Eight Steps to a New Start

17 Jan

With a new year, I’m excited about starting on a new book. Every one begins differently. I have to have the title. I know it seems like a minor part of the book but, for me, it sets the tone of the book. When I get published and the editor wants to change it I say, go for it. After all, this is a business and I think of it that way. If I get to the point that I think I’m too good to be edited or that my title is the only one that can possibly be attached to the book, my critique partners have instructions to kick my butt.

Here are some things to ponder before you put fingers to keyboard.

  1. What is your theme? A few weeks ago Janis wrote a great blog on theme, “Once Upon a Theme.” It is worth a look before you decide.
  2. Who is your protagonist? It’s important. This is the person whose eyes your reader will see the story through.
  3. What’s their attitude? This will color your story. Are they a happy-go-lucky character who takes things as they come with humor? Or do they see things through a darker lens? Your protagonist’s attitude will dictate your word choice so it’s very important that you have them firmly in mind, if not on paper.
  4. What does your protagonist want? Now what do they really, really want? This goes to conflict and internal conflict.
  5. Now that you know what they want, how do you take it away? Make it a way that will do the most harm to your protagonist.
  6. How can you keep the protagonist from getting what they want? We have a tendency to want to solve our protagonist’s problems right away. After all, we like these people or we wouldn’t be writing about them.
  7. Jot down the three Turning Points, the Dark Moment, the Black Moment, and the End. I added the Dark Moment. I always add this in the chapter before the Black Moment as a kind of hint that things are definitely going to get worse.
  8. I make a preliminary map of the town or area where the action is set. Google Earth is great for this. You can print off a map of a real area and alter it to suit your needs.

You can flesh these steps out as much or as little as you like. I purposely keep them vague. I use them as points to write to that are subject to change. If/when I get to a point and I’ve found a better Plot Point or Turning Point, I go with it. After all, the story sometimes takes you where the story takes you. If I find events going in a different direction, it is much easier to alter the list than it is to alter an extensive outline.

How do you begin your books or short stories? Do you outline or pants it? Do you have shortcuts that help you?


Posted by on January 17, 2012 in Idaho


14 responses to “Eight Steps to a New Start

  1. Liz Fredericks

    January 17, 2012 at 7:00 AM

    I love the advice to make a map in advance. Even mapping out a room is useful in considering entrance/exit and how your characters might convey emotion simply in how they move about the room and what they access. Nice summary, Peggy!

    • Peggy Staggs

      January 17, 2012 at 9:40 AM

      THanks. It has been a big help in figuring out the choreography of a scene.

  2. ramblingsfromtheleft

    January 17, 2012 at 8:47 AM

    Great tips, Peggy. I’ve got other writers in one of my groups hooked on Google Earth. You map out your story, the people and then the place … a good way to start your journey 🙂

  3. Peggy Staggs

    January 17, 2012 at 9:42 AM

    Love, love, love Google Earth. Even though they got our address on the wrong house.

  4. Anna Taylor Sweringen

    January 17, 2012 at 9:52 AM

    Thanks for number eight! I’ve been considering using Google maps to do just that.

  5. Peggy Staggs

    January 17, 2012 at 10:02 AM

    Anna, I see your posts regularly on Clues and News. Glad I could help and thanks for dropping by.

  6. Lynn Mapp

    January 17, 2012 at 12:21 PM

    I loved this.
    It should probably be at the beginning of our binder.
    It reminds us of where we plan to go. The only thing that would take me to my “giggle-like-a-school girl” place more is a chart. You know how I love charts.

    • Peggy Staggs

      January 17, 2012 at 12:41 PM

      I know you do and so do I. We’ll have to put our heads together and figure one out.

  7. Mary Vine

    January 17, 2012 at 3:24 PM

    Well, I’m on my 4th title change on my work in progress. 🙂 But, this one may stick.

    • Peggy Staggs

      January 18, 2012 at 7:25 AM

      Titles are important. Here’s hoping it’s the one.

  8. Janis McCurry

    January 17, 2012 at 3:28 PM

    I like getting the titles early on as well. It just helps me in the process. Thanks.

    • Peggy Staggs

      January 18, 2012 at 7:25 AM

      I find it sets the tone for the book.

  9. Lois Roelofs

    January 17, 2012 at 6:20 PM

    Helpful questions! Thanks.

    • Peggy Staggs

      January 18, 2012 at 7:26 AM

      Glad I could help. Happy writing.


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