Posts Tagged ‘Donna Schlachter’

Producing a Novel – Part 5

Hooking Your Readers

By Donna Schlachter

Writing a novel is a lot like fly fishing: you tease, you tantalize, you toss your quarry a tidbit, and once they are so captivated by your offering, you reel them in.

And while our readers are a lot more intelligent than a fish, the principle works the same.

Readers want to get caught up in your story. They want to keep reading your book. They want to end with a huge sigh of relief because the story has concluded in a satisfying manner, answering all the questions that your opening paragraph, the cover, the genre, and the back cover copy promised.

If you don’t, they probably won’t read another of your books.

Unlike fishing for fish, hooks in books don’t just happen once—they’re an ongoing event. Every scene and chapter should begin and end with one. Readers won’t care about your characters and their predicaments unless you dangle a dilemma, pose a problem, or catapult a catastrophe at them.

So let’s look at hooks, their purpose, and their construction.

What is a Hook?

In literary terms, a hook is a sentence or paragraph, either at the beginning of a scene or chapter—the opening hook—or at the end of same—the closing hook—that makes the reader want to keep reading. We accomplish that goal by:

  • Asking a question
  • Suggesting a problem
  • Foreshadowing something to happen
  • Leaving our character in trouble (hence the old-fashioned term cliff hanger)

The form doesn’t really matter, but it’s wise to change up the structure so you don’t always begin with a problem and end with a question. That gets boring quick.

Opening Hook

The first opening hook, in either the Prologue or Chapter 1, is designed to draw your reader into reading the rest of the paragraph, the scene, the chapter, and ultimately, the entire book. This hook makes a promise to the reader that you will resolve the issue by the end of the book, in a satisfying manner.

Which is exactly why dream sequences are such a let down to the reader, since nothing is really resolved by starting the book with a dramatic nightmare. You get the reader wanting to know what’s happening, and why, but then CRASH! Ha, ha, it was all a dream.

The opening hook doesn’t have to be in the first line, but the sooner you grab the reader, the better. Absolutely the hook should be in the first paragraph. We get fifteen seconds from a reader for them to decide if they want to keep reading. They’ve already used some of that for the cover and back cover copy. Don’t waste time—let them know trouble is on the way.

That said, here are other ways to ensure the opening hook is well-constructed and reader-grabbing besides no dream sequences:

  • No weather, unless it’s used as a metaphor for the tone of the book.
  • No everyday stuff, like a character shopping, watching TV, making dinner, unless you get to the problem right away.
  • Anchor the reader immediately in the setting and time period.
  • No useless telephone chatter like, “Hi, how are you?” Go right to the punch line.
  • Make sure the tone and language is appropriate to reader expectations for the genre.
  • If possible, introduce the Point of View character for this scene immediately.

            Examples:

Bad: Mary stared out the window. It was raining. Would the rain never stop? She felt so bad because her husband just died.

Better: Mary turned from the window. Staring out there wasn’t going to get the laundry done. Or the kids fed. Or the bills paid. And she was the only one left to do all three.

Best: The rain buffeted the window like gunshot pellets. Mary jerked back, the image too raw. Too new. Sheets of water obscured her view of the pier where her husband’s fishing boat bobbed on raging waves. No, not her husband’s. Hers.

Here we see, in the Best example, showing, not telling. Rain buffeted. Gunshot. Sheets of water. And questions are raised: why did the sound of gunshot pellets upset her so much? And why is the boat now hers, not her husband’s? Is he dead? Did they divorce?

Closing Hooks

These are the sentences that end a scene or chapter, and are every bit as crucial to keep the reader reading. That’s our goal. We want to hear that our readers couldn’t put the book down, that they stayed up all night and slept in the next morning. Like the opening hook, closing hooks pose a problem, suggest a situation, or quicken our hearts with a question.

The closing hook can lead directly into the next scene or chapter, or the topic of the hook may not be addressed or resolved again for several scenes. However, once that point of view character comes back on the scene, the bigger the issue, the sooner it must be resolved. In real life, we don’t simply ignore problems and situations—we deal with them.

Examples:

Bad: She could do nothing about Tim’s love for her right now, so instead she went to the mall. Shopping always cheered her up. She didn’t need a man, right?

Better: Tim was a jerk, and the sooner she was rid of him, the better. Now, should she go shopping, or should she fix dinner? Shopping it was—fewer calories.

Best: She strode into the mall, her heels tapping an angry staccato. She passed a bridal shop but kept her eyes straight ahead. A month ago, she’d window shopped at this very store, envying the slim models and trying to figure out how to make even the least expensive frothy gown fit her budget. Well, no more worries about that. Not only wasn’t the gown worth it, neither was Tim. The jerk.

In the Best example, once again, we see the scene instead of just hearing about it. Strode, angry staccato. Kept her eyes. . . ahead. Envying . . . slim models. We hear her heels. We feel her anger. Her humiliation. A suggestion about her body image. Even a mention of her small budget. Then we see her determination to get over it and get on with her life.

Conclusion

The best hooks will do what good writing should: show, not tell. They will be full of description, strong nouns, and active verbs that convey the mood and emotions of the character. They will also quicken the reader’s heart rate and page turn rate, endearing you to them so they continue to purchase subsequent books.

Did you miss any installations of Producing a Novel?
Generating—and Testing—Ideas for Fiction and Non-Fiction Books – Part 1
Genre and Markets – Part 2
Building Believable Characters – Part 3
Character Sketches and Backstory – Part 4
Hooking Your Readers – Part 5
Character and Story Arc – Part 6
Outlining Your Book – Part 7
Overcoming the Muddle Middle – Part 8
Racing to the Finish – Part 9
Writing a Series – Part 10
Self-Editing – Part 11
Cover Design and Self-Publishing – Part 12


Donna Schlachter

Donna Schlachter lives in Denver with husband Patrick. As a hybrid author, she writes historical suspense under her own name, and contemporary suspense under her alter ego of Leeann Betts, and has been published more than 30 times in novellas and full-length novels. She is a member of American Christian Fiction Writers, Writers on the Rock, Sisters In Crime, Pikes Peak Writers, and Christian Authors Network; facilitates a critique group; and teaches writing classes online and in person. Donna also ghostwrites, edits, and judges in writing contests. She loves history and research, and travels extensively for both. Donna is represented by Terrie Wolf of AKA Literary Management.
Find Donna on:  FacebookTwitterAmazonSmashwordsEtsy

Producing a Novel – Part 4

Character Sketches and Backstory

By: Donna Schlachter

Now that you have the foundation for your book that we covered in Parts 1, 2, and 3, you can begin the hard non-writing part of your book: deciding who your characters will be, and what their stories are.

Every Character has a Story

Yes, every single character in your book has their own story. That’s because, just like real people, everything that happened to your characters in the past affects who and what they are today or whenever your story is set.

The easy thing to do at this point is ignore this advice and move directly to the writing part of the story—but be advised: you’ll have to do this step at some point. Doing it now will save you time and heartache later on.

I made the mistake of skipping this step in my first full-length mystery novel, and I ended up three chapters from the end not knowing whodunit or why. I hadn’t written in any clues or red herrings, either, which meant I had to stop, figure out the criminal and their motivation, then go back and point my amateur sleuth in several wrong directions before revealing the real crook.

Not fun.
As I said, I suggest you do this now.

Where do you start?

Start with your main character. Ask a few questions, and make a note of the answers somewhere. I will discuss modes of information storage in another section, but how you keep the data is more about you and your preferences.

Some authors refer to this as their Bible—because it holds the truth about their story. I’ve found that deciding on a key element—such as the color of the character’s eyes or hair—is easier if I have a photo or image. You can download and print these pictures in color and keep them in a binder, a folder, or on your computer for quick reference and refreshing your memory.

But for those non-physical details, such as birthplace, schooling, first love, car preference, vacations, et cetera, you’ll want to write or type those somewhere. Again, images are good.

And while few of these details will make it into your story, they might aid in you deciding how the character would react in a given situation. For example, if you knew your character grew up in the Depression, the oldest of seven children, and their father died so your character had to drop out of school to work so the rest of the kids could eat, that might change your decision about whether your character would spend a year-end bonus or bank it.

What should you ask your characters?

You can find lists of interview questions for characters on various websites, which I will include below under Resources, but the primary questions to ask your character are:

Every Character has a Story
  • Name
  • Date and place of birth
  • Birth order
  • Siblings
  • Parent’s occupations
  • Parent’s ages at time of character’s birth
  • Parents’ education
  • First job
  • Pet preference
  • First memory
  • Did they live with grandparents?
  • Struggles in school, favorite subjects
  • Reason for being where they are now
  • Past wounds, including lost loves, marriages, relationships, etc.

Why is a character sketch important?

You might wonder how any of this is important to your story today. Let’s take parents’ education, for example. If the father is a college graduate and the mother is a high school dropout, depending on which parent your character was closer to could affect their attitude toward the importance of education. If they were closer to their mother, they might think education isn’t important since it wasn’t important to Mom. But what if Mom dropped out because she was pregnant, and has always wanted to return but there was never enough time or money? What if Mom was harassed at school by students, so she quit, then got her GED years later? That might change the character’s attitude.

The idea behind knowing who your character is will create a three-dimensional character. Don’t make your main character too much like you, because then this will become your story. Change up some details. If you decide your character dropped out of school because she was pregnant, talk to some women who made that choice. Ask them what their thoughts were at the time. Were they hoping for a happily-ever-after shotgun wedding? Or did they see their hopes and dreams sucked down the drain? Were they trying to escape a bad family situation, only to find themselves married to a man they hardly knew? Or was it the best thing they ever did? All of these will change your character’s responses to various situations.

Don’t stop at your main character.

Then do the same with your secondary character and your antagonist/villain. You want to know these three characters as well as you know your own family. Make certain to give each of them a different past. Be sure that your secondary character’s strength is opposite to your main character’s, and that their wounds are bound to bring them into conflict. And don’t neglect your antagonist/villain’s good point—everybody has at least one. Find something that your main and secondary characters can empathize with.

For any other characters, you don’t need to know much more about them than their name, occupation, one good quality, and one flaw, then play on those good qualities and flaws, using the flaws to create conflict and tension in your story.

Backstory is never dumped into the story.

As to backstory, that’s the compilation of all of this information about your primary characters. It’s important for you to know, and it’s important for your reader to know so they understand why a character says or does what they do. However, backstory is never to be dumped into a story like a biography. The best way is to reveal their backstory through internal dialogue.

Here’s an example: Your main character was bullied as a child in school. Now she’s dating a teacher who believes shouting is the way to get his point across.

Kevin slapped the table. “You need to listen to me on this!”
Sally sighed, stood, and walked away. For the final time.
Men, they’re all the same. On the playground. Or on the school board.

Do you see how we know something happened in her past without her having to say anything about the specific incident?

When you combine character sketches with backstory, now you have the building blocks to writing a powerful, multi-layered story that draws readers in.

Resources:
100+ Questions to Help You Interview Your Character
The Write Practice – 37 Questions to Ask Your Character
Making the Most of Character Interviews
The Writing – Get to Know Your Characters

Did you miss any installments of Producing a Novel?
Generating—and Testing—Ideas for Fiction and Non-Fiction Books – Part 1
Genre and Markets – Part 2
Building Believable Characters – Part 3
Character Sketches and Backstory – Part 4
Hooking Your Readers – Part 5
Character and Story Arc – Part 6
Outlining Your Book – Part 7
Overcoming the Muddle Middle – Part 8
Racing to the Finish – Part 9
Writing a Series – Part 10
Self-Editing – Part 11
Cover Design and Self-Publishing – Part 12


Donna Schlachter

Donna Schlachter writes historical suspense under her own name, and contemporary suspense under her alter ego of Leeann Betts, and has been published more than 30 times in novellas, full-length novels, and non-fiction books. She is a member of ACFW, Writers on the Rock, Sisters in Crime, Pikes Peak Writers, and CAN; facilitates a critique group; teaches writing classes; ghostwrites; edits; and judges in writing contests.
Find her on: FacebookTwitterAmazonSmashwordsEtsy

Producing a Novel – Part 3

Building Believable Characters

By: Donna Schlachter

Welcome back to our mini-course on Producing a Novel. This month, we’ll look at how to build and develop believable characters. Did you miss the first two parts? Hop over and read the first two sessions as well: Part 1 and Part 2.

Who needs character? We all do and so do the characters in our stories.

Who Needs Characters?

Well, of course we all do. It’s who the story is about. Even a story like The Old Man and the Sea had characters—the old man, the ocean, the fish, the bird, the boat. He thought about his wife and family. Without the ocean, fish, bird, and boat, there was no story.

Describing Characters

This might be easiest to explain by saying how not to do it:

  • Don’t read off their driver’s license
  • Don’t have them look in a mirror or a plate glass window more than once (in total) in a book.
  • Don’t give so much detail that the reader can’t imagine the person for themselves.
  • Don’t have the character think about her own hair color, eye color, or body description.

DO:

  • Describe their physical appearance metaphorically. For example, “her translucent skin made her look like a ghost.”
  • Use clothing or other items. For example, “The rumpled raincoat shrouded him like a burial cloth.”
  • Use other people’s point of view. For example, “Tom eyed Bob up and down. Boy, he’s packed on the weight since college.

Character Backstory

Our character’s story explains who they are, why they believe what they believe, and why they do the things they do. It also explains why they wouldn’t make another choice in a similar situation.

Now we know all this information about our character, and the reader is going to want to know it, too, right? Right. They just don’t need to know it all at once. Have the character make a bad choice and relate it to something from their past, but don’t say exactly what. Just yet.

Backstory, like compliments and salt, is best used sparingly. We never want to have a character’s history splashed on the page. Instead, sprinkle it in judiciously. Allude to why they think the way they think in response to a comment or action of another character. Many well-published authors say no backstory in the first 50 pages.

Female Dialogue

In general, women talk about the same topics that men discuss, but will have a different perspective. That doesn’t mean they have more or less expertise, just that female brains process the information differently than male brains do.

When women communicate, they tend to share emotions, feelings, dreams, concerns, and they look for ways to extend compliments. Women like to help others, including making them feel comfortable. Women tend to nurture, to solve problems by offering advice, to sympathize by putting themselves into the situation of the person they’re talking with. Women use body language and facial expressions, so be sure to include that information as action beats. Without that detail, the reader could misconstrue the words.

Walk and Talk Like a Woman

Women process dialogue differently than men. To that end, I’ve summarized a list I found on a Writer’s Digest blog post about dialogue.

  • Women tend to sympathize and share experiences rather than give advice. Add empathy to your character’s reactions and have her talk about similar things that happened to her, rather than tell someone what they should do.
  • Women tend to talk about their accomplishments and themselves in a self-deprecating fashion rather than a boastful one. Rephrase her comments in order to make her laugh at herself.
  • Women tend to be indirect and manipulative; even an assertive woman usually considers the effect her statement is likely to have before she makes it. Add questions to her dialogue, or add approval-seeking comments and suggestions that masquerade as questions.
  • Women notice styles; they know what colors go together (and which don’t); and they know the right words to describe fashions, colors, and designs. Ramp up the level of specific detail.
  • Women tend to bubble over with emotion, with the exception that they’re generally hesitant to express anger and tend to do so in a passive or euphemistic manner. If you need your heroine to be angry, give her a really good reason for yelling.
  • Women notice and interpret facial expressions and body language, and they maintain eye contact. If you need your female character to not notice how others are acting, give her a good reason for being detached.

Walk and Talk Like a Man

Men use just as many words as women do, but they tend to divide and order them differently.

  • Men tend to request specific information, rather than ask rhetorical questions. Men also tend to reply to a tough question with one of their own. And if they don’t want to discuss a topic, they might use a question to change subjects.
  • Men tend to resist explaining; they generally don’t volunteer justification for what they do. If you need him to explain, give a reason why he must.
  • Men tend to share feelings only if stressed or forced; they’re more likely to show anger than any other emotion. If you need your hero to spill how he’s feeling, make it more painful for him to not talk than to share his emotions.
  • Men tend not to pay close attention to details unless it’s something they’re interested in. Men don’t usually notice expressions or body language; they stick to basics when describing colors and styles. Scale back the level of detail.
  • Men tend to avoid euphemisms, understatements, comparisons, and metaphors. Rephrase your hero’s dialogue in concrete terms.
  • Men tend to be direct rather than ask for validation or approval. Check for “pecking order displays” between men of same status, and between men of different statuses.

Pecking Order Displays in Men

When two men meet, they assess each other’s status which then dictates how they treat each other. For example, a doctor and a mechanic meet, and this pecking order kicks in while they’re talking, to the point where the doctor can make a joke about the mechanic’s work, perhaps saying something about choosing medicine over car repair because doctors get to wear gloves to keep their hands clean. Both men would laugh, neither feels slighted, but the mechanic wouldn’t respond with any comment that could be considered derogatory or mocking of medicine.

If two mechanics met and talked, they’d joke about grease monkeys and the like, and think nothing of it because they’d consider each other equals.

If a doctor and a mechanic met to talk about car repairs, the mechanic is now the professional with a higher status and knowledge base, so he would be “in charge” of the conversation.

Note: if a woman stepped in and made similar comments as the doctor made to the mechanic, the mechanic wouldn’t appreciate it. Not because she is a woman, but rather because she is outside the circle of influence these two have created. As a result, we must be careful our female characters don’t step into the established relationships between male characters and expect to be treated like “one of the boys”.

Resources for Part 3:

Writing Gender Specific Dialog
How to Write Believable Characters
Character Motivation: How to Write Believable Characters
Creating Believable Characters
Creating Believable Characters: 8 Tactics
Writing Authentic Male Characters
How to Write from a Guy’s POV
Creating Interesting Characters: Characterization by Trait
A List of Character Traits
Character Development – Creating Memorable Characters

Did you miss any installments of Producing a Novel?
Generating—and Testing—Ideas for Fiction and Non-Fiction Books – Part 1
Genre and Markets – Part 2
Building Believable Characters – Part 3
Character Sketches and Backstory – Part 4
Hooking Your Readers – Part 5
Character and Story Arc – Part 6
Outlining Your Book – Part 7
Overcoming the Muddle Middle – Part 8
Racing to the Finish – Part 9
Writing a Series – Part 10
Self-Editing – Part 11
Cover Design and Self-Publishing – Part 12


Donna Schlachter

Donna Schlachter writes historical suspense under her own name, and contemporary suspense under her alter ego of Leeann Betts, and has been published more than 30 times in novellas, full-length novels, and non-fiction books. She is a member of ACFW, Writers on the Rock, SinC, Pikes Peak Writers, and CAN; facilitates a critique group; teaches writing classes; ghostwrites; edits; and judges in writing contests.
Find her on: FacebookTwitterAmazonSmashwordsEtsy,

Producing a Novel – Part 2

Genre and Markets

By: Donna Schlachter

Writing a novel—or a book of any type—requires groundwork laid in advance. Last month we discussed how to identify your topic, idea, or plot line; how to identify what you’re most passionate about, which makes the project personal, relevant, and much easier to write; and how that translates into a plot line or book subject. If you missed that post, you can catch up here

This month, we’ll look at ways to build on the foundation begun last month and identify which genre your book fits into, and then which markets might be interested in your book.

Why is Genre Important?

— It tells your audience—agents, publishers, book distributors, bookstores, and readers—what kind of book this is.
— Publishers fill slots in their publishing calendar based on that information.
— Book distributors need it to sell your book to bookstores.
— Booksellers need to know where to put the book on the shelf to recommend to patrons.
— Readers look for books based on an expectation of the genre.

Genre Definitions

  • Romance – romance is the main plot element; many sub-genres, defined by the time period of the setting; heat of the romance; and subplots.
  • Mystery – solving of the mystery is the key plot line; many sub-genres; can be contemporary or historical.
  • Thriller & Suspense a.k.a. Action & Adventure – where the reader often knows who the villain is, and that person has somehow put either the main character or somebody important to the main character in danger; the main character has a limited amount of time to complete the assignment (ticking bomb) such as save the world, save himself or someone/something, or simply catch or stop the bad guy; many sub-genres.
  • Science Fiction – where the setting is a world constructed by the author which could be partly or wholly based in real science; many sub-genres.
  • Horror – where the prime purpose of the story is to evoke a strong emotional reaction of fear, and keep the reader immersed in the story through that fear; can be physical, psychological, and/or emotional fear, for the character, someone they care about, or a larger societal notion such as justice, freedom, or equality.
  • Fantasy – where magical, supernatural, or demonic forces act on the characters, either to their benefit or detriment, and where the main character couldn’t achieve their goal without it; many sub-genres.

Where Does Your Book Fit?

  • Setting – historical, contemporary, futuristic, time-slip (where the story starts in one time and ends in a different one);
  • Primary Plot – romance, mystery, thriller, and so on
  • Secondary Plot
  • Level of intimate contact on the page – from sweet to erotica

Markets for Your Book

  • What agent might represent it?
  • What Publisher will publish it?

— read the guidelines carefully – see the resource list at the end
— if they say they don’t represent your genre, don’t send it to them
— don’t choose the first agent or publisher who shows interest without checking them out first:  check out their websites. Talk to friends. Contact the authors listed on their website.
— Don’t respond to unsolicited emails offering you a contract.  
— Don’t agree to pay even one cent to an agent—not only is it simply not done, it’s illegal and predatory.
— Consider carefully any publisher offering a contract that requires you to pay money up-front. There is nothing wrong with publishing with a self-publishing company, but just understand you might well end up paying for additional services, such as editing, cover design, and marketing.

Your publishing model choice comes down to deciding:
— how much time and effort you want to invest in the process of publishing your book
— how long you might be willing to wait to see your book in print
— your level of expertise when it comes to the production of your book.  

Sources of information on agents and publishers

– writer’s market guides – often found in libraries
– writing magazines – subscribe to at least one writing magazine and share with friends
– writer’s websites and blogs – search online
– word of mouth – ask a represented or published author friend
-books in bookstores – find one like yours and look for the publisher’s name. Often the agent will be listed in the Acknowledgements or Dedication

Next month, we’ll discuss the process of building believable characters, so hope to see you back again.

Resources:
Writer’s Digest University
It’s Getting Hot in Here A Romance Writer’s Guide to Heat level
Top 101 Independent Book Publishers

Did you miss any installments of Producing a Novel?
Generating—and Testing—Ideas for Fiction and Non-Fiction Books – Part 1
Genre and Markets – Part 2
Building Believable Characters – Part 3
Character Sketches and Backstory – Part 4
Hooking Your Readers – Part 5
Character and Story Arc – Part 6
Outlining Your Book – Part 7
Overcoming the Muddle Middle – Part 8
Racing to the Finish – Part 9
Writing a Series – Part 10
Self-Editing – Part 11
Cover Design and Self-Publishing – Part 12


Donna Schlachter

Donna Schlachter writes historical suspense under her own name, and contemporary suspense under her alter ego of Leeann Betts, and has been published more than 30 times in novellas, full-length novels, and non-fiction books. She is a member of ACFW, Writers on the Rock, SinC, Pikes Peak Writers, and CAN; facilitates a critique group; teaches writing classes; ghostwrites; edits; and judges in writing contests.
Find her on: Facebook, Twitter, Amazon, Smashwords, Etsy,

Producing a Novel – Part 1

Generating—and Testing—Ideas for Fiction and Non-Fiction Books

By: Donna Schlachter

Surveys suggest that, when asked, more than 80% of people said they’d love to write a book. Unfortunately, only about 25% ever do. Why is that? Whenever I tell folks, “I believe that everybody has at least one book in them”, most shake their head and deny my statement. When I ask why, they usually say something like, “I’m not famous”, “My life is boring”, “I can’t tell a joke let alone an entire story”, “I don’t have time”, “I don’t have anything interesting to say”, or “I don’t have the patience to sit and type that much.”

Identify the kind of book you'd like to write.

I believe that all of these responses are merely excuses, and that the real reason more people don’t write is because of one thing: they don’t have an idea that will stand the test of whether it’s enough to make a complete book out of it.

The interesting fact is that coming up with an idea is the easy part. We hear and see them every day: headlines in the news; front covers on the rumor rags in supermarkets; gossip around the water cooler at work; other books we’ve read; problems we’re facing, or somebody we know or love is facing; television programs and movies. If it was good enough for them, it should be good enough for us, right?

The main problem is that there are too many fiction books that all have the same plot: somebody is living their life; something happens to force them to make a decision; that decision changes them; and their life is something other than they originally envisioned.

In fact, this plot line is the same for every novel, unless you’re talking literary, which may have no plot at all.

With regards to non-fiction, most people read to be entertained, encouraged, or educated, which is perfect for non-fiction. With a good topic, an author can accomplish all three in one book. Think of your favorite non-fiction author. Why do you read whatever they publish? For me, Max Lucado ranks high on my list. His story-telling techniques, wrapping parables around real-life happenings, then explaining how this applies to me, draws me into his books like a moth to a flame. I cannot resist it.

Ways to identify the kind of book you’d like to write.

So let’s look at ways to identify the kind of book you’d like to write. Because, let’s be honest—if you don’t enjoy writing it, nobody will enjoy reading it, either. Most of the following tips will apply to fiction or non-fiction, and every genre within those two categories.

  1. What topics get your heart pounding and your blood pumping? Is it the atrocity of sex trafficking? Slavery by any other name? Genocide for profit, such as blood diamonds or drug cartels? Underhanded politicians? Crooked law enforcement? Sleazy lawyers? Animal abuse? Child abuse?
  2. What topic do you like to read about? Any of the above? What parts of the newspaper draw you in? Athletics? Obituaries? Lifestyle?
  3. What topic makes you angry when you read about it? Makes you want to write to your representative or even enter the political arena yourself? What would you join a protest for? Or against?
  4. What topics do you talk about with friends? Neighbors? Family?
  5. What are you most afraid of? What do you enjoy doing? Where do you spend most of your time? Your money?

By now you should have a list of at least three topics that capture your interest. On to the next step.

Where to find information and ideas about those topics:

  • newspapers, online news sites, and online searches
  • organizations and associations where folks who suffer from, practice, or congregate
  • friends and family
  • businesses that provide services
  • television and movies
  • libraries, including librarians and their books
  • bookstores
  • online book sites, such as Amazon, or Google searches
  • online social media groups

Figuring out your story:

So let’s say that a couple of your hot topics are sex trafficking, child abuse, and dishonest politicians. You gather research about the thousands of children who leave home under mysterious circumstances in the US each year, both runaways and the missing. You do some research into laws regarding child abuse, and find the penalties can be relatively minor. You contact some organizations that search for missing teens, and learn that many of them run from a bad home situation, ending up in large cities either as addicts or prostitutes or both. And you watch some online investigatory programs about the wealthy who hide behind their money and escape prosecution even for something as serious as murder.

You have your nugget.

You can write either a novel with these same characters, or you can write a non-fiction book to parents, helping them improve their communication with their teens so they don’t run. Or a book for teens, educating them with stories of other kids who ran and ended up in a bad place. Or a book for law enforcement, giving them the signs and clues of an abused child, a runaway, or a sex trafficking ring.

Regardless of which message you’re communicating, there is an audience.

How do you know whether it’s good enough to carry an entire book?

If it’s a novel, you should be able to summarize the book in one sentence, three sentences, and a paragraph.

For example:

One liner:

When Sarah Taylor runs away from her abusive father, she runs straight into the arms of an abusive pimp, who wants to control her mind, body, and soul; especially her body.

Three sentences:

Sarah isn’t one of the cool kids at school, none of the boys even look at her twice, and her father likes to smack her around for no good reason. When she runs away, and a boy offers to put her up for the night with no strings attached, she falls for it. And later, when she runs again, a social worker might be her only lifeline.

Paragraph:

Sarah Taylor, 15, thinks life couldn’t get any worse. She has no friends, nobody who understands her, and nobody she can confide in. She can’t take it anymore. So she runs, looking for that perfect life she is certain is out there.

Tom Wilson is always on the lookout for a lonely girl. One with no friends. One who needs him. And the best place to find girls like that is the bus station. Every day, three or four teens hops off the bus in downtown LA with that deer-in-the-headlight look.

Molly Green chose social work for a reason: she wants to reach kids who are just like she was once. Alone. Vulnerable. Looking for family. And while the boys tend to gravitate toward gangs, these girls are hooked into seemingly romantic relationships where the boy pledges to do whatever he must to treat her well—except that she will owe him.

Organize your topics and points.

If you’re writing a non-fiction book, you should be able to organize the various topics and points you want to make into a table of contents that will carry the reader from the premise, through the solution, to the conclusion and action steps you want them to take as they become another supporter for your position. While writing this kind of book, you want to ask yourself how you can help the reader achieve their goal of education and activation.

If you’d like to download a free worksheet that will lead you through this article and culminate with a great story idea or the outline for a non-fiction book, email me at donna@livebytheword.com and I’ll send that to you.

Did you miss any installments of Producing a Novel?
Generating—and Testing—Ideas for Fiction and Non-Fiction Books – Part 1
Genre and Markets – Part 2
Building Believable Characters – Part 3
Character Sketches and Backstory – Part 4
Hooking Your Readers – Part 5
Character and Story Arc – Part 6
Outlining Your Book – Part 7
Overcoming the Muddle Middle – Part 8
Racing to the Finish – Part 9
Writing a Series – Part 10
Self-Editing – Part 11
Cover Design and Self-Publishing – Part 12


Donna Schlachter

Donna lives in Denver with husband Patrick. As a hybrid author, she writes historical suspense under her own name, and contemporary suspense under her alter ego of Leeann Betts, and has been published more than 30 times in novellas, full-length novels, and non-fiction books. She loves history and research, and travels extensively for both. Donna is represented by Terrie Wolf of AKA Literary Management. You can find her at www.HiStoryThrutheAges.com
Blog: www.HiStoryThruTheAges.wordpress.com
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Sweet Success for Donna Schlachter

By: Darby Karchut

Congratulations to author Donna Schlachter. Her latest book, DOUBLE JEOPARDY, released January 7th.

ABOUT THE BOOK

Double Jeopardy, Cover, by: Donna Schlachter

 Mining, murder—and a mock marriage? New York City socialite Becky Campbell inherited more than a speck of her father’s wanderlust. Now his murder bequeaths her a mystery, a ramshackle homestead, and a silver mine. Zeke Graumann signs on as Becky’s foreman to keep his portion of his family’s ranch. He shares the workers’ reservations about a woman boss, especially one who burns water and prances around in dungarees. Even though she did look awful good in the dungarees. Then a series of accidents add threat to tension. Can Becky trust Zeke, find her father’s killer, and turn her mine into a profitable venture? Will Zeke be forced to give up his ranching dream to win Becky’s heart? DOUBLE JEOPARDY is available at www.shoplpc.com/double-jeopardy and Amazon.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Canadian by birth, American by choice, Donna left everything and moved to Denver in 1999 to marry Patrick, the man chosen by God to be her husband. Together they have two daughters and eight grandchildren. Donna is past-treasurer of her local American Christian Fiction Writers chapter and facilitates a local critique group. She has worn many hats in the past, including bank teller, bad debt collector, accounting clerk, paper-girl, professional cleaner, and apartment manager. A storyteller at heart, Donna’s passion is to tell His Story through the ages, using flawed characters in need of a Savior, because this is her story. Follow the author at: www.HiStoryThruTheAges.com


Darby Karchut

Sweet Success is coordinated by Darby Karchut who is an award-winning author, dreamer, and compulsive dawn greeter. A proud native of New Mexico, she now lives in the foothills of the Rocky Mountains, where she runs in blizzards and bikes in lightning storms.
If you have a Sweet Success to share please contact her via email.