How to Write a Book
Writing a book can be a daunting process. Knowing where to start can leave you staring at the walls for hours on end or procrastinating the days away and filling your time doing anything other than the task at hand, either because you can’t find inspiration or feel overwhelmed at the task.
Here we are going to break down the process of writing a book and give you tips and guidance, so you come away with the knowledge and inspiration you need, whether you want to write your own story book or write your own recipe book.
How to gain inspiration for writing a book
If you are planning on writing a book, the chances are, you already have an idea for the storyline in mind. It is important to remember however that the key is in the detail. The thing that separates outstanding fiction writers from other authors is their depth of research and immergence into the subject matter.
You must be prepared to spend an equal amount of time and energy on the research phase as the writing phase, possibly even more, in some cases. If you have knowledge of the subject matter, this won’t be a problem, it will come as second nature. But if you wish to write a crime thriller, for example, and you don’t have experience in the field, you can expect to spend a lot of time doing research. Therefore, you might want to consider writing about a subject matter you have some knowledge or experience of.
Renowned detective novelist Agatha Christie was never a criminology student, far from it; she was home schooled with much focus on piano. She gained a thorough understanding of different poisons during both World Wars when she worked in hospital dispensaries, and she featured many of these poisons in her crime novels. Additionally, she spent several months each year on digs in the Middle East with her archaeologist husband and was then able to draw upon her first-hand knowledge of his profession in her literature.
You don’t need to have a degree in your subject matter, but some experience you can draw from – be it your own or that of someone close to you – can make the writing process far easier and more enjoyable.
Starting your story
So, you have your concept and subject matter, now it’s time to rub those hands together and get typing (or writing, if you are old school!) But the question is, where do I start? How to write a story is something we get taught in school, but that was a long time ago, and perhaps the rules have changed since then. Maybe there are no rules, or maybe there are many different ways, and you just need to find the one that works for you personally. Below are our top 2 tips to get started:
1. Set the scene. The location of your story is vital, almost like a central character. Choose a location with potential to enhance the story. Whether it be an exciting, bustling city or a sleepy, unassuming village with the potential to harbour dark secrets, your location should reflect the storyline and mood of the narrative.
2. Character creation. Get to know your central character(s). Like a real person, your character should have hobbies and interests, and a history that defines who they are as a person. You may not touch on any of this in your story, but it’s important that you know your characters so you can write their story and have them react to situations and challenges authentically.
How to Write a Book that Keeps the Reader Engaged
A good story grabs the reader’s attention and holds onto it until the very last page. Your book should be based around a series of events and situations that keep the reader guessing and anticipating the central character’s next move. Great writing takes the reader to another place where they immerse themselves in the character and their story. It allows them to escape the often-mundane routine of real life and live vicariously through the character you have created, so plot twists and cliff hangers are a must.
How to write a self-help or factual book
Depending on the subject matter, writing a book about your own experiences can be more difficult than a fiction book, even though you have all the inspiration and knowledge already in your head! We spoke with writer, and creator of PremDad, Carl MacDonald who is writing a book about his life experience as a dad of premature twins.
Deciding to write a book about your experiences
We asked Carl what made him decide to write his own book.
“I’ve had an ambition to write a book since I was a kid, but always assumed it would be something about one of my passions. However, when I became a dad and my twin sons were in hospital due to being born premature, I started writing about my experience.” Carl noted that he kept his notes private at first, and upon his own research, realised there wasn’t much guidance or support for dads going through the same experience as him.
“I started with a blog, which was very well received. From there, it spurred me on to write the full story of my experience, and tell the story from a father’s perspective, which as far as I know hasn’t been done yet”
What to expect when writing your own book about your own experiences
Expectations vs realities. As you can imagine, it’s not so easy writing your own book. Carl noted that time is the biggest factor. “Family life and work often gets in the way, so progress can be slow. A while back I took a week off work to 'write the book' but only ended up getting about a quarter of the way through it.”
As a writer, Carl’s tips are to write down little sentences, phrases or even just words that you want to use whenever they come to mind. A notes app on your phone is handy for this to use on-the-go.
Carl told us a handy tip to know no matter the genre of book you are writing: “I've even noted chapter titles down sometimes before the chapter itself is written. I sit on a computer all day for work so it can also sometimes be hard to summon the energy to sit down again and write.”
How to write a children’s book
Writing a children’s book can be harder than writing for adults, because you must take yourself back to your adolescence and get into the mindset of younger readers. As we age, logic and common sense can subdue our imagination and reverting to a childlike mentality can be tricky – albeit fun!
As with writing a novel for adults, writing a children’s book starts with research. However, if your subject matter is fictitious (think unicorns, dragons, and fairies), you may want to consider consumer research as well as subject research. Focus groups consisting of your target audience can help you gain an insight into how their minds work and what they want from a book. Focus groups can also help you get into the mindset of a young audience and present ideas for your book that you may not have thought of previously.
Whist you may not need the same complexity in your lead character, and they are unlikely to be complicated or jaded by the trials and tribulations of life, they should still have a depth and relatability for the young reader.
Children like to be inspired, so consider whether your lead character overcomes a difficult test or shows bravery in the face of their fears.
The number of characters in your children’s book will depend on the age range you are writing for. Too many focal characters may overcomplicate your story for younger audiences, but side-characters can keep the story interesting and engaging.
How to write a short story
Hit the ground running; short stories should start closer to the conclusion, almost like starting from the middle of what would be the full-length novel. There is less scope for scene setting when writing a short story and the reader is tasked with learning about the character and location throughout the course of the story rather than having the information spoon fed from the off, so be sure to add nuances of information throughout the narrative so the reader feels connected to the main character.
Regular short story readers will expect you to cut to the chase and know they are unlikely to get all the fatty details and comprehensive narrative of a lengthy novel.
In place of the normal scene, character, and tone setting of a full-length novel, start your short story with the ‘inciting incident’. The inciting incident is the moment the central character is faced with the conflict or event that paves the way for the rest of the story. The inciting incident should excite the reader and encourage them to keep reading, giving just enough information to set the scene but not enough to give the game away. For example:
She stared down at the body laying at her feet, at the blood pooled around her stained trainers, at the deep crimson of a life taken on her own hands and hoped and waited to wake up. But wake she did not. This was not a dream; it was a nightmare. A nightmare from which she could not wake. All she could do now was run. Again.
This paragraph leaves the reader with many questions; Who is she? What happened? Why is she running? Why ‘again’, has this happened before?
Time to Print Your Book
Once you have finished writing your book, ensure you get it proofed. Preferably, a professional editor will proof your work and make edit suggestions. However, if your budget doesn’t stretch to a professional editor, have a friend or family member you trust read your work and highlight any spelling or grammar errors as a minimum.
Now it’s time to look at your book printing options. Will you opt for a casebound book which gives a very professional and marketable finish, or will you choose a saddle stitched print which is more cost effective and suitable for smaller works?
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