What’s the most important step in writing a novel? It’s definitely laying the foundation for it. But if you are building a house, you won’t straight out go and start constructing it, would you? No. Instead, you would plan it out first. Even if you don’t know what the rooms will look like, you will definitely know how many rooms there will be, and among them how many are bedrooms, where the kitchen is, if there will be a library and so on.
In the case of writing a book, fictional or non-fictional, this process would be called brainstorming. Before you scoff at what a simple thing this is and wondering why I was hyping it up so much, let me give you a real world example. I have a close friend and client, we shall call her Lina for now, who has been writing and regularly publishing her new contemporary boss-secretary romance on wattpad. But after nine chapters or so, she got stuck. She could probably continue writing filler chapters and end the story somehow but she realized that beyond the basic outline she had in mind, her story lacked a proper foundation. Hence, after nine chapters her story collapsed.
When she was recounting this to me one day, I suggested that instead of trying to “fix” her story, she should start from scratch. Brainstorming, unlike what many may think, is neither a quick nor an easy process. But I can guarantee you it definitely is a fun one. It’s one where you realise what your characters’ true fears are, what makes them the most happy, who they are at the core. This will help you write three dimensional characters. Lena hadn’t done this and her characters had become two dimensional copies of every cliché in a boss secretary romance. No matter how fantastical and improbable the story or setting is, as long the characters seem realistic your reader will be hooked.
I sent her a questionnaire which made her analyse her characters on a deeper level. It helped her understand how the character would react in a given situation and made writing easier.
If this all seems too overwhelming, then there is one simple trick. Just ask “why?” to everything your character does or says. For example, in the Dystopian novel I am writing, my main character Samarra has an almost 180 degree personality change after she is crowned as ruler following her father’s death. From fun loving, rebellious girl who liked horse riding in the woods with her sisters than shining in the court, she becomes a serious and stern queen who accepts all of the court’s customs, decks herself in expensive gowns and becomes very closed off. I kept asking why someone like Samarra, who hates the hypocrisy of the court, would try to become one of them, alienating her two sisters in the process. My first answer was because she wanted the court to accept her. But why? Because she doesn’t want the court to stage a coup. But she hates being the ruler so why would she care? Because she knows who they have in mind as an alternate ruler and she knows that her sisters and her bedridden mother will be in grave danger if he ascends. Initially, before doing this exercise, I had thought that the answer would be because she wanted her father to be proud of her and believed that her ideals or personality didn’t matter. She would be the perfect queen and make her family proud. But as I did the exercise, I ended up on a completely different track and got a strong antagonist and motive out of it.
So keep asking “Why?”.
Another thing I want to stress is that if possible, brainstorm with another person. This is because they will be able to point out the plot holes and other inconsistencies in your story. As an author, you might have already imagined the ending or what happens in the main scenes but as your brainstorming partner isn’t that well versed in your story, they will be able to look at it more objectively.
Brainstorming is one of the most important parts of writing and it is necessary to take as much time as you can. That said, brainstorming isn’t the same as writing. So don’t get lost trying to perfect all the tiny loopholes in the story. You will learn more about your story and characters as you write the story down and it will probably won’t even end up resembling the original plot you had in mind. But a proper brainstorming session ensures that you won’t lose steam halfway through and end up giving up on your story because the path ahead is too murky.
Before I give you the template, I just want to remind you that brainstorming is not just done before writing, it can be used anytime you get stuck. Taking a day or two off to brainstorm will help you move the plot forward in a natural manner. And if you need a brainstorming partner, shoot me a mail. I will be happy to help.
About the Author
Amala Benny is an avid reader and professional book cover designer who has designed for multiple award winning and bestselling authors. She spends her free time Fangirling over Ilona Andrews and Leigh Bardugo.