What many readers and new writers don’t realize is how many decisions are made before that first word is written.
1. Who is the main character (MC)?
I may have a vague idea about the character, but soon I need to “get to know” this person.
a. Name, sex, age, physical description, etc.
b. What he/she wants and why.
c. How the MC’s past will influence his/her actions and attitudes?
2. Who is the antagonist? (The villain)
The reader may not know who this is until the end of the story, but I need to know.
a. I need to know almost as much about this person as I do about the MC.
b. I need this person to have a convincing reason to oppose the MC
c. For my MC to be strong, I need a strong adversary
3. What point-of-view (pov) will I use?
a. First or third? Each has benefits and limitations.
b. Omniscient? All knowing is tempting but not as popular as it once was.
c. Second person? This has been used by some writers, but I don’t think I could pull it off.
4. How many povs?
a. Only the MCs? This limits what the MC can see, hear, or know. May make the reader feel closer to the MC, but it creates limits for the story.
I used 1st person pov in all of my P.J. Benson Mysteries, including Eat Crow and Die. The reader only knows, sees, or hears what P.J. knows, sees, and hears. The reader is in her head throughout the entire story.
b. Multiple povs?
A few writers have used multiple 1st person povs. I find that confusing. Too many “I…”
Some writers have mixed 1st person pov with 3rd person povs, usually reserving the 1st person pov for the MC
Multiple 3rd person povs allow for subplots and allow the reader to know what characters other than the MC see, hear, or think.
I used two 3rd-person povs in A Killer Past. I needed the reader to know what Mary Harrington was thinking. She’s the one who knows about her past. And I needed Jack Rossini’s pov so the reader would understand why he suspects Mary and why he’s worried about her safety.
5. Type of pov?
a. Close 3rd person pov has become quite popular. When used, it’s almost like 1st person pov. The reader knows what the character is thinking, is “In the character’s head.”
b. Narrator pov? With this pov it’s a narrator telling the story. The reader is hearing what happened rather than feeling as though s/he is there with the character(s).
c. A combination? Parts of the story told through the eyes of the various characters, other parts narrated. Handled well, this works, but if there’s too much “telling” the reader is placed at a distance from the action.
6. Whose point of View?
a. If the writer is using multiple povs, then the writer must decide which character’s pov to use for each scene.
b. The general “rule” is to write the scene using the pov of the character who has the most at stake.
c. Sometimes I’ll write a scene using one character’s pov and then write the same scene using another character’s pov. Seeing the scene from different povs helps me pick the pov I feel has the most tension.
7. Which verb tense? Present or past?
a. More books are being written in the present tense. This is a necessity if using 2nd person pov. I find using present tense very difficult, but when done right it gives the feeling that the reader is right there with the MC.
b. Past tense is still the more popular tense to use.
c. Mixing the two. This only works if it’s obvious the writer is in control. Too often it looks like sloppy writing.
8. Time Period.
a. When does the story take place? Contemporary or past? Each has its limits and good qualities. If mixed (time travel), the difficulty may be in keeping each straight for the reader and explaining (convincingly) how it happened (or why).
9. Setting or settings.
a. Will the setting influence how the story flows?
b. Will the setting create limits on what the characters can or cannot do? Or will it offer new possibilities? Will moving from one setting to another give the story more drama?
c. Is it possible to give a sense of place without creating a travelogue?
a. What influence would the weather have on the story? The time of the year? Holidays?
11. Where’s the best place to start?
a. In medias res is the suggested (common) place. Start in the middle of things. Start when life as it has been is about to change.
b. But exactly where is that point?
That’s what I have to decide for this new story. I’m mulling over all of the above questions as I mentally work on my next book. I have many decisions to make before I actually start. Decision one: Should I write or play with my new puppy?