I Want to Write a Book, Where Do I Start?

I want to start writing a book, but don’t know where to start…

Don’t worry – I’ve heard this many times! Usually, it’s a novel that someone has on their heart. A story they want to tell to the world. Storytelling is an art form, allowing one to craft a journey of emotions and adventures that draw others in. Understanding the basics of storytelling is key to delivering an entertaining and captivating story. It’s important to start by developing a clear plot or narrative, then crafting characters who evoke emotion and intrigue. Dialogue should be natural and help drive the story forward while captivating an audience with its sincerity. A story is a series of happy accidents (or unfortunate events), and successful storytelling as it relies upon spontaneity along with planning.

But what if you want to write a how-to book? Or a historically-accurate document? Fact and fiction are not that far apart!

Planning To Win

The best way to start writing a book is to plan, plan, and plan some more. You can fly by the seat of your pants, wing it, make it up as you go along – and that works for some people, especially if this isn’t their first book. However, if you’re asking where to begin writing a book, the chances are that this is all new to you.

Start by understanding the purpose of your book. What do you want it to accomplish? Who will be reading it? Knowing this can help inform the tone of voice used throughout the writing process. Additionally, having an outline or agenda for each chapter is essential to structure and organize your book.

Wait…you don’t have your chapters laid out yet? Let’s fix that right away.

I’m going to assume you already have the idea for your book, whether it’s a fantasy novel or a guide to running. For factual books, it’s usually easier to determine the chapters – the last chapter is “Congratulations! You can now do it/know everything!” and you can work backwards from there if you need to.

A novel often has a beginning, a middle, or an end. It’s not common for you to have the whole journey mapped out.

Take a piece of paper and write down what you have. Start with the title at the top of the page. If it’s a factual book, you know the end goal already – write this at the bottom of the page.

For a novel, write whatever you have in the appropriate space on the page – beginning at the top, middle in the middle, end at the bottom.

If you don’t have the end, try to work out what the end will be. Write it down. It can be quite vague, eg “They defeat the evil sorcerer” – you don’t need to specify who “they” are yet!

If you already have the start of the book idea, great! If not, go there now. Decide who the story is about, and what the challenge is they are facing. For example, a group of elves are being forced out of their home by an evil sorcerer who wants to build a restaurant on their green meadows.

For your fact book, you can also define the starting point – who are the people you are talking to, what do you want them to achieve, and why are they stuck? Or what don’t they know?

The middle section of both types of books gets everyone from the start to the end.

If you’ve done this right, you should now have a vague idea of the very starting point, the journey required, and how it all ends.

The next step is to fill out the details – plot points for a novel, facts and figures for a fact book. This can be done with index cards or on your computer, or if your piece of paper is big enough, just fill in the gaps. Try to make it sequential, filling in those gaps as you go along.

Once you’re happy that it all makes sense, you can start turning it into chapters.

For a novel, chapter lengths are arbitrary, they are as long as they need to be. Try to split the content into sensible sections, preferably finishing each chapter on a cliffhanger, leaving the reader in a position of “Just one more chapter!”

For factual books, it makes sense to split chapters by topic, time period, or specific lesson. For example, learning how to run can have chapters about choosing the right shoes, building your stamina, joining public running events, etc. You don’t want to mix buying a pair of shoes with running a marathon in the same chapter.

The final step for both types of books is to write, edit, and refine your content. THIS IS NOT WRITING THE BOOK – this is refining your plan! This is where you make sure each chapter has enough detail, and that the whole book binds together nicely. At this stage, you may find that one chapter needs more content – or less.

The Plan is Ready!

Great! You can start writing your book now! As an author, it is your task to take your reader from point A to point B with various adventures along the way, no matter what type of book you are writing.

You might think you are very creative, but a plan is always worth having. How can spontaneity mix with planning? Simple. You’ve already built an outline of your story, and you know how it should end.

There’s nothing stopping you from deviating part-way through. You can gradually bring yourself back in line with the plan, or not – it doesn’t HAVE to end the way you planned it. When I wrote A Murder In Nether Bumble, I knew who had done it right from the start…until I didn’t. And then it ended up being somebody else. But at least I had a vague idea of where I was going!

You see, you can plan these adventures, but if your characters are deep enough, they’ll begin to take on a life of their own. Several times in my own work, I’ve found that characters want to do something contrary to what I had planned, but it makes sense for their goals and aspirations and always leads towards the right end for the story.

The same can happen in fact-based books. New techniques might become favoured, new discoveries made, or new theories emerge. It’s all part of the creative process, and it can bring your work to life in ways you hadn’t expected.

Writing a book is as much an adventure for the author, as it is for the reader! So get planning – but don’t forget to keep an open mind too. Let yourself enjoy the journey, and see where it takes you. It could be somewhere totally new and unexpected – but amazing!

Good luck with your writing endeavours! May your book become a classic.

PS why would a sorcerer want to build a restaurant?