This will be my last "official" writing post of the year because things are about to get crazy for the holidays. I may discuss story, characters, and stuff like that at random times in my blog, because that's stuff I talk about.
If you didn't do National Novel Writing Month but are thinking about making a New Year's resolution to write a book next year, now's the time to start preparing yourself for success. What do you need to do to get ready to write a book?
A lot of that depends on the kind of writer you are. There are people who work best by just sitting down and writing, letting the story come on the spur of the moment. But I think most of us work a little better by doing some preparation, and how much and how formal the preparation is depends on the way you work. Here are some things you might want to think about before you write your book.
Who is your protagonist? What does this person want? Why does he/she want it or need it? What is keeping him/her from getting it? Those are the main things you need to know about your main character, and it's possible to start writing once you know these things. Or you may want to figure out more. It's not necessary to know where your hero went to elementary school or what his favorite subject was, but it helps to know what he does for a living, something about his level of education, and what he cares about. What does he really need, deep down inside, that drives his actions?
Then you need to figure out who your antagonist is, who may or may not be a villain, depending on the kind of story you're writing. An antagonist is basically the person (or force) getting in the way of the hero getting what she wants. The hero may also have internal issues getting in the way, but in genre fiction, you generally also need an outside force causing problems. The antagonist may be directly opposing the hero, or they may just be competing to get the same thing.
You can figure out who the other people in the protagonist's life are ahead of time or they may pop up as you write.
Where/when does your story take place? This is going to affect the plot and the characters. It has a lot to do with who your characters are and what they can do. It also will dictate how events play out -- the story is going to be very different depending on whether immediate, constant communication is possible, for instance. If you're using a setting different from your everyday experiences, you may want to do some research before you start writing. Read books about the time or place. Watch videos of that place. Look at photos. This would be good stuff to do during the holiday season when you're too distracted to start writing but want to feel like you're doing prep work. I think even total seat-of-the-pants writers who feel hampered by outlines can benefit from immersing themselves in the setting of the book they plan to write.
This is where writers really differ. The sit-down-and-write people often lose all enthusiasm for a project once they've outlined it. They need to surprise themselves. On the other extreme are those who not only have a plot outline but also storyboard each scene. Then there's everything in between. You can have a rough outline with major turning points. You can have the protagonist's and antagonist's goals and conflicts and nothing more. You can have a rough outline that you add to in more detail as you go, so that you plan each section or scene before you write it. You can do this work on paper, on a spreadsheet, in a flow chart, or just in your head. I do find that the more I think about a project before I write it, whether or not I write anything down, the easier it is for me to write it. I can do this kind of thinking while I do other things, like housework, exercise, or driving. That makes it ideal writing "work" to do during the busy holidays. You can think about your book as you bake, shop, wrap presents, clean house, or travel. Then on January 2 when you sit down to write that novel, you'll be ready to go.
Have a happy holiday season, and remember that books make great gifts. If you want seasonal reading, my latest release, A Kind of Magic, is set around the holiday season.