The book!–what makes it tick? What makes it move? What makes it stir the heart and mind?
That’s right, boys and girls, today we’re talking literature, and not just any old book either–your book! Please proceed to feel warm and fuzzy inside.
In every book, there are certain things that should be obvious to the writer, things that should be formulated and plotted and planned and beaten with that little stick we call the honing. (Mind you, this is different from the Shining: ideally it doesn’t end in an ax-wielding Jack Nicholson. Though I suppose that does lose it some points…)
In point of fact, there are a great many things we should know, but I’ve done my best to narrow it to a list of ten. Then I went through the additional trouble of lopping them into two separate meals for you–so try not to gorge, and hopefully, you may find a little purpose in our first five:
- What is your story’s purpose?
What does it exist? What are you trying to accomplish? What are the plot, the story, and the characters struggling toward? Or, if it is perhaps an educational or otherwise non-fiction novel, what do you hope your readers to take away from it in the end?
- What sets your book apart?
You can also turn this into: Why should we care? (But the former does sound much nicer.)
- What is the conflict?
Honestly, this can be anything from zombies to family to an evil stork with the baby (welcome to the bizarre nature of my mind), but there must be conflict, something to drive the story and its characters on. Note, of course, that there can also be many conflicts within this category—internal and external, and a variety hodgepodge of delicious mortifying interaction (if you’re as cruel to your characters as I can be). You need to think what challenges your character, and how it’s going to be fought…or more simply, how they’re going to deal with it.
How does it begin?
Aha! So you’re one of those clever rogues that already has the ending all figured out. Well done. Now you just need to get there which means…oh crap, that’s right, you actually have to find a point to begin. Shall it be at the beginning? Or shall you do the ever-popular in the middle and reflect scenario? There’s always starting from the end, of course—but if you then turn the story into having been an elaborate dream, please note neither I, nor you, nor the internet can save you from the torch-wielding mob that shall likely come for you. You have been warned. In many ways, the opening is the most important. It has to seal the deal for the reader. Introduce the conflict (or hints of the conflict). Don’t lose us to the abstract, but don’t beat us down with a straight-up info dump either.
- What is the opposition?
Obviously, this ties into the conflict, but it’s important enough to stand on its own. Who is the catalyst? The man, creature, or group driving the woes of this story’s forward momentum? Who has it out for your characters, and why? Give them as much life and attention as you do your heroes, and you’ll be glad for it. Single-minded antagonists can be fun and all…but it makes them all the more insidious to make them real.
Furthermore, this goes beyond mere avatars of the opposition, to the very notion. It could be a stock market crash. Incompetent bosses. An earthquake that has severed all the power lines. The opposition can be legion, in the right hands, and it is all the more way to present us with a living, breathing world.