Wednesday, December 1, 2010

How I Write a Book - Step 1 - Ideas

Hi Amy Greensters,
I was posting this blog to my other website - and I thought I'd share snippets of it with you guys too!
It's about how I write a book from start to finish. So if you're interested in writing, or in how I write my books, read on.

I’ve just realised I haven’t really blogged about how I write a book from start to finish – from the very first idea to the actual final manuscript. So using the book I’ve just finished, Ask Amy Green: Party Drama-rama (Amy 4) I’ll try to explain how I do this. It might take a couple of weeks as I’m talking details people! ‘Cos I’m that kinda gal. Now first the disclaimer:

Every writer writes in a very, very different way. This is just the way I do it. And I’m certainly not suggesting it will work for everyone. It doesn’t even work for me sometimes! So take everything I say with a large sea rock of salt!

1/ The Initial Idea
This is the number one question I get asked at events and in schools – ‘Where do you get your ideas?’

And it’s a very hard one to answer. If I’m talking to younger readers and writers of say under 14 I tend to tell them about my crazy, mad thought-filled mind and how it never rests and is always spewing up ideas. Like today – I was stuck at home with the kids (snowed in) and thinking about how that might feel if it happened for more than a week – how would we cope. Then – being a writer – I thought, hey, that’s an interesting one for a book. It could be a/ a comedy about a family muddling through and being resourceful and learning to work together after practically killing each other or b/ a Hunger Games type dystopian teen novel where the family really do kill each other – I’d have to throw in some sort of reality tv show then maybe or c/ a romance where 2 neighbouring families are thrown together – maybe a widow and a single mum – and they bond over show shovels. See, my mind works in mysterious ways and there is always, always something cool to write about.

Where was I? Ah yes, ideas. And the idea for Amy 4 in particular.

For me, largely the characters come first. In the case of Amy 4 I already knew all the main characters – Amy, Clover, her crazy 17 year old aunt, Mills, Amy’s best friend, Sylvie, her mum, Art, her Dad, Dave, her step dad and so on.

Before I think about plot, I tend to do a lot of work on the characters. For Amy 4 I had a new character to concentrate on, Bailey Otis. He has a small walk on part in Amy 3 but I needed to flesh him out a lot more. So I grabbed my character note book and started writing pages and pages – what I knew about him – from where he was born, to his childhood, his parents, schools, music he likes, talents, hates, likes etc etc.

Once I’ve got the main characters firmly in my head I think about the plot and the setting.


Plot is an interesting one. Some writers – especially crime writers apparently – start with plot. But I do have an idea of the type of thing I’d like to write about before I put pen to paper. It tends to swirl around in my head, picking up momentum and speed, before forming into anything coherent.

I knew I wanted to make Amy Green a problem solver. I also knew I wanted to give her an older side kick who could drive and had a job and some money. Clover was originally going to be 21 until my very wise friend, Liz, said that that was way too grown up and younger was better. So I made her 17 instead which worked much better – thanks, Liz!

Once I decided to make Clover a journalist, and an agony aunt for teens, I found my ‘in’ to the problem solving. Basically Amy is brilliant at solving other people’s problems, but not so hot with her own problems.

So then I had my premise and my characters, and I just had to fill in the plot. Which has never been hard with the Amy books as my characters have a lot to say and live very eventful lives!

But basically – ideas come from everywhere – keep your eyes open and one will bite you on the nose. Now, I wonder if that family getting snowed in idea would actually work? Or a teen novel about a Lockdown in a school . . . my son’s school had a Lockdown drill recently, a new one on me, but common now in the US . . . now that’s an interesting one . . .