If 1940’s columnist Red Smith can be believed, “…it’s easy, you sit down at a typewriter, open a vein, and bleed.” But you didn’t come here for sarcasm and innuendo, ok maybe you did, and I’ll probably give you loads, but I really do want to answer this question for you. It is one that many people ask when they first contemplate the notion of writing.
I would like, however, to warp the question just a bit. Many people go in search of answers from people how have been there, who have written books already. That’s a natural, first reaction to the notion of writing. The problem is that like the myriad nuances in people, the art, the craft of writing can be just as different. Where one person might get up an hour early every morning to write, another person might do it during their lunch break, or before they go to bed. Still another writer might start at the beginning with, “It was a dark and stormy night…” while then another starts at the end with, “…and they lived happily ever after. The End.”
So the question isn’t so much “How do you write a book?”, the question, for the person about to embark on this journey, is “How do I write a book?” This is not to dissuade you from asking other writers, but it is done to put the focus firmly and squarely where it belong: your shoulders. After all, no one is going to write this book for you. It’s going to be you, and you alone that does the back breaking, hair-pulling, nail-biting work. So ask. Ask as many writers as you can find. Learn their techniques, their tips & tricks, find what works for you, what doesn’t, and being.
Of the things you will need to decide, there are some basic building blocks to the craft of writing. In no particular order, you will need a smattering of the following:
1. Plot – This is the general idea of what is happening. For example, the plot of The Hobbit is that a homebody of a fellow has a wizard and a dwarven king in exile show up unannounced and carry him off to free their mountain home from the clutches of a greedy dragon.
2. Character(s) – I put the s in parenthesis for the fact that you can have a book with just one character. These are the driving forces of your story. They are the reason there is a plot. Notice in the above example, I gave you four main characters right off the bat. No one wants to read a story about some guy, who helps another guy, go somewhere and fight someone. You need characters that are really someone, who are invested in the story and can drive it further down the road. (Remember characters should drive the plot, not the other way around.)
3. Theme, Mood, Ambience – Whatever you want to call it, but deep down, every story has something it is trying to say. Even a fun little adventure like the Hobbit had loads to say about greed, justice, racism and the qualities of a good afternoon cup of tea. Have something in your story that you are passionate about.
4. Conflict – This doesn’t have to be swords clashing, guns blazing, and out-and-out war. It simply has to show that not everyone agrees with each other. Imagine, if you will, that Tolkien had written the Hobbit with zero conflict. It would go something like this.
Gandalf “Bilbo, want to help these dwarves get back their home from a dragon?”
Bilbo “Sounds fun, sure I’ll go.”
Thorin “Smaug, this was our home before you laid waste to it.”
Smaug “Oh? Right, you are. Sorry about that old chap, here you go, everything as it was. I’ll just be leaving now.”
No one wants to read that.
5. Sit Down And Write – Biggest tool in your toolbox as a writer – WRITING. If you are planning to write a novel, I personally shoot for 1.5K words per day. You can figure that part out based upon your schedule, when you want to finish, and a bunch of other factors that will try to horn in on your writing time. Like Facebook. Twitter. The Dishes. Your children getting cuts and needing to go to the Emergency Room. Don’t do it. Don’t fall into that trap. Your writing time is sacred. Treat it as such.
In conclusion, that’s how you write a book. You sit down, open a vein and bleed… oh wait, no. You sit down every day and write. You have a solid idea of what your plot is, who your characters on, and what you are trying to say. You make your characters disagree (called conflict) and most importantly, you WRITE is. Cheers!