National Novel Writing Month is now upon us and it seems like a good time to start (and hopefully finish) a new novel, doesn’t it?  November is a great time to get into the writing spirit and the folks over at NANOWRIMO (National Novel Writing Month) picked a wonderful time to motivate to crank out 50k words in one month! Yep one month! So that’s about 1,665 words daily and I am positive that you can do it!

I’m about to jump into the third book in my Frank Russell/Pacific Pictures series for NANOWRIMO.  The first of the series, The Movie Star and Me, was released to excellent reviews in August (a big thank you to all for your support on that).  The second installment is in the post-writing phase and will hit the market in the near future. Many of you have asked what I do before I start my writing process so hopefully this blog will help you to get a good foundation for NANOWRIMO.

So how do I get started on a new book?  For me, the beginning of a new book always begins with reading.  Since my genre is historical fiction, my readers expect an accurate description of a time and place that no longer exists.  For example, this current series is set in Hollywood—not the Hollywood of today, but the Hollywood of the 1940s and 1950s.  I’ve done a lot of reading about the period, studying biographies of famous movie-makers like Louis B. Mayer and Cecil B. DeMille, and actors like Shirley Temple and John Wayne, just to name a few.  I’ve also taken advantage of streaming video to watch movies from the period to learn how filmmakers connected to their audience in the days of the self-imposed Motion Picture Production Code.

Because things change over time and because setting is so important, I’ve even studied maps of old Hollywood.  For example, where today there is a park, there once was a golf course.  Roads were different in those pre-interstate days as well, so my 1943 Rand McNally road atlas comes in handy too.

I enjoy the historical aspect and the research that comes with it, but to be worth reading, a novel has to have a great story.  When I write, I begin with the end in mind.  While I know generally how I expect the story to end, I have to confess that I don’t always finish where I expect to.  As I write and as I get to know my characters, they often carry me in unanticipated directions.  That’s part of the fun of writing.  Readers often tell me that they enjoy my characters and that they find them believable.  That’s important because my books aren’t action-packed thrillers—they are driven by character and plot.

While a lot of writers have the ability to outline their plots and then sit down and flesh out stories, I come at the process backwards.  I find outlining to be very difficult and can’t seem to get beyond three or four main points before I bog down.  Instead, I begin writing, trusting in my ability to construct the story around the barest outline.  Only when I’ve finished the first draft do I then go back and outline the finished work—much as you might have outlined a book report in school.  This “after” outline lets me identify places where the draft needs to be tightened or expanded.

Early readers of The Movie Star and Me suggested that the story would be better with additional conflict.  I pondered the comments (which came from more than one person) and used my outline to determine where to add a character—a very colorful character—who in turn added an extra layer of conflict.  That same character, by the way, is central to the plot of the second book in the series.

No doubt there are as many approaches to novel writing as there are novel writers.  While your approach might be different—a lot different—from mine, National Novel Writing Month is a great time to get started.  Keep writing!