Because I’m a process whore, I present to you – for no particular reason – my personal checklist for writing a book… roughly speaking. Collect them all and you get to be a writer (publication not guaranteed).
1. Have we been here before? I look at the bones of the novel and think – am I repeating myself? No. Is this a blatant rip-off of something else? No. We’re cool. Is this vaguely familiar to something else? Yes. Damn. Then what can I do to make things a little different at least? How can I put my spin on a particular trope? Crave something new, kids. Crave your own spin. Make your own mark on the world. Not radically that people think you should be locked away, but enough to make people stand up and take notice. It’s a fine line – I can’t help you with that bit.
2. Do the main characters have a personality? I don’t care (just yet) whether we’re dealing with a farmboy-comes-good or a dark lord on a throne, or a serial killer or a whatever. For me, it’s all about the imaginary bar-room dialogue I could have with them. Do they bore me to death? Kindly escort them out of this novel.
3. What do characters want? This, for me, is where personality meets story. What do they want out of it? A quiet life or to rise the ranks? Just a little love and a nice bar? This shapes huge amounts. The story can be built around it, or it can shape who characters are as people.
4. Know where you’re going in advance. This doesn’t have to be a huge amount, but at least – before you sit down to type – know what you want to get out of a scene. Sometimes I can do this because I’ve purposely left something mid-scene the day before and can pick it up easily; that’s cool. But if I don’t know what the hell is about to happen in the vaguest possible terms, that’s when The Block might kick in. I don’t want that to happen.
5. Are you about to move the story on? Are the words that you’re about to magically imagine onto the screen going to serve as developing the character or plot? All of them? Okay then. (Note: an editor will always slap more of this particular instinct into you.)
6. If your heart is not in it right now, walk away. Come back later. Do not sit down and write when you’re just feeling a little too tired or jaded. The words you put down will probably get taken out later, so why not just save yourself the time and kick back with a whisky instead. Get enthusiastic. If you’re not enjoying it, then why the hell should your readers?
7. Am I bettering myself? Not necessarily out-performing in the ZOMG plot department, but are the sentences better, are the characters deeper, is the world clearer? It’s important for me not to just bash these words out and take the money.
8. Are all the characters an honest representation of society? Do I have scenes chock full of nothing but white males who are straight and want to protect the wimmen folk? Then start deleting one or two of them: we’re living in an age where this is starting to matter.
9. Who are you writing for? I fell into this trap with my first novel. Started wondering what kind of readers I should aim my novel at, what things to keep in mind, and the end result was a bit – if I’m honest, if I’m truly honest – hodgepodgey. Pick and end goal. Choose a vision. Stick to it until you’re done. Don’t start worrying about what traditional/contemporary readers might want to read.
10. Don’t read bad reviews before you write. They’ll just kill the next hour of your writing session.
So there we have it. Some of the random shit that goes through my brain when I’m baking words in my personal literary oven. What do you kids do – have you got your own crackpot rules?
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