Everyone who has written a book, or tried to, knows how much work it takes. Those that outline make a lot of decisions before writing the first daft, and those that jump into the first draft make a lot of decisions while writing.
No matter if you are a plotter or pantser, there are a few questions you would benefit from answering before you begin writing. Here they are:
Questions to Ask Before Beginning to Write a Book
- Who is your audience? Why will they read your story? What will they love about your story? If you want to make a living with your writing, you must write what people want to read. That doesn’t mean that you have to write romance because it sells a lot of books. However, it does mean that readers of certain genres have certain expectations when they buy a book in that genre. Therefore, you must know what the expectations of your readers are. Keep your answers in mind as you write your story.
- Who is your main character? Who is the heart of your story? In order for readers to read your book from start to finish (which is something you should aim for) you need to have a character they can connect with. You, therefore, need to bring that character to life. Think about how you can ”wow” your reader with the character in the opening pages. If you’re able to ”wow” your reader with the main character this soon in the story, you will most likely have the reader’s attention the rest of the book.
- What is your main character’s strength? What is his/her weakness or flaw? Strengths and weaknesses bring characters alive. Hint at his/her strength in the opening pages, but don’t forget to show his/her weakness too. Nobody is perfect — fictional characters shouldn’t be either.
- What does your main character need or desire? This can be an item just as much as an emotional, mental, or informational gain of some form. Maybe your main character really want those red killer heels, maybe he/she just wants to be loved, maybe he/she need to find the cure for a disease, or his/her biological parents? Whatever the need or desire of your main character is, you need to make sure it will be problematic for him/her to get or achieve it. And that should cause conflict.
- Who will oppose your main character? Who will keep your main character from achieving his/her goal or desire? This is the antagonist. It can be a character as much as an antagonistic force (a storm, a disease, etc.). If you, as the writer, want your antagonist to succeed, they often become great characters. And, please, do remember that evil for the sake of being evil is a stereotype that’s been used many, many times. An antagonist should have redeeming qualities too, or at least some reason for doing what he/she is doing.
- What does the main character stand to lose if he/she fails to achieve his/her goal and desire? What does he/she stand to gain if he/she succeeds? Make sure the stakes are high in order to add tension to the story as well as get your reader to root for your main character.
- What is the worst thing that could happen to your main character? ”Threaten” your main character with his/her ”worst nightmare” as you approach the end of your story. The more pressure he/she is under, the more his/her true colors should shine through: will he/she buckle or stay strong, will he/she have a breakdown or take action, will he/she fail or succeed?
- What is your main character’s starting point? Where does his/her journey begin? In order for your reader to understand the changes that your main character goes through throughout the story, you need to let them know the starting point of your character.
- What is the inciting incident that sets your main character on a new path? This event is what sets everything in motion and starts the story rolling. It’s a good idea to have the inciting incident in the opening chapter.
- What background information about your main character is absolutely essential for your reader to know in the opening of your story? Some backstory must sometimes appear in the beginning of stories for readers to understand the main characters current situation. Just remember to be sparse with it because too much information (also known as info-dumps) can be tedious and they keep readers from the real action of the story. Sure, some backstory is essential in the beginning, but not nearly enough as much or often as writers like to think.
- Where is the story heading? Where will it end? Often some writers feel like they need to know what will happen in the end of a story before they can think about where it will begin. Having the ending in mind can offer you some clarity as to what needs to happen for the story to get to that finish line. Also, remember that your main character should finish the story at the opposite end of where he/she began the story (if he/she ends strong he/she should start weak, etc.).
- How can you surprise the reader? What will your reader expect? How can you offer your reader the unexpected? Plot twists keep readers reading. Predictable events, however, can kill a story completely. Don’t be predictable if you want your reader to love your story.