Starting out on the right foot

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Oh, the thrill of jumping into a new book! All those characters to meet, all those fun stories to tell. As writers we often want to jump right in and start writing that story.

But sometimes you can jump right in and find yourself up to your eyebrows in a mess, which is why I’m a big believer in pre-planning. This is not to say you need to map out your entire book before you can start on Chapter One, but it is a caution that a little bit of preparation ahead of time can leave you with a stronger story and character arc.

Here’s how I pre-plan a book.

First, I begin with my basic idea. What, in a sentence or two, is this book going to be about? Sometimes I’ll have a simple tag line. When I wrote my novel “On Strike for Christmas” it was “What happens when the women go on strike for the holidays and leave the men in charge?” That gave me my jumping off point. For my current novel, I knew that I wanted the theme to revolve around simplifying one’s life. One that basic idea is in place, I can then go in search of characters to support it.

Which brings me to Step Two: creating characters. Plot grows out of character. As happens to us in real life, the decisions your characters make will affect how their stories play out. (A great example of this in literature is Scarlett O’Hara in “Gone with the Wind” – if you haven’t read that novel in a while I strongly encourage you to.) To know what kind of decisions your characters are going to make you’ll have to know what kind of people they are. What motivates your hero or heroine? What does he or she want more than anything? What is blocking him/her from achieving those goals? How is he/she wired? Stubborn? Good at coming up with creative solutions to the problem at hand? What kind of character growth does this character need? Don’t be afraid to interview your characters. Find out their hobbies, favorite foods, what they’re most afraid of. Then you can start building their stories by tailoring challenges specific to them.

And that brings us to the story itself. I always work off a synopsis. It may not be my final synopsis. In fact, chances are the story will take some unexpected turns as I play with it. But I will know where I’m beginning and where I’m headed and I will have down my important plot turning points. What’s the advantage to pre-planning my plot like this? I can look at it and see ahead of times any plot holes or inconsistencies. I can make changes without loses pages and hours of work. Pre-planning is working smarter.

I would encourage you to take some time up front with your magnum opus. Getting to know your characters before you begin their story, figuring out their challenges, seeing how their lives will unfold, will make your writing experience much more satisfying.

Sheila Roberts
Sheila Roberts is married and has three children. She lives on a lake in the Pacific Northwest. Her novels have appeared in Readers Digest Condensed books and have been published in several languages. Her holiday perennial, On Strike for Christmas, was made into a movie for the Lifetime Movie Network and her her novel The Nine Lives of Christmas has been optioned for film. When she’s not writing songs, hanging out with her girlfriends or trying to beat her husband at tennis, she can be found writing about those things dear to women’s hearts: family, friends, and chocolate.

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Sheila will be awarding a $25 B & N gift card and an eCopy of The Cottage on Juniper Ridge to a randomly drawn commenter during the tour, so I encourage you to follow the tour and comment; the more you comment, the better your chances of winning. The tour dates can be found here: 


  1. Very interesting post, thank you.

  2. Thanks so much for having me today!

  3. Thanks for the giveaway! Added to my wish list!!

  4. Interesting post! Thanks for sharing it and the giveaway. Sounds like a really good book. evamillien at gmail dot com

  5. Thanks for sharing! I can't wait to see more along the way on the tour!

    andralynn7 AT gmail DOT com

  6. Interesting info

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  7. Thanks for this great giveaway!!!


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