I finished writing my third book!
Seducing the Sorcerer, a fantasy m/m romance, will be out in September 2021.
It’s been through the rounds of beta reading and editing and proofing. Next comes promotion. To start my promo process, I contacted five of the people I admire most in the fantasy/romance world, and asked if they’d consider reading my book and providing a blurb quote. Not nerve-racking at all.
But anyway, if I’ve finished a book, that means it’s time to start a new one, right? Partly because I like having a book on the go. And partly because working on a new book will be a good distraction from worrying about the reception Seducing the Sorcerer might get.
I was telling all this to a friend and they asked if I had ‘an idea’ for a new book and if so, when I’d be starting to write it.
I knew what they meant, but something about their turn of phrase made me pause, because ‘an idea’? Just one?
I always feel I need about a thousand ideas before I’m ready to start writing a new book.
But their words got me thinking. Because how many story ideas DO I need clear in my head before I’m ready to start writing another book? I know it’s more than one, but it’s surely less than that overwhelming thousand?
Turns out there are seven.
Seven ideas. Seven pillars. If I can get them right, I can start to write secure in the knowledge they’ll hold up my new story and make it strong.
I wrote this post to tell you what those seven things are. Maybe you’ll be interested in my creative process? Maybe knowing what the essentials are for me will help you figure out what you need to start your next book?
So here they are. The seven story ideas/elements I need to start writing:
1. An emotional kick-starter: I need a way of feeling my way into a book because feelings make me care about writing it. I often find emotional kick-starters in things that happened in childhood, but it could be any life experience. For Seducing the Sorcerer, for example, I used the experience of losing hope and finding it again, because I wanted to write a story that would acknowledge the hard times but that would also (I hope!) lift people’s spirits.
2. A setting: sense of place is really important to me in a book. A well-wrought setting helps makes the characters feel real. Also, I find it’s easier to be enthusiastic about starting a story if it’s happening somewhere I want to hang out: a dilapidated mansion, an isolated space-port, a stormy beach, a magician’s lair.
Also, my aim is always to write a book that readers will want read more than once. That’s because I love re-reading myself. It’s not just the story I want to return to, but the place. So, I need to know where the story’s set before I can start writing.
3. Interesting characters: I write romance, so I need at least two interesting main characters who will be fun to write. They need to be equally fascinating and attractive in different ways. I think the reader has to be able to (a) fall a bit in love with the characters OR (b) see that these characters are absolutely right for each other, even if the reader wouldn’t personally touch them with a bargepole.
I don’t need to know everything about the characters to start writing, but I do need to be able to ‘feel’ them, to know their back stories, to be able to imagine passing them in the street. How do they walk? What are they wearing? What’s their demeanor? I need to know their goals and desires apart from the romance. Will the romance derail their plans and force them to reassess everything? Or does the romance help them get what they want?
I also need to know the basic romance arc, or how the characters will fall in love. For example, is it ‘enemies to lovers’, ‘friends to lovers’, ‘we shouldn’t because reasons’ or what? And if you’re thinking this sounds trope-y, you’d be right. Tropes are my friend because they help me formulate the basic arc. I can always add my take or divert from the trope later on if the characters don’t seem to want to adhere to it.
3a. And I may need an antagonist who wants something desperately and who will get in the way of my lovers. Minor characters can come later.
4. The main characters’ sexual preferences: I could have put this in the point above but somehow it feels like a different decision. If I’m writing a fantasy romance, I need to know if magic spills into their sex lives? Or is a magician just an ordinary person in the bedroom? The sex should develop along with the emotional relationship too, so I need some idea of how that will go. As they get to know each other will the sex become more tender? Or maybe rougher as they learn to trust each other? Do they start off shy and become more confident? Etc.
5. Roughly, what happens: I don’t need the whole plot, but I need two or three key scenes including the ending. Obviously, with romance, the characters end up together, so in a way the ending is easy. But what does happiness look like for these characters specifically? That’s a bit harder.
I usually write in chronological order (chapter 1, chapter 2 etc) but thinking about the ending helps me know where to begin to ensure the characters have an interesting or exciting journey, both emotionally and in terms of events.
6. Magic system(s): if I’m writing fantasy I need at least one, and maybe two (i.e. one for each main character) different magic systems. Both should be interesting or surprising in some way. The characters probably need to develop their magic in the book too, so there has to be scope for them to discover or learn something.
The magic needs meaning too. It’s not just there for woo factor. It needs to ‘fit’ the characters and/or the plot and say something about those things on an emotional level.
7. Premise: This doesn’t quite belong here because sometimes I discover this as I write. However, it’s worth including because I always consider this before I start.
The premise is the simple, underlying idea of the whole book. I generally write romance and some romance authors say the premise is always ‘true love conquers all’. That’s a perfectly valid premise, but it’s pretty general and that doesn’t help me focus my thoughts. Coming up with a more specific premise will help me when I’m not sure what happens next in a scene. For example, the premise of my book Salt Magic, Skin Magic is ‘true love will set you free’ and the premise of Seducing the Sorcerer is ‘true love sparks hope’. Of course, love still conquers all, but it does it in a way that’s specific to the book and the characters.
So, there they are, the seven things I’m thinking about right now. And when I come up with the right combination of ideas, I’ll start writing my next book.
What about you? What ideas or story elements do you need clear in your mind before you start writing a story? Or are you one of these amazing people who can just start and make it all up as you go along?