(For part one of this guide, click here.)
Okay...you've followed the first three steps of my guide. You're writing your story instead of telling it to people, you're writing even when you don't feel like it, and you're focusing on finishing the story instead of making it perfect from the get-go.
Step 4: If You Can't Write, Outline!
Alright, you can't write. Everything you type is crap. Utter drivel. You're depressed, and ready to give it up. Don't write...outline!
Heck, you might even want to outline right from the beginning.
See, there's two basic types of writers (in my simplistic view): the pantser and the outliner.
Pantsers fly by the seat of their pants, and write the whole damn book without outlining anything. Drawn by the mystery of what might come next, they might not even know where the book is going until they're finished.
Outliners, on the other hand, outline everything from the start to the finish, then fill in each part with prose.
Now, the reality is that you'll likely fall somewhere in-between these extremes. I know I do. I usually have a vision of a scene from the beginning, middle, and end of my books, then fill the rest in pantser-style. If I'm stuck, I outline a whole chapter or two ahead. That way I have an idea of the whole story, but give myself room to subvert my own expectations.
Now, you might think that outlining everything ahead of time will stifle creativity, but this isn't necessarily true. Outlining is a creative act in and of itself...you're being creative by creating the story once from a 100-mile view. And you have the freedom to change anything you want when you fill in that outline later.
Find out what process works for you...but if you find you just can't write prose, outlining can jump-start your muse!
Step 5: Make Your Characters Grow
Now, some people might roll their eyes at this one. Who am I to talk about character growth? After all, at the end of Runic Awakening, Kyle was still pretty wimpy. Well, this was intentional, and set up the second book in the series...but he still grew a little in the first book. And by the third book, well, let's just say he kicked some serious ass.
All characters benefit from growth, both in power and in personal development. We love to see character arcs like this. Many stories are about teaching lessons of some kind, as with the tales in Greek mythology, a great deal of the Bible, Star Wars, and even the movie Iron Man.
Now some characters won't grow. That's okay...they're usually either bad guys or mentors. They've reached the end of their character arcs, and have either attained wisdom or failed to grow (in the case of villains, or the tragic hero), and this is their undoing. But there should be some growth in your characters, particularly your hero.
If you're up to it, you can even make your villains grow, like Sabin in Runic Vengeance. Growth doesn't necessarily need to be positive...you can make characters regress over time. Or grow into villains.
Step 6: Give Your Book an Ending
Well duh, right? Of course your book has to end!
I mention this because, in this era of trilogies - and books extending even further, into a veritable library of sequels - there is a temptation to set the reader up for the next book in the series without giving a satisfactory conclusion to your current book. It's perfectly okay to leave some ends open for the sequel, but try to tie up most of the threads of the storyline, so to speak. If your readers don't get a satisfactory conclusion, they're going to feel cheated.
I've found that the best way for me to ensure a satisfactory ending to my books is to plan the ending before I start writing. Some people even write the ending first, then go back from there. This prevents you from being two-thirds of the way through your book, and struggling to come up with a way to tie up all the loose ends of your story. A lame ending will kill a book...but a great ending can rescue one.
That's enough for now. Part 3 will be coming shortly...and I'll go over what to do once your first draft is complete!