there or have visited shouldn’t be jarred from the book because they feel like you got the details wrong. One of the highest compliments I received from readers for Shadowed by Grace was that they’d been to Italy and couldn’t believe I hadn’t. They felt transported back to the location. That’s exactly what I wanted to happen.
So these are a few of the items I throw in my suitcase when beginning a book. When I have these locked in place, I feel ready to start the journey. Come back next week for a few more items I wouldn’t start a book without.