Chapter Two: Genres, Themes, and Plotlines...Oh My!
So you want to write a book. Maybe you had this awesome dream that inspired you. Maybe you saw an event take place in front of you that left you wondering what happened next to those people. Maybe you just find yourself daydreaming about the what ifs and want to turn those into a beautiful story. But how do you make that first step to transforming your inspirations into a written novel?
Starting a novel can be overwhelming. There are simply so many aspects to a story and it's hard to know where to begin.
"What genre should I write?"
"How many points of view should I have?"
"What's the overall theme of my story?"
"Who is my potential audience?"
"Should I outline or just dive straight in?"
These are just a few of the questions rattling in your brain, I assume. I know I had many many more when I first began my novel. I had so many questions, I didn't even know which one to ask first, let alone answer.
So, instead of asking the questions in a "what should I do" mentality, I flipped them in a different perspective.
What do I look for in a book?
"What do I want out of a book? What types of books do I enjoy reading? Do I want to be inspired or do I want to be entertained? Do I like adventurous tales or heartwarming romances?
In asking the questions this way, I began to look at my novel not as a book waiting to be written, but as a story waiting to be read. What is the next book I want to read? That book is the story I'm going to write.
At the time of starting my first novel, I was in a dark place in my life. My dream job wasn't panning out the way I'd hoped. I was so sick, my family was starting to fear for my life. I was depressed and anxious and didn't know where to turn. I felt misunderstood. So the books I wanted to read were inspirational, stories of overcoming and persevering. Stories of looking for a better life. Stories of faith and hope.
I resonated with characters from those types of stories. I could cry with them, laugh with them, be inspired by them. And because I could so closely relate to them, I felt I could bring to life similar stories. I'm also a sucker for people falling in love. So add in a little romance and...
Just like that, I knew the general direction to take. Inspirational romance--heartwarming, full of hope, and geared toward women.
Determining a genre may not seem like much, but it is vital step forward because it helps you figure out your target audience. And it leads us to ask the next question.
"I began to look at my novel not as a book waiting to be written, but as a story waiting to be read."
What experiences and emotions can I weave into a story?
My first question helped me pick out a genre. The next question helped me find a theme. It was "what am I familiar with?"
Writing an entire book can be hard if you decide to right strictly outside of what you know. Now, I personally do incorporate many things that involved research. For instance, my first novel involved autism. I have no personal experience with autism so it required a lot of research to portray it correctly. However, the overall theme of my story revolved around grief and loss and finding faith in God. All of those things I've experienced on a personal level and can write about them authentically.
So what are you familiar with? What experiences can you weave into a story others would want to read. What emotions do you often feel that you can portray through the eyes of the characters?
Answering this question will open up some great starting points for a theme and moral. Once you have that, the next question leads you to the fun part.
What am I passionate about and how can I use them to build a story?
What passions reside inside of you? For me, I'm extremely passionate about horses. I own them, ride them, compete on them, and even teach others how to ride. And I love my home state of Colorado. I was born along the Front Range of the Rocky Mountains so I grew up with a mountain view. Combined, these two passions helped me determine the setting and a big portion of the plotline.
One of my main characters became a horse trainer on a ranch in the foothills of Rocky Mountains. And her work with horses ends up bringing healing to another character dealing with grief and loss. Now the ball for my story was really rolling.
Bringing your passions into the story will not only make it much more fun to write, but it will give you the setting, the plotline, traits for your main characters, and more.
So how will asking these questions work for you? Here's an example.
Let's say you love to read books that make you laugh, and you're a sucker for romance like me. But you also like stories about a small town girl finding success in the big city. So you go with a romantic comedy.
And for sake of an example, let's say you just graduated college and are living on your own for the first time. There's the excitement of being independent but also the fears and doubts of whether you can make it on your own. So bring that experience into your book and you could have a theme of growing into the person you were called to be.
Now on to passions. Maybe you love to cook and your favorite foods are Italian cuisine. So what if your heroine is a small town girl who just graduated from culinary school and is trying to get a job as a chef but can only find a job as a waitress in a five-star Italian restaurant where she falls in love with the head chef while trying to prove to him that she deserves a spot on his team in the kitchen....
And now countless ideas are running through my head and someone better write this book before I do ;)
The beginning is often the hardest. But it doesn't have to be overwhelming. Just start with these basic questions about yourself and watch how they morph into a story only you have the ability to create. It's a pretty amazing transformation and one that will leave you longing to do it over and over again.
Well, that's all for today. In Chapter Three we'll dive into character sketches and building a solid character arc.