A common mistake I see people make in book creation is to focus on plot or structure way too early in the process. While these are absolutely important aspects of the book creation puzzle, we need to take care of a few other important pieces first.
As I always say, the people come first. This means that before we can begin to think about plot or structure, we need to get to know our characters. When I say “character,” I mean the protagonist, antagonists, and supporting characters in your novel or memoir. I also mean the Ideal Reader for your non-fiction, self-help book.
Here’s how it breaks down for each.
Fiction—Protagonist, antagonists, supporting characters… The people who help and hinder the protagonist on her quest.
Memoir—You and your family, friends, exes, and more… The cast of characters who have helped create the story of your life, for better or worse.
Non-fiction, Self-help—Your Ideal Reader and You… If you plan to weave your own story into your book.
So, how do we get to know our people?
Here are three essential points we need to consider in character development (think of your Ideal Reader for your non-fiction, self-help book as a character in the story you’re writing about and responding to).
Fiction—This is the state of being the protagonist in your novel wants more than anything—what the story is all about.
Memoir—This is the state of being you, as the protagonist in your memoir, looked for throughout your life—possibly unwittingly—that has led you through the thrills and tribulations of your life.
Non-fiction, Self-help—This is the reason your Ideal Reader wants your help—the state of being they yearn for AFTER they’ve experienced your method, program, or process, which you will walk them through in your book.
Fiction—This is the event or situation that happened in your protagonist’s life—likely early on—that causes them to yearn for their deepest desire.
Memoir—This is the event or situation that happened to you at some point in your life that likely caused you to repeat unhealthy patterns and/or changed your life and who you were.
Non-fiction, Self-help—This is the event or situation in your ideal Reader’s life at some point that makes makes her want her deepest desire (and your help).
Fiction—This is the belief your protagonist has about what will happen if she doesn’t realize her deepest desire and likely creates an unconscious obstacle to her success.
Memoir—This is your belief about yourself or about the world that allowed persistent unhealthy patterns to remain in place… until, of course, you gained the perspective necessary to change the pattern and write your memoir.
Non-fiction, Self-help—This is what your Ideal Reader fears will happen if she doesn’t (or in some cases, if she DOES) realize her deepest desire.
So… why is knowing this information so important?
When we begin to know our people this deeply, the plot begins to unfold naturally. And when we begin to see the plot unfold, we can begin to think about structure. Because when we understand the whats and the whys behind our people’s actions, we can begin to envision mileposts along the trajectory of their stories.
To put this all in context, think about your best friend. When you first met her/him, you had an unformed opinion about who they were. As you got to know them over time, they became more real and easier to empathize with. This is how we want to think of and treat our people—our characters and Ideal Readers… by understanding and caring about their deepest life experiences and feelings.
This quote says it all:
“Knowing a person is like music. What attracts us to them is their melody, and as we get to know who they are, we learn their lyrics.” – Anonymous
After we know more about our people—and memorize their lyrics—we can then move forward with the creation of our book. The way this takes shape is different in the non-fiction, self-help book than in the novel or memoir.
Come back soon for the next post—How to Create Structure in Your Non-Fiction, Self-Help Book—and I’ll give you a few tips and tricks.
Until then, do some writing on the three points above for all the major players in your story, and let me know in the comments below what you discover.
Sending you mad writing mojo…