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Documenting my odyssey into the wonderful world of fantasy writing and beyond. Can't promise I will always be on topic as the world is vast and full of such wonderous, and sometimes terrible, distractions. Email me: cassandra.jade.author@gmail.com

03 June, 2009

You’ve Got a Book Idea—Now What? - Elizabeth Craig

This week, I am very happy to introduce Elizabeth Spann Craig, author of "Pretty is as Pretty Dies", as she gives us her views on how to take an idea and get writing.

Elizabeth also keeps a very entertaining blog, Mystery Writing is Murder, where she regularly shares advice on writing.

You've Got a Book Idea: Now What?

Your novel starts with a germ of an idea. It doesn’t matter where the concept came from—you’re sure it’s something you can create an entire book around. What’s more, it’s something you’re excited about and the words are spewing out on the page faster than you can pin them down.

But…where do you go from here? That depends primarily on the type of person you are.

The planner: Do you like to make lists? Do others consider you Type-A? You may want to try the outline route. The planner’s tools:

  • One of them is a mind-map. You can get a free mind-map at FreeMind. With a mind-map, you can create a plot tree and connect your ideas and concepts with subheading branches.
  • Another quick idea to determine your plot direction is to write back cover copy for the new project. If you sketch out one yourself, it can help you identify your main conflict right off the bat. Veronica Heley explores this concept more when she guest blogged on So You Wanna Be Published.
  • You can also write out your standard outline—either chapter by chapter or scene by scene.

The Ad-Libber: Do you like to make things up as you go along? Would a structured outline for your book make you feel constricted? You should just write. The important thing is just to start creating the first draft. It doesn’t have to be perfect or even very good—that’s what revision is for.

The Middle of the Roader: You don’t do well with too much planning, but too little planning also trips you up? Try writing mini-outlines. Just map out what you want to accomplish for that particular piece of dialogue, or that particular scene, or that chapter. You have some direction and an idea what you want to cover, but it’s not an overwhelming and restricting plan, either.

Questions for all types of writers to ask themselves:

What’s the big conflict in your story? Without conflict (either internal or external), there is no plot at all.

Who is the protagonist? What makes us care about this person—what sets them apart? Are they sympathetic to the reader?

Who is the antagonist (the antagonist can also be society at large, the protagonist’s own inner demons, etc.)?

What will be the big turning-point moment in your plot? What causes this turning point? How is it resolved?

And finally, how much time can you realistically devote to writing every day? The important thing is to make a workable goal and not one that will set yourself up for failure. My original goal was a page a day, which I was able to successfully accomplish. Yours could be as little as ten minutes a day. As long as you write daily, you’re working toward completion of your goal…and the seed of an idea you first got becomes a novel.

Elizabeth Craig


  1. Great perspective about how not to get bogged down. Who can’t use this info?? You thoughtfully include real tools to move the project forward.

    Elizabeth, what category writer are you?

    Do you get annoyed when real life gets in the way of your writing goals?

    Do your ideas ever end up in the trash pile after you’ve written quite a bit on them?

    Lastly, have you ever found a plot idea changed radically from where you started?

    Best Regards, Galen.

  2. Hi Galen,
    I write cozy mysteries (off-stage murder, very little forensic research, more focus on the who-dunnit puzzle.)

    I think I used to get annoyed when I had writing set-backs, but as those tend to be every day I've gotten more philosophical about it. Now I just write everywhere (I wrote several pages at the coffee shop this morning before meeting my sister for breakfast.)

    I have a graveyard of old manuscripts that I gave up on in disgust. BUT...I realized that I also had a graveyard of promising books I'd picked out to read that I didn't care for, either. That made me feel better. At least I didn't take my project to completion like THOSE authors did. :)

    Actually, today I decided to change the murderer's identity in my current work-in-progress. That's a pretty radical plot change! But...it wasn't working for me.

    How about you? And everyone else?

    Mystery Writing is Murder

  3. Helpful! This is a great checklist.

  4. I've tried both routes. I tend to do some outlining when I get stuck, but for my fiction, I like to just let it flow like the proverbial wind. This doesn't work for nonfiction. You've got to have a tight outline for the kinds of books I;ve written (Idiot's Guides).

  5. I need a very vague outline and some milestones so I know where I'm headed. Nothing worse than ending up with 250 pages and nowhere to go. But I find too much detail in the planning makes the writing jilted. (for me anyway). It's extremely helpful though, to feel validated that no one route is right for everyone.

  6. Great tips! Thanks for sharing. Writing back cover copy has been a practice of my own for quite a while. It really does help me get my thoughts together so I can visualize the dramatic arc.

  7. I'm so glad I can finally put a name to my style of writing! I'm an ad-libber. However, I do try to keep the questions you mentioned in the back of my head as I write.

    Jane Kennedy Sutton

  8. Excellent post, Elizabeth. This is very helpful information to get the book out of your head and on to the paper.


    Nancy, from Just a Thought…