Write What Interests You

Right now I’m at the hardest part of writing a book — getting it started.

In today’s competitive fiction market it’s important to have two things: 50-100 can’t-put-them-down pages, and a solid synopsis for the rest of the story.

I began this journey about three months ago.  As always, I’d been collecting news clips (both physical and electronic), making notes (on scratch paper, notepads, book margins, bar napkins, whatever’s handy), and reading books and articles that might relate to the new novel I wanted to write.  I’ve had some of these clips and notes for decades, just waiting to be used.  I say these things might relate to my new novel because at the beginning of all this, three months back, I wasn’t sure what I might want to write about.

So, doing all of the aforementioned was a way to reveal what I was interested in.  I’ll admit there was very little cohesion between these topics.  Loosely, here they are: young combat troops returned from Afghanistan; green energy; domestic surveillance; private security; war machines in peacetime.  Headlines, right?

But also there were non-headlines on my list of interesting topics.  Such as: towns so small they can be purchased by well-to-do individuals; small-town “idealism” versus corporate greed; dental hygiene; is a modern-day Jay Gatsby possible?; the digital encoding of brain waves for internet transmission; ghost towns in the California desert; dogs (I always put in a dog if I can); hidden gold; scientists both good and mad; Gila Monsters.

You get the idea.  I had all these big things, and some not-so big things, many unrelated, all vying for attention, all crying out: “I wanna be in your book!”

What do you do?

Well, I went through my list of interests and wrote a scene in which a young man returns from combat in Afghanistan.  He loves his wife.  (She’s a dental hygienist!)  He can’t find work.  He finally gets a job offer from an old friend who is part of a green energy project in a tiny town way out in the desert.  The returned Marine and his wife argue about the job offer.  He takes the job and leaves.  She stays behind.  Their future is uncertain, at best.

At that point I wasn’t sure what would happen next.  This is not a happy time for a writer.  You feel like a fake.  If you don’t know what happens next, who does?  So I thought and thought, imagined and imagined, gnashed teeth, etc.

But this is a good time to start your synopsis of the story.  So I began the very hardest part (of the hardest part) of getting started: building the skeleton of a story in advance.  This is when you glue yourself to the chair and ignore all distractions.  You dedicate yourself to the proposition of inventing what happens next.  Some of my mantras —

Remember action and re-action.

Remember that whatever has happened in your story so far has consequences.

Remember to be true to your characters.

Remember that clichés are curses; if you’ve seen this scene before don’t write it; if it doesn’t have to be there don’t write it.

Remember to entertain!

So, write a scene, then synopsize what you’ll do next.

Write that scene.  And so forth.

Pretty soon you’ll have 50 pages of story and a road map for the rest of it.

Send to agent.