I received an email from a reader this week asking me for tips on how to write his first book. I decided to share my answer to him, hoping others in the same situation may find it helpful.
The internet is full of advice on how to write and, although I am not an expert, I wanted to share what is working well for me.
First of all, everyone is different, what works for one, doesn’t necessarily work for another. In general, there are two types of writers; plotters and pantsers.
Pantsers are so called because they write by the seat of their pants, making things up as they go. There are many successful pantsers out there making a living, but it doesn’t work for me. For years, I tried this method to no avail. The stories would all start out well, but halfway through I didn’t know where to go next.
I prefer the second method, plotting, and the process I use to write is somewhat complicated, but works extremely well for me!
The first step, when I’m considering a story, is to create a short summary of what it is about. This will typically be anywhere from 1 to 3 pages in length. Currently, I have a number of these waiting to be developed further.
Next, I create a longer outline, based on the summary. This will detail out each chapter, though only with one or two lines per, to describe the general action etc.
My most time-consuming step is a comprehensive chapter synopsis. This is not necessarily done all in advance, although I do outline a few chapters at a time. Sometimes, I even detail out a chapter more when I finish writing the previous chapter. The word count for this is usually about half of the finished product.
This outline includes notes of things that I want to introduce, even some snippets of dialogue, but it’s in bullet form, and I don’t worry about punctuation or grammar. The advantage of this is that I can rearrange the bullet items to fit better, or I might think of something that I need to introduce earlier in the storyline so I can reference it, so I can go back to the other chapter and add it in.
At this point, I merely want to get the ideas down.
I often share this information with my wife, who is also my editor. Frequently, we will discuss a chapter in great detail with her making recommendations or suggest things to add.
The last step is the actual writing. I use a program called Scrivener, but any word processor will do. I have a large monitor, with my outline on one side and scrivener on the other. I write the manuscript, referring to my notes as I go.
I’m a touch typist and can type quite quickly, up to 140 words per minute, so this part is usually quite rapid. As this is before the editing phase, I don’t pay a lot of attention to things like spelling and grammar. I concentrate on trying to get the storyline down.
Now, with writing as my full-time job, I’ve disciplined myself into a routine, though I still take evenings and weekends off. I will often type out about 5,000 words a day, not including outline, but some days require more preparation than others, especially if I’m writing a new story.
So far, I’ve managed to maintain an output of about 22,000 words a week.
Once I’ve got some chapters written and done a read-over, which I do each day before starting that day's writing, it’s off to the editor. (This is easy since she’s sitting right beside me at her desk.)
She’ll begin editing, usually when I’m at least 5 chapters or so ahead of her, starting with a developmental edit (story and plot), then line edits (looking for repeated words, active vs passive voice etc.) and some spelling and grammar. (Note that a more intense spelling/grammar check is done later after BETA readers have had their say.)
And that’s the writing procedure that seems to work best for me.
Of course, there’s always more. I have background notes on characters, the world, politics etc. I actually have maps of the world stuck on the wall by my desk and a print out of all the nobles of the land above my monitor.
When I was working on my first book, Servant of the Crown, I was having trouble keeping track of character ages, especially since the story takes place over several years. I created a spreadsheet to keep track of birth dates and ages. Now I can just look up a year and see how old someone is supposed to be.
My first series is based on a Role Playing Game (pen and paper, not computer) that I ran over a period of three years. As a result, I have character sheets describing each of the main characters. I originally envisioned the overall campaign as a TV series, broken down into seasons and episodes, this let me organize the storyline and produce a satisfying conclusion at the end.
I have three more series in mind, and intend on detailing out the world in as much detail as I have for the first series, as it makes it much easier for me to write in a world that exists, even if it is only in my imagination, than it does to simply make it up as I go.
I hope this helps you with ideas of how you could create your own writing system!
I had the satisfaction of finishing Fate of the Crown yesterday, the fifth book in the Heir to the Crown series. Of course, it isn't done yet, it still has to go through rounds of editing, but the first draft was completed when I finished off the epilogue.
I read through it today, only making minor changes and so it was with a sense of accomplishment that I began work on my next story, that of Albreda’s origin. It will be published as a novelette or short story, depending on how many words it ends up being.
I put in a solid 5,296 words into it today, and I’m only scratching the surface! Although it takes place many years before Heir to the Crown, I can already see the acerbic wit that is Albreda showing up in her thirteen-year-old self. I look forward to following through with the rest of the tale, that shall be called ‘The Call of Magic’.
The other day I started watching a show on Netflix called ‘Churchill's Secret Agents: The New Recruits’. It’s a fascinating glimpse into the Special Operations Executive (SOE).
For those not in the know, it was a special group that operated behind enemy lines, helping resistance groups and fighting the enemy. This series follows fourteen people as they attempt to make their way through the training regimen the SOE used during World War 2.
Interspersed with their narrative are all sorts of interesting tidbits about the SOE and some of the missions they were tasked with, including background on several notable agents. A couple of the contestants (not sure if that is the correct term here, perhaps volunteers would be better) had ancestors that worked with either the SOE or the resistance.
In one case, a Polish woman had a relative who was executed by the Nazi's for her part in the Polish resistance.
There are, of course, a number of nods to the ‘modern’ interpretation of the training, the volunteers work with dummy explosives for example, and have safety gear that wasn’t present back in the forties, but otherwise all the training is done in period uniform with actual equipment used by these brave men and women.
Overall a most interesting show for anyone with interest in this sort of history, I highly recommend it.
So many great things have happened already this year, and we are only 25 days in!
Late last year a contract was signed with publisher WF Howe to produce Audiobooks for books 1, 2, and 3 of the Heir to the Crown series. This week we picked out a narrator (announcement coming soon), and now the covers are being designed.
Three days ago, the Shadow of the Crown eBook released, with stellar reviews. The print version is created, and the author proofs are on their way, so hopefully, it will be available for ordering before February 12th. This is the fastest we have ever had a print book ready.
Next, a digital boxset of books 1, 2, and 2.5, entitled Heir to the Crown: The Beginning will be released on February 26, 2019. It will be going up for pre-order in the next couple of days! Sorry, Carol has been a bit busy with the release of Shadow of the Crown.
The artwork for Fate of the Crown is with our graphic designer and will be ready late next week. This will be the first book that launches both digital and paperback versions on the same day!
Also, all the books in the series are going to be released in both Hardcover and Large Print Paperback by the end of February. Both Carol and our Graphic Designer are going to be busy!
Even with all this going on, I have managed to write nearly 20,000 words for Fate of the Crown, which is due out in May. The reader team is already chomping at the bit to dig and do their part. Carol let me know today that the first chapters will be sent to the Beta team early February.
And if that doesn't sound like a lot, there is a special project that will be released in late March or early April, but you have to receive my newsletter to find out all the details!
Phew, I need to get back to writing! Have a great day!
Some days I sit and dream of possibilities, one of which is my first series, Heir to the Crown, being made into a TV series or a movie. The thought of sitting in a dark theatre, waiting for the opening scenes to burst onto the screen while epic music plays in the background is something I would love to experience.
Late last year when I was approached by a film composer, Will Musser, who was interested in composing a customized soundtrack for the series, I have to admit that it was a bit of my dream come true. There isn't yet an Heir to the Crown movie or TV show, but that doesn't mean there can't be a soundtrack!
Yes, just like you, at first I thought it was just a scam, but after some due diligence, it became apparent that Will is a great composer, and has done some amazing work for TV, Film and other authors.
Long story short, he worked his magic and created a great piece of music that does a fantastic job of representing both the action and the heart of the series
Check out Will's website here: Will Mercer, Composer
As I sit here, beginning to write my sixth book, it strikes me that I have achieved so much in such a short time. Over the past two years, I have fulfilled a lifelong dream of writing a book and publishing it, five times over! Not only that, but there are so many more stories just waiting for their chance to be told.
During this time, the opportunity to learn, and continue to uncover what my writing style is, has been a grand adventure. As each book is written, I become more comfortable in this new world and look forward to all that there is still waiting to be discovered in the world of self-publishing.
Each day that I am able to sit here writing, with my wife beside me as we work together to develop and nurture this fantasy world is wonderful. Who knew that the tale of Gerald and Anna would also begin a story of how Carol and I created a way to collaborate once more on something we love.
Here's wishing everyone a great end to 2018, and a fantastic start to 2019!
Paul Bennett is a self-published author of Epic Fantasy books.