Writing 101…Ask Three Questions…

Writing a book is incredibly difficult. Writing a great book is practically impossible. When you sit down to write yours, ask and answer three questions. If you break writing down to its simplest form, you’ll find it’s really not so difficult after all. Master the basics, and all the rest is just polish.
Three Questions
Every novel, no matter how thick or complicated, revolves around three specific questions. Ask them, and make sure you know the answers, when you’re writing yours.
  • Who?
Every novel needs at least one main character. Juggling more than one main is hard, but it can create a very rich and engaging story. Make your main character(s) interesting and identifiable, and your readers will enjoy finding out about them.
  • Where?
 Every book has a setting. Research yours to make it real and rich on the page. Readers want details. What’s the weather like? What are the buildings like? What do the rooms look like? Good descriptive writing paints a picture without taking over the entire book — remember that no one wants to read your rambles about the way the curtains hang. Strike a good balance, and use the detail to add to the story instead of allowing it to swamp the story.
  • What?
You don’t have a book if you don’t have a plot. Stuff needs to happen in your book. Allow the readers to get to know the characters through specific events. Readers want to be put inside the story; they don’t want a story told to them. Use plot to make your book happy, funny, exciting, sad — any emotion you want to evoke.
If you can answer three questions, you’ve got what you need to start writing a book. It’s the idea and the imagination that matters. Mechanics will come later, after lots of editing and hard work. Once you’ve found your three answers, the really hard part is already over.


This post originally featured on Jade Varden’s author blog in 2012.


Author Jade Varden is a regular guest contributor on Aside From Writing. The Writing 101 features originate from her own blog  at http://jadevarden.blogspot.co.uk where you can see more of her thoughts on writing, as well as her own books. Her debut novel Justice and sequel The Tower are available now! Read our review of Justice here.

Tony’s Thinking…Starting a work in progress

I finished my fourth novel, Eight Mile Island, back in June 2012, but what with holidays and a trip to the USA this summer and feeling pretty burned out, I took a break before I started something new. I think you have to do that, give yourself a chance to recover and give your imagination a chance to reset.

I started thinking about Book Five (No title yet!) just about as I was finishing Eight Mile, and I was working on ending the world in grey-goo nanotechnology (I was going to ramp up the pacing so it happened in maybe a week…). I did a little research around nanotech, some background reading…but I kept bumping into nothing when I started writing. Nothing was coming out and screaming, “Write me!”

For a few weeks, I had only a first chapter that wasn’t going anywhere…a good first chapter, with some interesting characters, but nothing else.

Let me tell you, writers block is bad; writers block before you start is even worse. I was going nowhere.

I’m a regular subscriber to a science and technology magazine, and the August 2012 edition had an article about a company (Project Blue Seed, if you want to Google it), planning to build a business community offshore of the coast of California in 2014. There was some speculative artwork about building whole cities, maybe whole nations out there in the deep seas…

…and bang, new idea for Book Five! Something that definitely screamed “Write me!” It’s Waterworld, I thought, except it won’t be when I’m finished with it…

About a week later, I was dozing in the back garden on a Saturday afternoon, thinking about not much, when Muse threw up an image of a girl on a jet ski heading towards one of those cities, and then a dozen more ideas followed, then more and more. Suddenly, everything started to feel right, and I started to feel like this is a book I should write next.

So Book Five is off and running now, and I thought I’d share some early thought processes with y’all.

I’ve read a few books on writing novels, the ones that tell you to plan every chapter and every scene, create every character and describe them in detail, but my head doesn’t work like that; I like to be surprised by my characters and I think visually anyway. Starting with Eight Mile Island, I use a mind map, brainstorm, spider diagram, whatever they’re calling them this week.

I stick pictures I snag off the internet next to the ideas I have flying around, then post them to my work in progress board in my ‘office’ where I write.

Here’s the apparently messy result:

Thought Board

First thing to note is there are a LOT of things going on there, and not all of these ideas will end up in the final story, but it’s a place to start.

My WIP board is something I walk past at least twice a day (I keep my work ties on the back of the door in the same room), so I catch the images and words peripherally and let my subconscious work on them, ready for writing when I’ve finished the Day Job. I’ve found it’s a way for me to think about the story all day without working on it consciously.

The quote in the top left is from SF author James Blish. “Who does it hurt? That’s who the story is about.” It might seem obvious, but it’s a fundamental aspect of probably every story you’ve ever read, and every story you should write as well. The designs in the top right are what got me started, a concept for a “lily pad” floating city. I’m thinking of having a deserted London in there, that’s bottom left, and middle and bottom right are concepts for the inside of some of the cities and my “superboat” that’s an integral part of the story.

So that’s the start of my journey into Book Five. It’s going to be interesting to see how many ideas survive and how many die out by the time I finish and get everything edited!

If you think that might work for you, and you have room and a spare wall, having one of these boards might be for you – this one is magnetic and a whiteboard, so it’s twice the fun for half the price. For a size reference, the piece of paper in the middle is A3 (420 x 297mm, 16.5 x 11.7 in).

Have fun!