Writing Advice of the Week: See Your Book Take Shape

Reading Time: 8 minutes
A book rises from a smoking cauldron against a candlelit wintry backdrop
(Image by Fallon Clark via Adobe Firefly.)

So, you’ve come up with an idea for a new story — a really cool concept, a character with that extra something, a monster even you’re a bit scared of — and now it’s time to figure out how to get from idea to premise to character to plot to message. 

Or, perhaps you’re gearing up for a self-edit and seeking a fresh perspective on your draft so you can re-envision your story to forge a deeper connection with your future readers.

When you’re starting (or starting again) to develop a story, having a solid vision for your book often helps reign in the ideas, keep a consistent flow of creativity, and craft a better book from the get-go.

When I speak with authors whose book visions are more like amorphous, hazy blobs than fully thought out stories, my advice is often to go back to basics: 

    • Which structure are you using?
    • Do you have a working title?
    • What about the characters?
    • What are the major events?
    • What is the major conflict?
    • Who is your target reader?
    • Why this story right now?

Those questions, among others, are designed to get authors thinking about their stories from new perspectives. And in the question-and-answer phase of our conversation, authors often walk away with new insights.

Thing is, those authors had the power to realize their book visions, but the information was hidden from them by their own biases or perceived shortcomings.

You also have the power to discover a new or renewed vision for your book.

If working with an editor or coach is not within your reach right now, here is something you can do: create a proposal.

Kicking off this week’s writing advice is Cast A Vision Of Your Book by Terry Whalin. Creating a book proposal requires you to home in on several factors of your story, including intended length (and why that matters), when you intend to complete your draft, and more. Though his article is written for authors who plan to submit non-fiction manuscript proposals, consider using Terry’s advice to sell your book to yourself and identify gaps in your understanding of the story.

And when you’re finally “sold” on your own story, it’s time to figure out how you’re going to achieve that vision. Goals help. More, having at least a rough outline will keep you on track. In his video, Dale L. Roberts shares Outline Your Book: Write 10x Faster With This Technique. If you’re a discovery writer (or a “pantser”), hear me out before you roll your eyes. Having a working outline, even a rough or sparse one, can keep you on topic and on theme.

An outline can keep you within the vision you have for your book, the one you sold yourself on. 

The one you’ll eventually sell your readers on.

Now, if you’ve gotten this far and you’re battling imposter syndrome, I get it. Having confidence in your work is tough, especially if this current project is your first. And self-doubt is a very human trait. After all, writing a book is a major ambition, and even if you’ve finished a draft, chances are it doesn’t read like a book you’d buy from a commercial shelf. 

To get right with yourself and your work, check out this video by Rachael Herron on Reality Tv As A Writer’s Tool With Rachel Harrison. One magnificent piece of advice comes early: you don’t have to believe in your abilities while you’re drafting. In fact, Rachel encourages you not to wait until you believe in yourself before you write, because that day may never arrive. Remember: storytellers write for themselves, and you are not your own imposter.

Change and growth happen when we step out of our comfort zones in all areas of life, including while penning stories.

Rachel’s video also covers how you can gain experience from someone else’s perspective by watching reality TV. You’ll pick up dialogue quirks, storytelling techniques, and more through active viewing. Because yes, TV can be research. It’s why I watch professional wrestling on AEW every Wednesday night. Anyhoo . . .

And speaking of dialogue, have you ever wondered about the nuance of effective dialogue in story genre? If so, DiAnn Mills has some great information in her article, Does Genre Make A Difference In Writing Dialogue? Yes, yes it does — to some degree. To write effective, genre-specific dialogue, you’ll need to dive into the heart of your characters to really understand what makes them tick. Why are they interested in this person? Choose this activity? Have this outlook on life or society? Why do they want that promotion? Why do they seek closure?

In effect, dialogue helps a character reveal to readers what drives them forward to act or react, but the premises under which you need to dissect their rationale centers on genre.

And I would be remiss to gloss over internal thought while discussing dialogue, especially when internal thoughts reveal things readers need to know about your characters. And while I know the common advice is to show, not tell, there are valid reasons for telling and artful ways to tell. For that, check out Philip Athans’s thoughts on How To Tell.

Just like, “As you know, Bob,” dialogue misses the mark and tends to bore readers, internal thoughts positioned as “as you know” information are also likely to bore readers. So when you need to tell, there needs to be a reason for you to tell. So, look for those tell triggers and, as Athans shares, keep it short.

Endings are not always comfortable, and if you’re having trouble coming to the end of your story, or if you’re procrastinating actually writing the ending, you’re not alone. Many authors struggle with endings even when they know what’s going to happen. If you’ve ever read a book and lamented the few remaining pages because you’re not ready to leave those characters, you may be experiencing something similar in writing the end of your story. 

Just recently, I heard from an author that she was having trouble with the ending of her story. She’d followed the advice, proposed, outlined, drafted, re-drafted, self-edited, and just couldn’t seem to cross the finish line.

Sound familiar?

Get Your Story To “The End” by Gabriela Pereira and Christa Vande Vegte may get you past that ending hump. Gabriela and Christa acknowledge the discomfort of the closing of a project and cover how to handle endings, including the major parts of endings, types of endings based on genre, and other factors. They also give great tips for crafting endings that will get you to the conclusion of your vision and satisfy your readers.

Speaking of endings, we’ve reached the end of this week’s writing advice. Peruse the links below for more golden nuggets, and don’t forget to subscribe and get your writing advice each week.

Happy writing!

▼More Productivity Advice for the Week

▼More Craft Advice for the Week

▼More Business Advice for the Week

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Fallon Clark is a Vermont-based manuscript development coach and editor serving fiction and creative non-fiction authors. Her writing has been published in Flash Fiction Magazine. Check out her website, FallonEdits.com, or connect with her on LinkedIn or Substack.

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