Writing: Questions to ask when starting a book

I finished my rewrites for the romance I was working on and sent them to my agent. Fingers crossed. Light candles for me and sing to the Muses. I hope they work. Now, I’m starting the plot points for my third novel in the Wolf’s Bane series. I have the hook and book’s big question. I’ve already done character wheels for all of the regulars from the series, but a new book needs some new characters, and I’m working on those. I meant to sit down today and write about how I plot, (since that’s what I’m up to), but I’ve already done that. Besides, before NaNoWriMo started at the beginning of November, I saw LOTS of blogs about how to plot, so that when you finish 50,000 words, you might have a novel, or at least, the first draft for one. So it’s been done. And all a writer has to do is choose which method works best for him or her or combine a few for good luck.

In case you missed them all, here are some links to get you started:
http://jimbutcher.livejournal.com/2647.html and http://jimbutcher.livejournal.com/2880.html

Anyway, when I began scribbling down my techniques, I decided most of you already know most of them. So I decided to try something different. This is by no means a thorough explanation of how to plot a book. It’s just something I use to get my head moving in the right direction, because in all honesty, if I can get the beginning of the book right with a big question that will drive the plot, I have a decent shot of ending up with something I can work with. And then if I get stuck and ask the right questions, I might keep the momentum going. So, here goes:

1. Hook. What comes out of the blue and pushes my main character out of his comfort zone? And how do I write it so that it snags the interest of a reader?

In Wolf’s Bane, my protagonist, Reece Rutherford gets a phone call from her little brother. When her mom’s second husband (Reece’s father died unexpectedly) drinks too much, he likes to smack Reece’s little sister. Her brother always calls for help, and Reece races to their brownstone to send Eugene to bed or knock him on his ass. She teaches martial arts, so she can–and Eugene knows it.

2. What’s the book’s big question–the problem my protagonist has to face and won’t solve until the end of the book?

When Reece reaches her mom’s condo, she sees a woman sitting on a porch step a few doors down. She’s talking to herself and upset. When Reece walks to check on her, she jumps to her feet and cries, “Stay away from me!” She runs, but a few minutes later, Reece hears a howl. There’s a full moon and Reece laughs at herself. There’s no such things as monsters. Of course, since this is urban fantasy, we know there are. And the rest of the book deals with Reece joining allies to fight rogue werewolves in Bay City.

3. Who and what does the protagonist care about? Introduce them in the set-up. Those are the things she’ll fight to protect. Why are they important to her? Does she have a family? Are they close or not? Why or why not? How do they interact?

4. Who steps up to help the protagonist with her battle? Why do they join in? What can a writer do to make readers care about these allies? What makes them special? Or someone the reader can relate to? How is their approach different than the protagonist’s?

5. Take time to know the book’s antagonists and villains. What do they believe in? What made them choose their course of actions? What makes them real–what strengths or flaws do they have?

In Wolf’s Bane, there’s a villain–who pulls the strings. And there are rogues who work with him. The girl rogue has been abused as a female werewolf too many times. She vows to be independent, to never join another pack, and if she has to be an enforcer and hurt a few people in the process, so be it.

6. Is there a love interest? What attracts him to the protagonist or the protagonist to him? (I’m using a female protag, because I’m giving examples from Wolf’s Bane). What’s going to keep them from getting together for a large part of the book?

7. What’s the first plan of action the protagonist takes to solve her problem? And when that doesn’t work, what will she try next?

8. What’s the book’s big, black moment near the end of the story? How does the book end?

If I’m lucky, by the time I answer all of these questions, ideas are flowing for the novel and I have at least two main plot twists to get me to the middle of the book. One more plot twist should get me three-fourths of the way through, and I can start plotting the wrap-ups of sub-plots and the last, big, dramatic scene. If I get stuck, I ask myself again–who does the protagonist care about? Who can I get in trouble? Can I add something the reader didn’t expect? And how do I keep the tension and emotional impact of the novel strong?

These questions won’t help you with the mechanics of plotting, but they might spark ideas. They help me. Good luck!

on twitter at @judypost

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