How to Write a Book: Everything You Need to Know in 20 Steps (Part 4)

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Part 12: Think reader first

This is so important that that you should write it on a sticky note and affix it to your monitor so you’re reminded of it every time you write. Every decision you make about your manuscript must be run through this filter.

Not you first, not book first, not editor, agent, or publisher first. Certainly not your inner circle or critics first.

Reader first, last, and always

If every decision is based on the idea of reader first, all those others benefit anyway.
When fans tell me they were moved by one of my books, I think back to this adage and am grateful I maintained that posture during the writing.

Does a scene bore you? If you’re thinking reader first, it gets overhauled or deleted.
Where to go, what to say, what to write next? Decide based on the reader as your priority. Whatever your gut tells you your reader would prefer, that’s your answer.

Whatever will intrigue him, move her, keep him reading, those are your marching orders. So naturally, you need to know your reader. Rough age? General interests? Loves? Hates? Attention span?

When in doubt, look in the mirror. The surest way to please your reader is to please yourself. Write what you would want to read and trust there is a broad readership out there that agrees.

13. Find your writing voice

Discovering your voice is nowhere near as complicated as some make it out to be.
You can find yours by answering these quick questions:

  • What’s the coolest thing that ever happened to you?
  • Who’s the most important person you told about it?
  • What did you sound like when you did?

That’s your writing voice. It should read the way you sound at your most engaged.
That’s all there is to it.

If you write fiction and the narrator of your book isn’t you, go through the three-question exercise on the narrator’s behalf, and you’ll quickly master the voice.

Here’s a blog I posted that’ll walk you through the process:
https://www.jerryjenkins.com/tone-in-writing

14. Write a compelling opener

If you’re stuck because of the pressure of crafting the perfect opening line, you’re not alone. And neither is your angst misplaced. This is not something you should put off and come back to once you’ve started the rest of the first chapter. Oh, it can still change if the story dictates that, but settling on a good one will really get you off and running.

It’s unlikely you’ll write a more important sentence than your first one, whether you’re writing fiction or nonfiction. Make sure you’re thrilled with it and then watch how your confidence and momentum soar.

Most great first lines fall into one of these categories:

Science Fiction: “It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen.” —George Orwell, Nineteen Eighty-Four

Nonfiction: “By the time Eustace Conway was seven years old, he could throw a knife accurately enough to nail a chipmunk to a tree.” —Elizabeth Gilbert, The Last American Man Dramatic Statement

Fiction: “They shoot the white girl first.” —Toni Morrison, Paradise

Nonfiction: “I was five years old the first time I ever set foot in prison.” —Jimmy Santiago Baca, A Place to Stand

Philosophical Fiction: “Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.” —Leo Tolstoy, Anna Karenina

Nonfiction: “It’s not about you.” —Rick Warren, The Purpose Driven Life

Poetic Fiction: “When I finally caught up with Abraham Trahearne, he was drinking beer with an alcoholic bulldog named Fireball Roberts in a ramshackle joint just outside of Sonoma, California, drinking the heart right out of a fine spring afternoon.” —James Crumley, The Last Good Kiss

Nonfiction: “The village of Holcomb stands on the high wheat plains of western Kansas, a lonesome area that other Kansans call ‘out there.’” —Truman Capote, In Cold Blood

Great opening lines from other classics may give you ideas for yours. Here’s a list of famous openers. https://www.jerryjenkins.com/great-opening-lines


Jerry Jenkins is the author of more than 186 books with sales of more than 70 million copies, including the best-selling Left Behind series.

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