Tag Archives: 2019

How To Start Writing A Novel In Just Seven Days

Books, magazines, pamphlets, scrolls, clay tablets; the written word is a distinctly human invention. With it, we can share our thoughts, feelings, desires, and emotions across time and space. We can transfer our knowledge and wisdom directly to our readers’ minds, achieving a level of intimate understanding that is unique to our species.

It’s no wonder that millions of individuals around the world aspire to be authors. Unfortunately, however, this is a near-insurmountable goal for the vast majority of them. The ideas are there, as are the feelings and emotions they want to elicit in the hearts of their readers. But writing a book is an enormous undertaking that requires at least a moderate understanding of the art of storytelling.

If you look at the thickness of your favorite novel and despair at the thought of writing fifty to one hundred thousand words of your own, don’t worry. An old adage asks, “How do you eat an elephant?” The answer, “One bite at a time.”

It’s totally within your power to chip away at your project, writing it little by little, word by word, developing your story over months, even years. The greatest thing you can do, however, comes before you even write “Chapter One” at the top of your page. The greatest thing you can do is prepare.

In one week, you can lay a firm foundation on which to build your novel. You can develop a course of action that can keep you pointed in the right direction no matter how long you find yourself writing. In one week, you can transform yourself from a dreamer to an author.

There may be 130 million books in the world, but the world doesn’t have your book yet, and with a little bit of guidance and hard work, you can add your own unique perspective to the growing legacy of humankind.

Day 1—Writing Utensils

If there’s anything I’ve learned from my many years of trying to get back into weightlifting, it’s that you shouldn’t push yourself too hard on day one. I can’t tell you how many first days I’ve spent pumping iron at the gym, only to be physically unable to bend my arms for the next week and a half.

So, in the same way, you want your transition to the authorial mindset to be a gradual one. On day one, dedicate a few minutes to picking a writing utensil. Perhaps you might want to go out and buy a notebook and pen, something you can take with you wherever you go. Or maybe you might want to peruse the note-taking apps on the App Store, the Play Store, etc. Evernote, OneNote, iA Writer, Scrivener, Word, Pages… The options are nearly limitless.

It’s never been a better time to be a writer. You can have access to the tools you need to work on your novel anywhere you need them, any time you want them. Once you’ve selected the appropriate writing utensils, give some thought to when you might want to pull them out and put words on the page.

Do you want to schedule certain amounts of time to write? Do you want to wake up early and knock out your writing goals? Do you want to work on your writing after work, or maybe before you go to sleep?

The most important thing is that you are at peak efficiency when you work on your writing. There’s no point in waking up at 5 a.m. if you can’t uncross your eyes before 7 o’clock. For me, waiting until right before bed to try to knock out a few articles or a couple thousand words in my latest novel is a complete waste. I’ve never fallen asleep quicker in my life than I do now that I’m trying to be productive with my evenings.

Once you’ve settled on a schedule, grab your writing utensil and write the date on the top. Write down what your goal for this book is, whether you want a certain word count, you want to have it done by a certain time, or whatever other goals you may have to help you accomplish this journey. Then, when you’ve reached the finish line, you can look back and see just how far you were able to go by setting your mind to the task.

Day 2—Inspiration

Out of every step in this one-week journey to becoming an author, today’s step, in my opinion, is the absolute most important one and should elicit the most time and effort on your part.

The best part of this step is that unless you live under a rock, with no access to televisions, theaters, smartphones, computers, bookshelves, or libraries, then you’ve more than likely already taken this essential step.

What step am I referring to?

Absorbing entertainment. If you want to add to the treasure-trove of stories that abound in the world, you need to know what some of those stories are. You especially need to know what your favorite stories are.

So, grab the writing utensils of your choice and make a list of your all-time favorite books, TV shows, movies, or video games. What do they all have in common?

The common denominators of your favorite pieces of entertainment are the very things that are going to inspire you through the rest of the writing process. If you love Groundhog Day and Edge of Tomorrow, then perhaps a repeating day story would be the perfect choice for you. If you love Star Trek and Stargate, then perhaps a space exploration story would be the perfect choice for you.

Be aware that this is not the time to force a story out of your head fully formed. You shouldn’t be doing any planning or writing right now. If you happen to think of something, feel free to jot it down in the corner of your notebook, or on a separate file in your app, but otherwise, at this point, you simply want to access your brain’s creativity, let it run wild, so that when it’s time for you to start creating, you might find the first sprout of an idea already growing in your subconscious.

Day 3—Parameters

Today is the day for you to start conceptualizing the parameters of your novel. This doesn’t mean planning specific details of the story itself. We’ll get to that later. Right now, what you need to do is form a picture of the end goal in your mind so that you can begin fitting the pieces in place. After all, piecing together a puzzle is much more difficult to do if you don’t know what shape it is, what the picture is supposed to be, or which pieces belong to which puzzle.

For example, imagine that yesterday, you identified your love for heist stories. Today, you might extrapolate from that the need to have an ensemble cast with each individual specializing in a specific skill.

If you identified your love for hero stories, then it would be more likely that you would only have one main character, an individual who discovers a special ability or privilege that sets them apart from everyone else in the story.

If you identified your love for war stories, then the possibilities are endless. You can write a story about the futility and loss of war from the perspective of a soldier, you can write a story about the leaders of the war planning and executing their strategies, you can write a story about the civilians who are placed in harm’s way, you can even write a story that covers the entirety of the war from beginning to end or even a story that extensively details the events of one specific battle or altercation.

This isn’t the time to lock yourself into a story yet, and if you have multiple ideas, then write them all down on separate pages or in separate files. This step is simply meant to give you a firm foundation from which to push off.

Once you’ve finished establishing the parameters of your story, then go ahead and call it a day. Take the rest of the morning, afternoon, or evening off. Daydream about what your story could be. Let the creative juices flow freely. Tomorrow, you’ll begin shaping your story.

Day 4—Settings, Events, and Characters

Hopefully, you’ve had the chance to get in a little daydreaming. If not, then go ahead and put off your writing until a little bit later today, if it’s convenient for you to do so. Creativity is the cornerstone of any novel, and cultivating it is one of the most important things you can do if you want to become a successful author.

Now that you’ve allowed your thoughts to run free and wild, we’re going to start working on the really fun part of this process. We’re going to be brainstorming events, settings, and characters.

This is the time for you to let your creativity take flight, to embrace the most enjoyable, exciting aspects of novel-writing. Now, we’re going to talk about each of these three topics in order, but don’t think that means that you have to tackle them in the same order, from settings to events to characters. Stories are like Chinese finger traps. You have to push everything into place at the same time to unlock their full potential.

A great number of stories will naturally lend themselves to one setting or another. If your story is about surviving an onslaught of poisonous serpents in close quarters, then your setting is going to need to be, by necessity, an enclosed space, one that you can’t simply walk away from whenever the going gets tough, perhaps something like an airplane.

On the other hand, if your story is about two individuals falling in love, then the options for your setting are nearly limitless. From the Garden of Eden to the Roman Empire, from the Wild West to the 24th century, such a story is largely timeless.

In your writing utensil, place three words with spaces between them.

  • Settings
  • Events
  • Characters

Once you’ve chosen your setting, write it in the appropriate blank space. Next to it, brainstorm a half dozen different ways that your setting might affect the plot of your story.

For example, if your story revolves around a couple starting a family in the Wild West, then infectious diseases and complications with childbirth will be very real threats for them.

Now write your complications down in the blank space next to your setting. These are what you’re going to come back to if your story staggers or your creativity otherwise needs a boost.

Events will come to you as you picture your story more and more fully in your mind. If you’re going to write a love story, then you might realize that you want to have the main heroine mistakenly believe that her love interest has done something terrible, one event, which leads her to remove him from her life, a second event, only to realize that she was mistaken the entire time, a third event. How is she going to correct her own mistakes? The answer to that question will form a fourth event, a fifth event, and more.

If you’re going to write a fantasy story, then you might realize that you want the main character to find an item of great significance, one event. Then he’s confronted by an old, wise man with a big, white beard, a second event. The man begins to train him in the use of the item, a third, a fourth, and maybe even a fifth event, until finally, the old man sacrifices himself so that the main character can escape certain doom, a sixth event.

If you can’t picture more than one event at a time, don’t worry about it. This isn’t the point where you need to be stringing them all together, although it wouldn’t hurt to start doing so if it comes naturally to you.

If you can’t think of any events at all, that’s understandable. We’ve been trained as a society to consume endless sources of media, but when asked what makes a good story, most people wouldn’t know where to begin.

If you feel this way, then it’s time to go back to your inspiration. If you have to, go as far as to borrow a few events from the stories you enjoy.

Did you like it when the army of robots attacked Del Spooner in I, Robot? Then maybe you can include in your list an event where a thousand robots all turn evil all at once. Did you like it when they uploaded kung fu directly into Neo’s brain in The Matrix? Then maybe you can include an event where one of your characters has information uploaded into their brain.

Finally, we come to the characters. The people with whom you populate the pages of your novel are essential for the forward momentum of your story.

If Jean Valjean from Les Misérables had been bitten by a radioactive spider, to concoct an absurd premise, he would not have accepted the great responsibility that came with his great powers. Rather, he would have hidden out, working vigilantly not to bring attention to himself, just as he did in the aforementioned novel.

If Jane Bennet had caught the eye of Mr. Darcy in Pride and Prejudice rather than her sister Elizabeth, she would have never been so quick to judge his actions, and they would have never had a falling-out.

The single most important thing to keep in mind when choosing which characters fit in a given role is their motivation. If Thomas in The Maze Runner had been pessimistic, even suicidal, he never would have exerted the effort that he did to escape the maze and lead everyone to safety. If Jake Sully in Avatar had been wealthy and privileged, he never would have accepted the assignment to head to Pandora.

Once you’ve identified your characters, then begin filling in the blank space of your writing utensils with their descriptions. Especially keep in mind the ways they will affect and be affected by the story. What are their skills? What is it they need to achieve self-fulfillment? What is their fatal flaw? A well-crafted story will utilize all these aspects of its character to craft a compelling narrative around them.

Now, I know this seems like a big chunk of work to do all in one day, but that’s the reason why the last few days were so easy in comparison. If you’ve taken the time to dwell on your inspirations, then ideally, there should be at least a few ideas that appear in your mind out of thin air, as if you were discovering them rather than creating them.

Day 5—One-Sentence Premise

If you still felt like the tasks of day four were too complex, then today is the day to take things a little easier. We’re going to focus on what your story is going to be about. Specifically, we’re going to write a one-sentence premise for the plot of your novel.

This is the culmination of the last four days’ work condensed into one compound sentence. To achieve this, you have to factor in everything you’ve already determined about your story. You have to do your best to imagine it as one whole, rather than separate, unrelated parts.

If over the course of this week thus far, you developed a modern-day setting, a killer robot, a time machine, and a woman being chased, then your one-sentence premise would be something like this: “What if there was a time-traveling robot sent to our modern-day world to kill people?”

If over the course of this week, you developed a space setting, a dark wizard, and a planet being blown up, then your one-sentence premise would be something like this: “What if an evil dark wizard uses a planet-destroying weapon to secure his rule?”

The one-sentence premise is the way you’d describe the bottom-line concept of your story. It should be boiled down to its simplest, purest form, and it should cover at least one-third of your novel.

In The Terminator, the premise of the time-traveling robot trying to kill the heroine lasts for roughly one-third of the movie, at which time she meets up with a soldier sent from the future to save her, and the premise transforms into: “The target of a time-traveling robot goes on the run with a man from the future as they attempt to destroy their murderous foe.”

In Star Wars IV: A New Hope, the premise of an evil dark wizard using a planet-destroying weapon to secure his rule also lasts for roughly one-third of the movie, at which point the premise transforms into: “A young farmer must travel across the galaxy in search of the Rebellion, joining its ranks to destroy the Empire’s arsenal and gain the upper hand on them.”

Tomorrow, we will build that summary to include the other two-thirds of your story. For now, sit back, relax, and revel in the knowledge of how close you are to your goal of writing a novel.

Day 6—One-Paragraph Premise

It’s time to map out the other two-thirds of your story. For the one-paragraph premise, you’re going to need to pull yourself back, as far away from the project as you can get, until you have a bird’s-eye view of the entire story and all it encompasses.

This perspective is essential for making a coherent and meaningful story. It allows you to discover plot holes, illogical progressions of events, as well as to identify the theme and major story beats. It also allows you to make a simple, straightforward roadmap to guide you through the process of plotting out your novel.

Your one-paragraph premise needs to cover every major event in your story in terms that are as simple as you can make them.

For example, a one-paragraph premise of Avatar might go like this:

“A paraplegic veteran agrees to go on a dangerous mission in a far-away world in exchange for spinal surgery. He soon realizes the situation on the planet isn’t as cut-and-dry as he would like, and the closer he grows to the natives, the harder it is for him to continue with his assignment. Finally, he chooses to refuse his orders and save the natives from destruction. In the ensuing battle, they defeat the humans, forcing them off the planet, and he transfers into his avatar body permanently.”

A one-paragraph premise of Iron Man might go like this:

“A wealthy weapons manufacturer is captured by terrorists and forced to build missiles for them. Instead, he creates a tactical suit of armor with which he gains his freedom. Upon returning home, he discovers that the head of his company is crooked, selling weapons to terrorists, and he makes it his goal to right those wrongs. Finally, he confronts the head of the company, who stole his technology and made a suit of his own. In the ensuing battle, he defeats his former mentor.”

Keep it simple and straightforward.

Also, your main character should follow an arc, starting with their want, the thing that they think will make them happy, such as Jake Sully’s healed legs in Avatar. Then they realize that there’s something more important than what they want, such as Tony Stark’s mission to stop the underhanded dealings at his company in Iron Man. Finally, they fully embrace the change, often, but not always, giving up their want in the process.

We have one day left, and it’s a fun one. So, rest up, and prepare for your final day of novel-writing preparation.

Day 7—Plotting Like An Excited Seven-Year-Old

Here we go. We’ve made it to day seven. You’ve almost finished your novel preparation. You’re just about to lay out the last domino that, when pushed, will lead inexorably to your goal.

Today’s task is a big one, but also a fun one. I like to call it, “Plotting like an excited seven-year-old.” If your son, daughter, niece, nephew, grandson, granddaughter, or the like, were to watch a movie and summarize it to you, what would it be like?

Children are so full of excitement and energy when they’re talking about a movie they enjoy, and that’s how you need to be on day seven. That excitement will help you to complete this task, even if you’re an ardent pantser, someone who dislikes preparing outlines before writing.

Imagine a seven-year-old explaining Titanic to you.

“Ok, ok, so first this guy is playing some game, and he like wins, and then he gets on a big boat, and he meets this girl. They hang out for a while and look at naughty drawings, and then they eat at some fancy restaurant and dance together. Then, um, well my mommy covered my eyes, but then the ship runs into a big piece of ice!”

You don’t have to include all the oks and the ands, and you don’t have to censor yourself, but the point is that this is the opportunity to highlight all the exciting moments that made you so eager to tell this story in the first place. This summary is your roadmap to guide you through the entirety of your novel-writing process.

The One-Week Author

At this point, you’re in one of two categories. On the one hand, you’ve finished this quick, straightforward program, and you’re well on the way to achieving your dream of becoming an author. On the other hand, you’ve just read through the entire guide, and now you’re ready to start with day one. Either way, allow me to congratulate you. You’ve taken the first step to the fun, rewarding, and unforgettable experience of writing your own novel. For people like us, this is one of the most meaningful things we can do with our creativity. This is one of the most successful ways we can share our voice with the world. I can’t wait to enjoy yours.

Crafting Compelling Character Arcs—Black Widow

In Avengers: Endgame, Scarlett Johansson’s character, Black Widow, chose to make the ultimate sacrifice to save the universe. Her selflessness won the day, providing the rest of the team with the tool they needed to restore billions of people back to life. While Black Widow’s death was a tragic moment in the fourth Avengers film, if we look at it from a thematic viewpoint, we’d see that it was the only possible conclusion for her character arc.

Continue reading Crafting Compelling Character Arcs—Black Widow

Five Ways To Know If You Need A Break From Writing

No matter how eager you are as a writer, no matter how many ideas you have, or how grand your visions of your career are, there will almost inevitably come a time when you need to cut free from the word count goals and get a little R&R.

Now, I know what you’re thinking. You don’t want to take a break. You don’t want to lose your momentum. You’re afraid that you might not get back into the groove, that days will become months and months will become years.

That is not, in fact, an invalid concern. Just like with a vehicle, it takes more effort to get going from a dead stop than it does to coast along at 65. However, sometimes we need to get out and stretch our legs and, above all, refuel so that we can continue on our journey.

The question then is, how do you know when you need to take a break? Once you put the pen or keyboard down, how long can you leave it sitting on the desk before it becomes too long? Of course, there is no one black-and-white answer to this question, an answer that will fit every writer and their methods perfectly. But there are things that we can all keep in mind to help us to gauge when we should pick our writing utensils up again and get back to the grind.

Gaining Objectivity

When you’re wading through an endless forest of words, it’s possible to get lost, to lose sight of the big picture for the trees. If you start to feel like the endgame of your writing is getting muddled in your mind’s eye, then perhaps a break is exactly what you need.

Taking a day, week, or even a month off can help to give you a fresh perspective on the projects you’re working on. If you were facing a challenge that you saw no way around, a steel wall of writer’s block, then taking that time away from the project could help you to reorganize your thoughts. Sometimes the solutions to our problems come exactly when we stop thinking about them.

Refilling Your Creativity

Even if you aren’t, per se, having trouble with your writing, the act of taking a break can still be beneficial to you. Creating an artistic expression is like writing with an ink pen. You can write and write and write with no problem, but when you least expect it, your ink runs out.

Your job as a writer requires you to perform activities to refill your creativity just as much as it requires you to write. Creativity is essential to the writing process, and if you use it all up, it can lead to difficulty writing and, even worse, discouragement.

So, what can you do to recharge your creativity? One of the most important things is to take in more than you put out. This requires that you enjoy the creations of other artists, such as music, poems, short stories, novels, television shows, and movies.

Now, you might scoff at this idea for various reasons. Perhaps you don’t enjoy taking in some, or all, of these art forms. Or perhaps you’re concerned that if you immerse yourself in someone else’s work, it will alter the voice of your work. Really, though, there are more potential benefits than risks with taking in media.

First, it provides you with memories and experiences of aspects of existence that you may have never gained in your own life. While I’ll never be a bank robber, of course, I can tell the story of one with at least a passing resemblance to real life, simply because I’ve seen bank robbers depicted in films and television.

Second, it helps you to learn more about your writing craft through osmosis. As you read a book, you might wonder at the choice of words, the method of describing scenes, or the point-of-view in which an author chooses to write. This will almost inevitably transfer into your work, usually for the better.

That being the case, absorb the type of entertainment that you aspire to write. That way, you can gain the tools to continue advancing in your craft.

While taking in media can be a great way to recharge your creativity, there’s also another simple thing that you can do to get yourself into the right headspace: Nothing.

That’s right. Sometimes the best thing for an overworked brain is to turn off the critical thinking and do something mind-numbing. This can include activities such as playing video games, cards, putting together puzzles, walking, running, skating, sewing, drawing, or my current and most recent favorite activity, woodworking.

While you’re working on these side projects and hobbies, you’ll find that your mind is free to reorganize and refresh. There are, however, dangers that come with taking breaks from the writing process.

Losing The Flow

As authors, there are times when we get rolling and find that we’re virtually unstoppable. Everything comes out perfectly well-constructed, the ideas flow like milk and honey, and we bang out thousands of words every day.

In that case, it’s highly likely that you don’t need to take a break. It might even be that taking a break will have the complete opposite effect of what you want it to have. It’ll make you lose your rhythm.

Once that happens, you’ll likely find that much more hard work and effort are required to get you back on track than what you managed to save up during your break. At that point, taking a break becomes not only pointless but counterproductive.

Going Without

There’s something else that you, as a creative individual, need to consider when it comes to taking a break: How long can you go without expressing yourself artistically? For many of us, writing, as well as creating in other formats, provides our lives with fulfillment and meaning. If you give it up for any length of time, be cognizant of the effect it will have on your psyche, on your subconscious self. If it begins to harm you, then immediately discontinue your break.

Making A Career

There’s one final topic that it would be good for you to factor into your decision of whether or not to take a break: Do you want writing to be a hobby or do you want it to be a career? If your answer is the former, then taking breaks won’t have as great of a negative effect on you. You’re writing for your self-fulfillment and enjoyment, and you don’t need hard-set goals and writing schedules set in stone.

If your answer is the latter, though, if you want to make a career out of your writing, get published, sell articles, etc., then you need to be careful about taking breaks. To succeed in the writing industry, most authors need to be determined and self-motivated. They have to be able to meet the demands and deadlines of their dream job, or else that dream will always be just out of reach.

On top of that, the more you write, the more opportunities you have to succeed, to sell your articles, to get featured on a major blog, or to get a book contract with your dream publisher. Very few authors make a go of writing by working on one novel for ten to twenty years and then trying to pitch it around the world for another five to ten years.

By writing a novel a year, you’d be increasing your chances ten-fold, to say nothing of the first-hand experience and training that you’d gain from each completed project.


So, judge for yourself whether you need to take a break or not. Reflect on whether a break could improve, or impair, your progress as an author, and above all, always make sure that what you choose is the very best option for your well-being, as well as that of your loved ones.

Issue #008: The One-Week Author


Writing a novel is a substantial commitment. Some authors work on a single novel for years, if not decades. What if I told you that you could have your novel ready to start writing in just one week, without having to stop repeatedly to figure out where you’re going next?


Check out “The One-Week Author” in this issue of The Writer’s Everything! #TWE @QJ_Author


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Issue #007: Taking A Break—How Long Is Too Long?


You want your story to flow naturally, but you don’t understand your characters. What can you do to get into the mind of your hero and/or villain so that you know innately what happens next?


Check out “Taking A Break—How Long Is Too Long?” in this issue of The Writer’s Everything! #TWE @QJ_Author


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How To Differentiate An Ensemble Cast

There are very few writing choices as risky as creating a novel with an ensemble cast. So much could go wrong, especially for the beginning writer. Yet, if done right, the rewards are more than equal to the challenge.

The question is, though, what is the secret to creating a satisfying ensemble cast?

Unique Characters

The key, in my opinion, is to give each character at least one major, unique characteristic.

For example, think of The Lord of the Rings. The story is set in a fantasy world that none of the readers can directly relate with. As such, it would be very easy for the characters to blend in with each other.

Four tall characters that live a long time? Ok. But do these characters all come off as the same?


Aragorn

Aragorn is a talented swordsman.

Gandalf

Gandalf is a wise and powerful wizard.

Legolas

Legolas is an exceptional archer.

Arwen

Arwen is willing to give up immortality for Aragorn.


Of course, we know that each of these characters holds a unique position in our memory. But they were also much easier to relate to. What about characters that aren’t so easy to relate to, such as the four little hobbits?


Frodo

Frodo is self-sacrificing and brave.

Samwise

Samwise is loyal to a fault.

Merry

Merry is a troublemaker with a deep-seated sense of duty and honor.

Pippin

Pippin is clumsy and brash, choosing to act before he thinks.


These four characters could have easily blended together and become indistinguishable from each other, but that’s not the case. While I might argue that Merry and Pippin were not necessarily easy to tell apart in The Fellowship of the Ring, even they eventually developed characteristics that stood out firmly from each other. Compare that with The Hobbit. There are thirteen dwarves in this story, and in the book, they are nearly indistinguishable. While the movie adaptations did make efforts to give them unique qualities, it didn’t help that they all had names that rhymed with each other or simply blended together in a list.

What if the entire cast is made of preteen youths? Well, think of Stephen King’s It. Read off the following list of words and tell me if every character doesn’t immediately pop into your head as clear as day:

  • Writer
  • Architect
  • Voice-Actor
  • Hypochondriac
  • Historian
  • Accountant
  • Designer

That’s not to mention their physical characteristics, such as stutterer, overweight, female, Jewish, or their interests, like birdwatching, smoking, etc. The point is, each character has multiple unique aspects that help them to stand out among what could have potentially been an identical cast of young children.

Try It Out

If you’re writing a novel with multiple main characters, then grab a piece of paper, or your favorite note-taking app, and put each of their names as a heading. Now try to give each of them one or two unique characteristics.

That doesn’t mean that they can’t all have something in common. For example, they could all love D&D, but one of them could be obsessed with writing the adventures, and another could love to do voices, and another could always be quick to run into things without thinking, with the whole group suffering the consequences. With a little bit of effort, you can develop a wide variety of colorful, interesting, and above all, memorable characters for your novel.