The following is the letter I wrote to the brave group of folks who started–and yes, finished–books with me last fall. I thought it might be useful to anyone gearing up to write a book. If you want to join my group, check it out HERE.
Dear Book Writers,
Why a Frame? Why are we starting with plot (and character)?
It has been my experience that the hardest thing to go back and put into a novel after it’s written is a strong plot based on a deep sense of character. In other words, actions must grow out of the motivations and psychology of your character.
Now, you can create a character who will, by nature, do the actions required of him or her in your plot, OR you can create a plot that grows, naturally, out of the will of your character. In either way, you want a character with some serious motivation and a backbone (even if it’s initially hidden from us or from him- or her-self).
Writers can work for years on books, so there are very many things one could do in preparation for writing a manuscript. In fact, I urge you to write at least a page every day where you are just thinking on paper (or on screen) about your novel. Writing about writing is actually a much more powerful planning tool than simply thinking about writing. It’s the power of the keyboard or the pen–the power, if you will, of writing.
In these pages, you can think about your characters’ histories, about the setting of your novel, about images that move you, fragments of the world that inspire you. Think about the underlying idea or theme that drives your story.
By the same measure, when you are writing 1670 plus words a day in November, you will be thinking and writing about these things all the time. That’s what’s so powerful about NaNoWriMo and the writing life itself. Right now you are tilling the fields.
Together, we are going to have three intertwined foci:
1) Building a strong, logical, exciting plot
2) Based on a motivated, backboned, interesting character
3) While revving the engines by inspiring each other and addressing any real questions or fears.
For some of you, this may be so effective that you will always use this approach in all future books that you write. For others, you may learn that you want to start with place or imagery, that your plot grows more naturally from an exploration of other material. For now, I ask you simply to respond to all the challenges: to try. Anything you do will move you further down the path of your writing life, which is to say, the project of creating worlds.