Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Preparing to Write Part 2: How to Plan Your Story

Although it is possible to write a novel by the seat of your pants, I think it saves a lot of trouble--and stress--to prepare your novel beforehand. This includes  brainstorming--as mentioned in last week's post--as well as planning your book's details.

I didn't start planning my book's details until recently, but I have found that doing this has saved a lot of time for when I do begin to write my book. Once you plan the details, writing will then come naturally, because you will have a general idea of what your book is about.

→ Genre

It is important that you know what genre your book will fall under before you begin to write. If you aren’t sure which genre it belongs to, do your research. Here is a list of several varieties of fiction genres you can choose from. You should also read several books in the genre that you want to write in and be aware of what publishers are currently looking for. Also, be careful to only write within the word count of your genre. Here is a very helpful list of how long a book should be in certain genres.

→ Theme

Write down the answers to these questions:
  • How do you want your readers to feel when they close your book?
  • Is there a message you want your readers to take away from the story?
  • Is there a strong symbolism you could incorporate to enhance this theme?
→ Audience

Be specific about the audience of your book. Even if you are writing for the YA market, your audience should be more specific than just “teens”. Your audience will consist of the majority of readers who will enjoy your book—their age, as well as their hobbies.

 For example: If you are writing a YA contemporary romance novel, then it will probably appeal mostly to girls who are between 16 – 18 years old who are interested in relationships and dating. Not only will establishing your audience help as you begin to write, but you will also be prepared to pitch to agents, and even promote your book when the time comes.

→ Title

I always have to have a title in mind before I begin writing a first draft. It’s easy to lose your way when you start to write. If you have a title in mind, then you have a general guideline to follow--an idea of what the story should consist of. You could even envision the cover of your book, which always makes it easier to visualize your book.

No, the title you have in mind may not be the one that will be on the printed book. Publishers can always change it, or you may even end up changing your mind once you begin writing. However, I still recommend that you come up with a title while brainstorming the story.

→ Tagline

This one is a little more difficult to establish. Okay, it’s actually very difficult to write, most of the time. However, it’s always going to be easier to come up with a tagline before the first draft has been written rather than afterwards.

What is a tagline, you ask? A tagline is usually 1 – 2 sentences that captures the essence of a story. It’s the sentence you will use when you pitch to agents and editors. If you fail to come up with an intriguing tagline, it is not likely that an agent will be interested in hearing about your story. The tagline is your book’s first impression. And just like the title, it can serve as a guideline when you begin to write your book. It should not exceed about 15 words.

→ Premise

The premise is longer than a tagline, but shorter than the back cover copy. In a proposal, the premise usually goes directly underneath the book’s tagline. This will include the conflict of your story, as well as introduce the protagonist. The premise should not exceed about 70 words.

→ Comparable Books

This is also a section that is included in proposals to agents and editors. Listing books that are comparable to yours (similar setting, characters, plot elements, etc.) helps agents/editors have an idea of where your book will fall in the market. If you have 3 books in mind that you could put in this category before you start writing, then you can be confident that your book will appeal to a certain audience.

→ Staying Organized

When brainstorming a new story idea, I often become a little to carried away. This results in a document (or notebook pages) full of random ideas for the story. And often, it can get a little stressful when I look back at my brainstorming pages. I sometimes have no idea where to begin.

This is why I suggest to stay organized as you brainstorm. Yes, it’s okay to make a mess at first, when the ideas are flowing and you don’t have time to “clean as you go”. But once you have chosen your idea and planned the story, it is time to start cleaning the mess.

At this point, I create a new folder on my laptop and new files to go in that folder. The files are titled: Characters, Scene Pieces, Book Details, Setting & Research, Deleted Scenes, Timeline, Playlist, and Plot Threads. Then, I go through my “mess” and begin to copy and paste phrases under the file of which they belong. If I wrote a few scenes or lines of dialogue as they came to me while I was brainstorming, it will go under “Scene Pieces”; if I wrote down a few songs, it will go under “Playlist”, and so on. The “Book Details” file will contain the premise, tagline, genre, etc.

♡ ♡ 

Yes, it might take a while to brainstorm and plan your book's details. However, I have found that doing this has caused me to have less writer's block compared to when I write by the seat of my pants. Plus, planning you story still leaves much freedom for you to work with the plot even when you're writing your story. =)

Be sure to come back next week for Preparing to Write Part 3: How to Outline Your Story!

✎ Are you a planner or a panster? Do you write your book's details before or after your book is complete?

  • "Planning your book's details beforehand will help steer you in the right direction when you write. " via @tessaemilyhall Click to Tweet!
  • Preparing to Write Part 2: How to Plan Your Story by @tessaemilyhall Click to Tweet!
  • How do you plan your novel? YA Author @tessaemilyhall shares her tips at #yalitchat Click to Tweet!


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  1. Thanks for the tips Tessa. I'm in the middle of brainstorming a new book right now, and these tips will come in real handy. :)

    1. I'm glad I could help, Brooke! Thanks for commenting! =)

  2. I am a panster but hope to become a planner. These tips will definitely come in handy. I am totally bookmarking this! :)


    1. It is possible to be both a panster and a planner. For example, you can at least have a vague idea of where you want your story to go, but then discover new plot themes along the way. There are several best-selling authors who are pansters--Veronia Roth (with Divergent) and Melody Carlson, just to name a couple. =)

  3. Thanks Tessa! This is very helpful! I tried to figure out what genre my story was after it was written. That was extremely difficult. The tagline I usually try to come up with afterword, but it would probably be easier to do it beforehand. Now the title I do a bit differently. I come up with a generic, boring title such as "The Sword" to start with, then change it to something more interesting after I've written the conclusion. The conclusion is where I normally get my titles from.

    1. I wrote my first two books without a tagline, but now that I had to create a proposal for my 2nd book recently, I realized that it would be much easier to write it before writing the book.

      I think that's a great idea. Purple Moon was originally had a different title (which is now the title of my second book)--but after I wrote the first draft, I changed a plot element and realized that Purple Moon was a much more accurate title. =)

      Thanks for commenting!

  4. I'm on the fourth-ish draft of my book right now, so I know all the scenes that need to occur in the book in order for the storyline to make sense. However, I don't have a specific time or place set aside for those scenes--I make kind of a "deadline" (for example, this needs to happen before this happens)--and just let the book flow out naturally (so in a way, I'm a planning pantser, if that makes any sense). And also, thanks so much for this post--I just officially declared my book a science fiction novel. :D


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