Once I have the characters figured out in my story, I turn toward developing the story. Now, some of this does involve plotting, which isn’t everyone’s cup. Good news: Most of my story development steps are plotting free. They’ll still do wonders to help get you thinking about the journey your characters will take.
And knowing where your characters are headed–even if you don’t know the entire journey or destination–helps when you sit down to get some words on paper or screen.
1. Create a mood board
For fellow crafting nerds like me, this is maybe one of the most fun ways to get in the spirit for a new book. Whether you cut out pictures from magazines, create a Pinterest board, or save a few photos to your Scrivener document, it can be helpful to have pictures of characters, settings, and other elements involved in your story.
2. Curate a playlist
Remember yesterday when I said making a mood board was maybe the most fun thing ever? Well, I might have lied. Or it might be a draw. But I absolutely love creating a playlist for each of my stories.
For me, the playlist begins almost as early as the idea for my story. It starts with a song or two and grows and gets smaller throughout the plotting, writing, editing, and publishing process.
Sometimes I pick songs that remind me of the characters (like their very own theme music). Sometimes songs represent a scene or point in the story. Other times, they’re songs that just really resonate with the mood of the story.
I listen to the songs on my playlist over and over while I write. And as I do, they put me in the mindset of where I need to be when I write. Then, after the story is ready to go to print, I share the playlist with readers as a bonus behind-the-scenes content.
3. Write your story’s blurb
For those unfamiliar with the terminology, a book blurb is the book description you read on the cover of the book or the description you read when scrolling on line. While it’s usually seen as a marketing tool for readers, it can also be a good way to sell the story idea to yourself. More, it’s a way for you to really think about and understand what your book is about.
In it, you focus on the characters (and those goals, motivations, and conflicts we talked about earlier) and how they might clash with each other to tell your story.
I also like that writing a blurb early in the process helps me get excited about the story. It helps me visualize those words in a book or online. That makes it feel more real.
4. Make a scene wish list
If you’re like me, then sometimes you imagine certain situations or scenes you’d like to see your characters tackle before you even totally know where you’re going. Keep a running list of those ideas in a notebook or on your notes app.
You don’t have to include them in your story, they can be super helpful when you’re trying to figure out what happens at next. You’ll be especially thankful to have a few ideas tucked away when you get to the middle section of your book. While the beginning and ending tend to be more exciting to write (and plan out) you want the middle to sing, too. That’s where your wish list comes into play.
5. Outline the plot
Pantsers, look away. But if you’re a plotter like me, then plotting out your story in advance is a must. I don’t usually write the most detailed outlines. Usually, it’s just a short paragraph about each scene that covers the big plot points that need to happen to move the story ahead.
For my last few books, I’ve started using beat sheets to help navigate the story. If you’re interested in writing romance, I highly recommend Gwen Hayes’s Romancing the Beat. I took an online workshop with her a couple years ago, and it really helped me think about the expectations readers have when it comes to making a love story bloom. You can find them for other genres too.