Wednesday, November 7, 2018

Where Do I Start (to write a book)?

by Mindy Obenhaus
In the beginning…

No.

Let’s start at the very beginning. A very good place…

No, no, no.

How about this? I’m writing a new book. I have a hero and heroine and a three-paragraph blurb. How do I turn that into a 200+ page book?

Every writer has their own process. Mine has changed over time. Multi-book contracts have forced this pantser to become a plotter. 

I wrote the blurb for this book two and half years ago when I first proposed my Rocky Mountain Heroes series to Love Inspired Books. Now it’s time to write the proposal for this final book in the series. That means it's time to figure this story out.

Theme and Scripture – The first thing I try to come up with in any story is a theme and scripture passage. Sometimes that’s easier said than done. Often, there are things that don’t come to me until I’m almost finished with the book. Or, I choose something only to have it change by the end. That’s okay. At this point, all I’m looking for is a general guide.

Goals and Motivation – Next, it’s on to my hero and heroine. I need to know what their story goals are. What is it they want when the story opens? Why? What’s their motivation? Actually, these things are in my original blurb, but now I have to develop them.

Stakes – Hand-in-hand with their story goals are the stakes. What will happen if they don’t achieve their goal? Example: In my April 2019 release, the hero wants his soon-to-be-open rodeo school to be a success. Why? So he can use it as an avenue to help troubled kids. But what if it isn’t a success? Then he loses his life savings that he sank into the school. What’s at stake drives the goal.

Greatest Dream – Okay, once I’ve got all of that figured out, I need to determine their greatest dream. What does their heart long for? Love? Acceptance? A family? This is more than just a job or a promotion, we’re talking about their heart’s desire. Something they’ve, possibly, never told another soul.

Greatest Fear – Finally, I need to know their greatest fear. No, not spiders or snakes. Well, unless you’re writing an Indiana-Jones-type story, then snakes will work.

In my book, Falling for the Hometown Hero, the hero’s greatest fear is coming face-to-face with the families of the men who were with him the night he was driving their Humvee and hit a trip wire. The blast killed his four buddies and he believes the families will blame him for their deaths just the way he blames himself.

Fear is a great motivator and will cause us to do/prevent us from doing a lot of things.
Now that I have all of this information, I have to come up with a plot that will put my characters in situations that will challenge their goals, up the stakes and cause them to question their dreams and face their fears.

Some writers go straight to the synopsis. Me, I use a plotting chart. A writer friend turned me onto this a number of years ago and it’s helped me discover that this pantser really can plot. 

Basically, it’s a chart with chapter numbers in one column and a box for the hero and heroine’s POV for each chapter. There, I’ll write a brief thought on what happens in the scene and the POV character’s GMC. Or I’ll have snippets of conversations. I give myself permission to write here. Sometimes the entire scene. Whatever pops into my head gets typed in. Something that appeases the pantser in me.

Once all or most of the scenes are filled in on my chart, then it’s onto the synopsis. I cut and paste everything from my chart then delete, add… Basically pretty things up until the synopsis sounds like an actual story.

Finally, it’s on to the chapters. And, because each scene is already plotted, I can write the book much faster. And when we’re talking deadlines, faster is always better.

There you have it, a glimpse into the steps this writer goes through at the beginning of each and every book. Now it’s your turn. How do you get started on a new book? Are you a pantser or a plotter? Do deadlines affect your process? Readers, have you ever closed a book and thought you might like to write a story, but didn't know where to start? Remember, you'll never know until you give it a try.


Three-time Carol Award nominee, Mindy Obenhaus, writes contemporary romance for Love Inspired Books. She’s passionate about touching readers with Biblical truths in an entertaining, and sometimes adventurous, manner. When she’s not writing, she enjoys cooking and spending time with her grandchildren at her Texas ranch. Learn more at www.MindyObenhaus.com


44 comments:

  1. Good morning, Seekerville! Coffee and tea are on, along with some apple spice muffins. Hope everyone is gearing up for a great day.

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  2. Good morning, Mindy! Starting a new book is both an exciting and SCARY venture. I love hearing how other authors go about wading into the deep waters of new story creation, so thank you for sharing!

    I used to be a (frustrated) seat-of-the pantser until book contracts required full proposals (including a synopsis!), so morphed into a PLANser which seems to be a happy middle spot for me between plotter and pantser. High level planning, then a lot of freedom within.

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    1. I like that, Glynna. A PLANser. Yes, those contracts have a way of changing how we do things. We have to find ways to be more productive. And it sounds like you've found your sweet spot.

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    2. Glynna, I have a similar story. Although, I morphed into a planner/plotter before I ever sold the first book. I just got very tired of having to do so much editing when I got my work critiqued. I also got tired of writing myself into corners I couldn't get out of without cutting a lot of writing. I morphed so I wouldn't waste so much time.

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  3. Hi Mindy, thanks for the apple spice muffins! So glad to see you at Seekerville today. I am actually saying the final earthly goodbyes to one of our church family today and then be helping with a bereavement dinner after her service. She has run her race and experiencing joy with Jesus but it is sad for those left behind.

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    1. I'm so sorry, Connie. We said goodbye to a sweet young father at our church last week and it is VERY sad for those left behind.
      I like that you called it a bereavement dinner. I've always wondered what those after-funeral meals were called. Reception sounds too cheery, but I didn't know what else to call it. Nor have I ever heard someone else give it a name. Until you did today, so thank you.

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    2. Connie, I'm sorry for the loss of your church friend.

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  4. I am both a plotter and pantser. I get an idea and jot it down in a journal so I won't forget my initial thoughts. I let the ideas gel and swirl around in my brain for awhile then I eventually name the main characters and type them into my computer. Each new book gets added to my to do list so I won't forget it exists. Some books gel for several months with new thoughts added to the original.

    Finally I begin to write and just like I read several books at the same time I am also writing several at the same time. I have written The End on 3 manuscripts and those I am still polishing and revising. Of course I'm not ready yet for publishing but I can see a tiny bit improvement.

    On one of the books I finished, I see so many errors that hopefully I can successfully rewrite to the point it is ready for publication.

    Seekerville has been such an important part of my life. I thank you ladies from the bottom of my heart.

    Two weeks ago we had a missions conference at church. One of the wives of our church has published a book. I was talking to her about writing and she said it took her 12 years to get to the point of being ready.

    With the tornado watch yesterday, my vertigo settled back in. Nonetheless I am still trying to write through the midst of it even if it is more difficult. My parents used talk about how stubborn I was and I can see the stubborn streak paying off in determination to get the job done no matter what.

    Have a great day everyone.

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    1. Wilani, I'm so impressed with how you stick with it even when you suffer from the vertigo. You're more than just stubborn, you're amazing!

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    2. Wilani, I agree with Missy. Vertigo is rough, so the fact that you push through it is amazing. We are blessed to have you here at Seekerville.

      I can't believe you're able to work on so many books at once. That's terrific. Once you do get that first contract, you'll have a stockpile of other books ready to follow.

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  5. Mindy, this is a good template. I used to be all over the map, not a pantser exactly, just not a very good plotter. My former crit partner helped me work on structure, and now I don't type a word without a theme and a GMC.
    A breathtaking fall morning here after a week of rain. Finishing up my election coverage for the newspaper. Trying to get back to my "real" writing.

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    1. Kathy, writing is something that morphs. We start out one way, learn, try other things, learn some more, then, ultimately, settle into a pattern that works for us. Of course, you have to learn the basics first.

      So glad you're enjoying some nice weather and I hope you can get back to your real writing real soon. ;)

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  6. I love seeing how you do your books. I wrote my first book by the seat of my pants, but the one I'm writing now I did you you did. I found their GMC, their fear, their dream and plotted out scenes. I was determined to go into NaNoWriMo prepared this time. :)

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    1. And, Sherrinda, now that you're in NaNoWriMo, do you find that you're writing faster now that you've prepared?

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    2. YESSSS! Definitely! It really has been amazing to see the difference. I shall be a plotter forevermore. ;)

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  7. I am a little frustrated right now. I have two big writing projects in my face, revising my Genesis winner for two agent requests and doing a final edit on the sequel to my contracted book with Pelican. There Never Seems To Be Enough Time. I know I have to get tough with people, and myself, and remember I'm a professional. Which is why I'm not doing NaNo. I would dearly love to bang out a novella or something, but it would be the proverbial straw.
    Other than that I'm fine and enjoying the dregs of autumn in NE.

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    1. Feast or famine, right, Kathy? At least you can enjoy the dregs of autumn.

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  8. I think I started out as a pantser and am now more of a plantser because I do find myself plotting a little more than when I first started. I haven't moved to charts or graphs, yet, but I do make lists and not down scene ideas so I remember them when I finally get time to write. No hig deadlines yet, but that's something to work towards. :-)

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    1. Amy, we always have to have something to work toward. ;)

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  9. Ah, Mindy, how fun to be at the beginning of a new project, when everything is perfect and possible!

    Your plotting chart sounds a lot like my plot board, that I first learned about right here at Seekerville so many years ago. (Go to the archives and search it, people. It changed my writing life!)

    I am at the other end of a story right now, writing those last few scenes, tying everything up and laying the foundation for book 2 in the series. Then I'll look back and see if anything I wrote matches the original synopsis. :)

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    1. Erica, I usually veer from the original synopsis, but not too much. BTW, I almost choked when you said perfect and possible. Throw in frightening and intimidating and that's where I am. This is one of those stories God gave me to write, yet I feel totally ill equipped to do it. So I'm going to be in complete reliance on Him. Hmm... As I guess I should be anyway, huh?

      Will have to go search the archives for that post.

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  10. Hi Mindy:

    I've been trying over the years to come up with the best way to write the best selling book. My 'How-to' plan is a WIP itself.

    1. I want to come up with what Hollywood calls a 'high-concept' idea for a story. It needs to be unique with a surprise twist ending which by its very nature will create multiple streams of conflict. This should also hold the promise of being fun to write.

    2. I want to come up with a meaningful moral premise. This is not to preach but to give the story weight and leave the reader feeling that the story will be remembered for a long time.

    3. I work to think of many marketing vitamins that will build selling power into the very fabric of the story and not leave marketing the book up to the advertising people to sell. This would include highly interesting locations, interesting career mixes, and popular festive events. Give the marketing people a lot to work with.

    4. I come up with a 'stand up and cheer' ending for the book. The last chapter being so rewarding will act like a beacon on a hill to show the way home. Having a great last chapter written also makes misdirection in the early chapters much easier as I know how the story ends. Of course, the last chapter has to sell the next book. Make it great from the start.

    5. I plot the story scene by scene. Each scene is a chapter with a hook at the start and cliffhanger at the end. Each chapter also alters the trajectory of the plot so each chapter is meaningful and advances the story-line. This plot outline runs 60 to 90 pages and takes about three months to write and revise.

    6. the plot outline will be revised four to six times after it is good enough to be published. The extra revisions are to make the story better and more gripping. This is help to the marketing people.

    7. I make sure each chapter ask one or more questions which the reader can't wait to have resolved. These are just a few of the many rewards for reading that I insert in each chapter. This is what great advertising copywriters do to get prospects to read all their copy…even copy that is many page long!

    8. I write an epilogue that acts as a second helping of the HEA. This clears up any loose ends in a happy way. Loose ends violate the contract you have with your reader to play fair with them. Don't be a sloppy writer with loose ends. Care about your work.

    9. I make sure I have a page of acknowledgements from experts in the field to gave weight to the interesting facts covered in the story.

    10. I write the 'Dear Reader' letter to show my interest and concern for the reader's enjoyment of the reading experience.

    11. I do a line edit to make sure no sentence in the book has more meanings than the intended meaning. I also check all character names to make sure they are not easily confused with other characters nor do they have connotations which are injurious to the story line. Names like Phoenix, Brutus, Judas, have too much baggage to allow smooth reading unless your character Judas turns out to be a traitor.

    12. I let my beta readers go over the last draft in time to correct any soft spots that need work or have factual errors. I also want to beat the publisher deadline by at least two weeks. I want more time to make revisions if needed.

    That's it for now. Most of these ideas are from very successful writers. If any can help other writers I'll be pleased.

    Vince

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    1. :O!!!!! Vince, just reading that list intimidated me. If I tried to consider all those things, I'd probably throw in the towel. I think I'll just forget about writing anything "best-selling" and stick to writing whatever God calls me to write. Now watch, He'll call me to write a best seller, because as we all know, God has a sense of humor.

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    2. Hi Mindy:

      What if God said that if you do all the above things you would be guaranteed to make a million dollars on the book? Would you do it?

      Well, the best selling writers know they will be published in any event but they also want to beat the other best selling writers who are also doing those same things so they can be at the top of the best selling lists.

      I was at a big motivation rally back in the day and the famous speaker asked everyone:

      "If you knew you could not fail, what would you attempt to do?"

      He also said the key to success is: "You gotta wanna."

      I think it comes down to this: 'how bad do you really want it."

      Perhaps the best talent is staying motivated.

      Vince

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    3. Vince, you said, "What if God said that if you do all the above things you would be guaranteed to make a million dollars on the book? Would you do it?"

      If God said I would make a million dollars if I did those things, I might consider it. However, if God told me He wanted me to do those things and that would be my reward, that's different.

      I'm a firm believer that if God calls us to something, He also equips us. But there are times we choose to do what we want to do as opposed to what He wants us to do. Doing what God wants us to do may not be the easiest thing, but we can take heart in knowing that we won't be doing it alone.

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    1. Thanks, Caryl. Hope you're having a great day.

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  12. Hi Mindy! I love this idea. I'm working on a new book right now, so I'm going to use this.

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    1. Great, LeAnne! You'll have to let me know how it goes.

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  13. Great post, Mindy. I enjoyed learning your process. I write a plot outline that follows the action throughout the story. That overview keeps me on track as I write the story.

    Great line: What's at stake drives the goal! Provides a lot to ponder!

    Thank you!

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    1. Debby, I can't imagine having to keep track of the suspense thread in a story. Maybe someday, but not now.

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  14. I'm a reader and I am content reading all the books I can get my hands on.

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  15. Mindy, I loved reading about your writing process. :) I am a chart-girl too. They keep me organized. I've been told though, that I need to not spend too much time getting every piece right on the chart. I'm working to find a little bit of an inner-pantser to help me move through that process a little faster.

    And the greatest dream/fear . . . those help me to know the character so much better! I'm so glad you mentioned them here.

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    1. Jeanne, don't worry about getting things right on your chart. It's not cast in stone. It changes and evolves, just like your story. I've had things on my plotting chart that never even made it into a book because I came up with something better later. I've left some of the boxes blank, knowing I'd have a better feel for what should go there when I got to that point in the story. Think of your chart as a GPS. Just because it tells you to turn right, doesn't mean you can't go left where the view is much nicer. Rigidity is confining. Find that inner-pantser and let her come out to play every once in a while. ;)

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  16. It's always so good to look into how authors turn ideas into books because it's different for every author!

    I also use a chart, plotting out scenes, etc. I plot a little, then write a little, then plot a little more. That lets the panster in me have fun, but it helps keep my plotter from having a nervous breakdown. LOL!

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    1. Jan, I don't think the plotter part of me would ever have a nervous breakdown, but the pantser in me might (she'd at least throw a hissy fit) if she didn't get her way occasionally.

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  17. I'm a plotter. Charts and tables don't work for me, but I use lists of questions for each character and some kind of outline of the main chapter ideas. It has morphed.

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    1. We simply have to find what works for each of our writing styles, don't we, Lila?

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  18. Lee-Ann B here I recently started to use charts from Romancing the Beat and for GMC. The charts filled out are useful, especially when I am not feeling too creative. The charts give me a path to follow so I don't stress out too much during the writing process since I have some direction. I admire those pantsers though!

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    1. Lee-Ann, that sounds great! Especially if it keeps you going.

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  19. Mindy, this was a great post. Sorry I'm a bit late getting to it. There hasn't been much time this week for me to get on Seekerville. I will look at this again. It looks helpful in planning a book.

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    1. Sandy, I hope it's good things have kept you busy this week. And you know our posts will always be here for you when you're ready.

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