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Writing Books/The Steps to writing a by one.


  I have been doing so much research into writing a novel and all of the different things that need to be in there to make it happen.   But....
  I really would like some kind of orderly basis on  how to keep things to a kind of 'paint by number' type fashion.
  To put it simply,
      What do I worry about doing first?
   1 - The plot?
   2 - The scene?
   3 - The characters?

I have a pretty good idea about the characters but really cannot pin them down unless I know what the plot is about.

 Soooo, could you possibly give me a step by step of what to do from beginning, middle, end.   
    Or whatever I need to learn.
  I am really miffed at what to do. I have so many pieces of notebook paper that are just mounds, and each mound a different category of what needs to be done.  
  But the order is what I seek.
 Please, oh please, could you help me out?  I surely would appreciate it whole-heartily.  ~~big smile~~

Hi, Adele!

Sorry for the delay in responding. I'm deep in the middle of finishing up a book that's already late.

The "paint by numbers" version that would probably work for you is completely different than how most writers write. I wanted you to know that because you'll get conflicting advice from those who write "organically" (you'll also hear them referred to as "pantsers" because they "write by the seat of their pants") versus those who are "plotters". You're a plotter. I can tell because of the way you phrase your questions. I'm one too, so I think I can help.

Let's get started!

1.  Definitely worry about the plot first. Think of a book as a long made-for-TV movie. The book plot is the whole movie. Each "scene" is two or three commercial breaks. Each CHAPTER is one commercial break. It's important to look at the plot as a whole in order to know where to break it up into chapters. You want each chapter to break at just about the same tension level as the TV movie. The chapter is where the reader (viewer) will get up to make a sandwich, grab a soda or race to the bathroom. Your goal is to make them come back to the show! A chapter end should be a mid-point of action. The gun just fired, the car teetering on the cliff, the character about to announce who the baby's father is, etc. But the total number of chapters have to lead to a satisfactory conclusion. Try to reserve the last three chapters for the finale. If you want to wrap up with a epilogue to deal with subplots, you can but keep it simple and try not to just have them all lumped in a list. That's boring to the reader.

2.  Consider each "scene" to be two or three chapters. It goes like a roller coaster. Start the scene slow, build to the mid-way point of the climax at the end of a chapter, start the next chapter with the "thrilling conclusion" and then ramp slowly back up. The nice part about chapters is you can ramp right back up with an unexpected twist to extend the scene into a third chapter. For example, the gun just fired turns out to be a champagne cork but THEN a real gun is fired. The car teeters on the cliff, hangs on but THEN is hit by another car. The character announces who the baby's father is, but THEN you learn that man had a vasectomy. You reintroduce chaos into what the reader believes was resolved. Subplots can be threaded among a chapter or two (going to the store to shop) or each chapter for the whole book (mom's sick and has to have surgery.) Subplots are critical to make the people seem "real." The reader has to believe that: 1) The character had a life before the book opened; 2) The plot of the book INTERRUPTED that life; and 3) The character's life will go on after they close the book. Subplots do that. I like to think of subplots as "life interrupting the crisis." The crisis might make you forget to the pay the bills. Well, guess what? Mid-way through the book, something bad is going to happen--like the electricity goes off when the character is desperately researching the cure to her illness. Etc. Lots of room for subplots to rear their ugly heads at the mid-way point.

3.  Each scene needs to LOOK to the reader like a movie scene. That means you have to "set the stage" for them. Each of the five senses should be dealt with: Sight, sound, touch, taste and smell. We recognize these senses without really understanding them, but think about a movie where the actress is under stress. The smell of lavender might relax, where the smell of smoke will frighten. It's all in how you portray the character's reactions in print. The character might wince in pain, or shudder in fear or their features might twist in anger. The reader needs to experience that with every word you type. The actors on your page are mannequins until you give them life with text.

There's tons more but you probably have read about how to construct sentences and dialogue. But this should help you organize the book into chunks that make sense to you. Hope they help and feel free to ask any more questions as you move forward. Good luck!


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Cathy Clamp


I'm happy to answer questions about any aspect of writing novels, from the beginning kernel of an idea through completion. I can help with writing a query letter and synopsis to an agent or editor. I can explain publishing terminology and acronyms. I can also assist with questions about verifying the credentials of agents/publishers and how to proceed once you've been accepted for publication. I can teach the rules of formatting a manuscript, creating viable plots, characterization and flow in the following genres: romance, science fiction, fantasy, thrillers, suspense, horror, women's fiction, mainstream and mystery.


I'm a USA Today bestselling author of urban fantasy and paranormal romance for Tor/Forge Books. Along with a co-author, I've published fifteen novels (combination of mass market and trade softcover) since 2003, and have contracts for four more books through 2011.

Romance Writers of America, Science Fiction & Fantasy Writers of America, International Thriller Writers, Western Outdoor Writers, Horror Writers of America.

Tor/Forge Books, Western Reflections Publishing, BenBella Books, Running Press, Wild Child Publishing. Many others.

My educational background is limited to real life experience of publishing novels commercially for the past five years.

Awards and Honors
USA Today bestseller, Waldenbooks Mass Market Paperback Top 20 bestseller, Nielsen BookScan Top 20 bestseller, RT BOOKreviews Career Achievement Award winner, 2009, Book Buyers Best Award for Paranormal, Romantic Times Best Werewolf Novel, Write Touch Readers Award, EVVY Best Historical Chronicle Award, The Lories Best Paranormal. Many others.

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