Starting Your Book

By Heather B. Moore, 2016 TWC Chair

Success Starts Here Freeway Style Desert Landscape

When I meet writers who are looking to get published, they often ask me how I decide where to start my story, who the characters will be, and how I plot.

So as I’m preparing to write my next book, I thought I’d give you some insight into my process.

Thinking

Maybe mulling is the more correct word. I have to have the main character pretty well defined in my mind before starting to write. The secondary characters come into the story to support the main character—and sometimes they surprise even me.

Creating a Schedule

Writing, of course, is not always controlled by that effervescent muse (Annette—I’m probably using effervescent wrong). Writing is part creativity, and part science. Editing definitely falls into the science category, as well as actually completing a book. Like any writer, I’m constantly pulled in different directions. But once I decide on a book, I need to create the schedule to get it completed, and limit any other stories in my head that are trying to derail priority number 1.

Character Sketching

This is an evolving process and changes and grows as I get further into the writing process. For instance, when I write my first draft, my character motivations aren’t usually ironed out. I’m writing mostly plot and dialog. About half-way through draft 1, I’ve had to make solid decisions about my characters, so I’m adding information to my character sketches as I go. So during the 2nd draft, I’m inserting more characterization to the beginning of the book.

Point of View & Tense

I take into consideration who my audience will be and who the most important characters are. Will the story happen in real time (present tense) or past tense? Will my characters speak in first person (ideal for YA), or third person? It’s a lot of work to change this part of the process, so doing your research beforehand will save you a lot of time later.

Conflict

This goes hand in hand with character sketching. I have to ask myself what is the main conflict of the book, and of each character.

Beginning

Now that I have some basics going and I actually sit down to write, I usually concentrate on where I want the story to begin. Not to say that the first chapter I write will be the actual first chapter of the book, but I start pretty near the beginning. Before I start a chapter/scene, I ask myself: “What is the point of the chapter? What will be accomplished? What will it show that may/may not be relevant to the story as a whole?”

Creating a Scene

I create scenes in several phases:

Phase 1: I write, not caring too much about fleshing out the characters or the description, but I am nailing down the direction of the scene.

Phase 2: I revise the scene and insert more description, making more concrete decisions about the character.

Phase 3: This happens when the whole book is drafted and maybe new developments have happened along the way. Now have to go back through each scene to make sure the story is properly directed.

As you can see, creativity has just been replaced by careful analysis (science).

Okay, looking over this list makes me wonder why I even start a new book. Every writer has what works for them. My style might be convoluted, but you never know, it might work for you as well.


Heather Moore B&W

Heather B. Moore, the TWC 2016 Chair, is a USA Today bestseller and award-winning author of more than a dozen historical novels which are set in Ancient Arabia and Mesoamerica. Heather writes historicals and thrillers under the pen name H.B. Moore. She also writes women’s fiction, romance, and inspirational non-fiction under Heather B. Moore, including The Newport Ladies Book Club, the Amazon bestselling anthology series A Timeless Romance Anthology, the Aliso Creek series, and the USA Today bestseller Heart of the Ocean.

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A Non-Scary Guide to Research

by Jennifer Moore, novelist and TWC board member

You’re writing a contemporary story, so you don’t need to research, right?

WRONG!

While your characters live in basically the same world you do, there’s still plenty to learn—unless you are actually writing about a person who lives in your town, has your same job, and enjoys the same hobbies as you do. In that case, just x-out of this right now and get back to your MS.

But, for those of us who are not writing about people just like us living in our town, there’s plenty we need to know.

First of all, setting.

I love maps and travel guides. Most states will send you a packet with all sorts of information. Those are super cool, lots of pictures. Of course Google maps, and an almanac—you want to know what the weather is like. And does it get dark early in the winter? Things like that add depth to your story and make the reader feel like they are one step deeper inside. That’s what we want, right?

And find movies shot in the location you’re writing about. That gives you a whole lot of setting ideas and helps you picture it, especially if it’s somewhere you’ve never been. Coffee table books, post cards, and of course Google images.

Next up: culture

This is tricky. You can’t just learn a culture. But you can find out bits and pieces of what people there are like, and that will not only make you look like an expert on the region, it will help with your character development.

I like history books for this. Both fiction and non-fiction.  History of a place tells why the people there act the way they do now.

And what better way to learn about a culture than its stories?

And Now for Language

It doesn’t matter where you are in the world, every region has its own distinct way of speaking. Even twenty miles away from you r house, you can find something unique about how people talk. So, learn about it. I’m not saying you have to be fluent in a new language, but an accent, a unique speech pattern, even a few words from your character’s native tongue makes them more interesting. And who doesn’t like reading slang from somewhere new? It’s fun and can help make your story richer.

Keep your eyes open, you’ll find facts and interesting tidbits that can add to your story in the funniest places. I found this article in an airplane magazine about Irish surfers. Did you know they surf in Ireland? I didn’t. But a character in my Irish book would definitely know.

Surfing Article

Any time I go to a museum or some sort of historical place, I get the souvenir guides. They don’t cost much, and there are tons of things to remember. Plus, again pictures.

Museum

And last of all: Don’t be afraid to ask

Something I’ve learned is people love talking about themselves, their job, their family, their hometown. Just get up the nerve to ask.

I wrote a book about a girl that grew up on a cattle ranch and so I asked someone I knew about it, and he took me to his ranch when they were branding—it was an entirely new world to me, one that I can write into my story with details of smell, (bad) sounds, sights that I wouldn’t have ever known without experiencing it for myself.

Cattle Ranch

So, get out into the trenches, writers!  Don’t be afraid to get dirty, and of course take lots of notes, you never know when you’ll need them.


 

Jennifer MooreJennifer Moore is a passionate reader and writer of all things romance due to the need to balance the rest of her world that includes a perpetually traveling husband and four active sons, who create heaps of laundry that is anything but romantic.

Jennifer has a B.A. in Linguistics from the University of Utah and is a Guitar Hero champion. She lives in northern Utah with her family, but most of the time wishes she was aboard a British frigate during the age of sail.

Poisoned Apples

by Julie Wright, novelist and TWC board member

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A few years ago, I discovered the TV series Once Upon a Time. For someone like me, an avid junkie of all things fairytale, this is a delightful series.

While at ABC’s website streaming the first few episodes (then available for a short time only), I found the comments list. It was during the second episode. I was waiting for the show to buffer so scrolled down to see what else there was to do, because I am a chronic multi-tasker and really hate even a few seconds of idle time.

One of the comments:

“Inconsistency with the apples . . . she says honeycrisp tree then hands Emma a red delicious. I know, I know, it’s small, but details like that are important to me.”

There were several comments about the honeycrisp. Apparently a lot of people know their apples. I didn’t actually catch the error, because I don’t know apples, but I found the comments interesting—comments like, “I know it’s small, but details like that are important to me.”

There is power in getting the details right.

Don’t get me wrong. I totally understand the frustration that research brings. I know what it’s like to get to a place where I simply don’t know how it really works. That’s one of the reasons I set aside a book I’d felt very strongly about. I was lost in the research and realized that until I could commit to the research, I had no business writing the book. It’s easy to let little details go while thinking, “How many people really know what a honeycrisp apple looks like anyway?”

The answer is: A lot of people.

And their knowing the right answer when the writer got it wrong yanks them out of the story. Some readers will roll their eyes and dive back into the story. Others will roll their eyes and TRY to dive back in, but they’ll keep surfacing so they can do another eye roll, and the book loses some of its original excitement. And others will roll their eyes and walk away because they can’t get past the fact that the writer got it wrong.

For them, a wrong apple turned into something toxic—poisonous to their ability to suspend disbelief.

It takes time to get the details right, but it takes even more time to try to win back readers who feel like you’ve failed them. Don’t set a volcano in Sweden if you aren’t sure about whether or not such a thing could exist. Don’t trust to just Google or Wiki for your sources (though they are great resources). Take a moment and call the hospital to talk to their night shift nurse to find out a detail about how his/her shift works or what protocol is for seeing a patient. Call the post office to find out how much it would cost to mail a pot of gold back to Ireland. Call an STD hotline to find out actual statistics (though they might ask you what your symptoms are and think the “writing a book” is just a cover story). Go ride a horse, go rock climbing, go . . . DO whatever it is you have your character doing (within reason—if your character is jumping off the Empire State Building, you definitely should not do that).

I had a teenager who wanted to be a writer ask me for the most important bit of advice I felt I could give. I told him to: Go. Live. Life.

See, taste, smell, hear, touch life. Your own experiences are your best research.

Bite into a honeycrisp.

But make sure not to pick one from the tree where the queen used to live. Better to not take chances.

 


 

julies

Julie Wright has written sixteen novels and coauthored three. She won the 2010 Whitney award for best romance with Cross My Heart and the Crown Heart award for The Fortune Café. She is agented by Sara Crowe at Harvey Klinger Inc. She has one husband, three kids, two salamanders, one dog, and a varying amount of fish (depending on attrition). She hates mayonnaise.