So, you have the perfect story in your mind on your way home from a long work day but as you sit in front of your laptop, you draw a blank.
How many of us can relate to that?
I thought so. Many. Too many.
So, what do we do and where do we begin?
We need a glimmer of hope against the never-ending feeling of dread as we sit down to write a first draft.
We could become outliners, but maybe we’re even stuck with an outline.
Or we can just wing it and become the ultimate pantser, but what happens when we write ourselves into a corner?
You have the perfect story but maybe you need a few tips to get started.
Your idea is awesome and has potential to be the greatest book ever written and I’m not just saying that, especially when the greatest book ever written has never been read because some massive introvert, somewhere, never published it.
But you’re different. You want to be published. You want to be heard. You need to write a damn good book to be heard.
Here are my tips of wisdom.
Make the Protagonist Stop the Antagonist
Wait, isn’t this the basis of all good stories?
Let me elaborate.
Give your story instances where your protagonist gets in your antagonist’s way, and make it happen often.
Sure, the protagonist wants something, but the antagonist either already has something big or wants more.
If you write a book where your protagonist is continually getting in the antagonist’s way, you have a decent story here.
Especially, say, if the protagonist inadvertently gets in the antagonist’s way.
In Northern Knights, Cain does this when he resists and attacks law enforcement (yes, the police are the bad guys in this book so if you like cops, don’t read it).
Who leads law enforcement in Northern Knights?
The corrupt General Adam Syndari, a Joseph Stalin-Kim il Sung type of dictator (if you love communism, you probably shouldn’t read it either).
When Cain becomes the first person in two decades crazy enough to physically challenge Syndari’s people, he inadvertently gets involved in a conflict he’d rather live without.
Hey, Cain just wants to be a pro athlete but to do so, he can’t get drafted into fighting a war because the Southpoint Empire just likes invading countries (if you believe in American Exceptionalism, don’t read this book).
But of course, once he picks a fight with Southpoint, Syndari wants the kid dead and sends a young mercenary to kill him and his family (if you like books with multiple points of view, don’t read this book, because the mercenary isn’t shown until late).
What I’m saying is Cain continually gets in Syndari’s way. He does so again when he leads what is a parody of the Boston Tea Party.
In other words, Cain’s getting in Syndari’s way time and again.
Base the Book on the Plot of Another
No, I’m not talking about writing fan fiction, a mockbuster (Transmorphers, anyone?), and I’m especially not saying to profit off someone else’s work.
But it doesn’t mean you can’t shadow a plot.
I did this with Northern Knights, basing the book on Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, but with noticeable differences.
For instance in Northern Knights:
1. Syndari doesn’t want to kill Cain until Cain causes trouble.
2. The magical system is element-bending and not much more than that.
3. There is a fictional sport but it’s nothing more than a modified version of rugby and Australian Rules football.
4. There is a school, but it’s a university that teaches both normal and un-normal majors.
5. Not every student attending Summit University has the ability to control the elements.
6. Cain’s personality is nothing like Harry Potter’s other than the point both are short-tempered, though Cain’s a shoot first, ask questions later type. Cain’s also arrogant and proud of it, while Harry’s rather modest.
7. There is a Complex system at Summit, but not a single of the twelve Complexes value certain personality traits or anything like that. Oh, and Cain and the crew happen to be in the Hufflepuff-like Santos Complex, so there’s that, too.
8. There are never any lessons shown in Northern Knights as they’re not vital to the plot.
9. Cain and his college rival have been rivals since high school.
10. Not a single one of my characters bear any resemblance to the Harry Potter cast.
So, what I’m saying is while there are several points in Northern Knights that might correlate with HBP, it’s its own entity.
You can do the same, mirroring a plot of a favorite book but creating so many differences it’s obvious that this book is your original creation.
Again, we’re not trying to capitalize off the success of another; simply borrowing plot elements to create our own.
And as a rule of thumb, the best authors borrow from the best. Les Edgerton said in his book, Hooked, that he has no fewer than forty novels in front of him when writing his next piece.
You should do the same or at least continually refer back to your favorites.
Good Times with Characters
I like to base my characters on real-life people or characters I loved in the past.
For instance, Cain has my looks and features, but his personality is intertwined between Dom Toretto and James “Sawyer” Ford with a little bit of Baker Mayfield swag in him to the point where I created a scene of him grabbing his crotch and shouting obscenities across the field, a blatant nod to Mayfield.
If you’re writing fiction, you can have a lot of fun here, as no one can get you for defamation unless you make blatant references to actual people.
For that, your crew in life can be your good guys; your protagonist’s best friends.
The bad guys can be people who gave you a hard time in life or people you just don’t like.
Also, you can even let your friends in on it for ideas on how to develop their own characters. I did this with a few of my friends, including Cain’s shotball coach, Falco Phoenix, based on one of my real life best friends.
F. Scott Fitzgerald was notorious for basing characters on women he loved, including one woman in particular, which is where he found the inspiration to create Daisy Buchanan. I did something similar in my own works, basing two characters on two different girls I’d come across. Hey, this is how us writers and authors express ourselves! Just don’t make the characters too similar to their real-life counterparts.
This might sound redundant, but be creative in your approach. Use some of the techniques shown here, like allowing your protagonist to unwittingly or even unknowingly make life difficult for the antagonist before the latter flips the tables.
Take one of your favorite book plots and make it your own. Just be sure to stay original and NEVER tell the same exact story. This is your version of the story, much like the belief all religious texts are the same in nature, but each tell their own version of the same story. The same goes here.
Finally, have a blast with your characters. Don’t think you have to invent all these people time and again. In many of my works, my characters are similar, but different at the same time. But, since almost every book I write is either part of or will be in a series, I don’t spend much time inventing characters. Instead, I use the same characters while creating multiple books per series.
Follow these tips and you too will see some leeway in your writing.