Many first time authors just start writing with no clear ending in mind, and then often find themselves grinding to a halt somewhere around chapter five or six. The manuscript gets shoved into a drawer and forgotten about.
So what’s the solution?
The answer is some basic planning. Decide on the length of the book, and which genre your novel fits into. At this stage it’s a good idea to look books similar to the one you are writing to get an idea of overall length. The average single-title contemporary romance is anywhere between 80,000 to 100,000 words long. If you’re writing category romance then check the publisher’s guidelines, as it can vary from line to line. For example: For Mills and Boon Intrigue the word count is 50,000 and 60,000, while their Modern Heat line is 50,000 to 55,000.
Then decide on your cast of characters. I like to cut images from magazines and past them onto “character sheets” for the main characters. I find it a great aid to describing physical attributes. Then I build their background, their skills and personalities. As I write romantic suspense, I also give them some emotional baggage, something that they have to overcome to achieve their goal.
Next I do my research. Say my protagonist is an artist; in that case I need to decide whether he or she paints in oils or watercolours. The local library is a good source of information, although more often than not, I find what I’m looking for on the Internet. Then I choose a setting—let’s say San Francisco. Fortunately, I’ve been there and have photographs and guidebooks to refer to. But if you set your novel in an unfamiliar place, then again, do your research.
Once you’ve done that, you’re ready to sit down and plot your novel or write your outline.
Some writers will tell you that it is essential to develop your characters and plot your novel, chapter by chapter. Others will tell you that they don’t plot per se, but they jot down key points they wish their characters to achieve, in other words they write a plot outline. Then there are the “wingers,” those writers who have a beginning and an ending, but no idea of what will take place in the middle.
So who is right, the plotter, the author who outlines, or those who wing it?
Unfortunately, they all are! You have to find which way works best for you. Personally, I find a tight plot line hampers my creativity and prefer just to work from a four to six page outline. This allows my story “growing room.”
For expert help in plotting your novel I suggest you read Brenda Hill’s excellent e-book Plot your way to Publication. www.brendahill.com