aprilhenry (aprilhenry) wrote,

How I start a book

First, I start with a basic idea. Like one I’ve been playing around with is based on a true story. A man was recently sentenced for the death of a young woman whose body has never been found. He and another man called the pizza place where she worked and asked if the “girl in the orange Volkswagen” could deliver their pizza. That woman was off, but the person taking the order told them another young woman was working that night. They gave a fake address on a real, fairly unpopulated road. Her car was discovered with the keys still in it. He plead guilty to raping and killing her, then throwing her body in the river.

So my idea was: what if you were the girl in the orange Volkswagen? How would you feel knowing that the murderers had wanted to kill you but taken your co-worker (and perhaps friend) instead?

All of my stories start with what ifs. What if you inherited a painting that might be a long-lost Vermeer (Circles of Confusion). What if you got sent to a teen boot camp when you weren't a bad kid (Shock Point).

Next, I would start to brainstorm about it. It would be a story about what it’s like to be a survivor, about survivor guilt, but since I write mysteries and thrillers, it would be more than that. It would be about her figuring out what happened and who did it, or trying to. The answer would probably not be the answer in real life.

The next thing I would do would be to go through all my hundreds of magazine articles and newspaper clippings to see if they give me ideas for additional characters and situations. Like I might use the article about a family who lives in their car and takes pains to make sure no one knows it. Maybe they were parked on that deserted road that night. Or a story I’ve kept for a long time about a stripper who is thinking of getting out of the business. In her head, being a stripper is just playing a part – it’s nothing to do with who she really is. Maybe that stripper knew one of the guys.

I also have some print outs Robert Sheckley, the sci-fi author, gave me a few years back from a program called Idea Fisher. They’re prompts to use when you are brainstorming a book. For example, one of them is “the bridge is up.” Portland does have bridges that go up, leaving long lines of traffic. Maybe that could happen at a crucial time for my girl.

If it’s a book I’m trying to sell on an outline and sample chapters, I’d focus on producing them. If it’s a book I’ll try to sell only when I’m done, I might just write it as it comes, not necessarily knowing where it’s going. And of course, I’ll do research, which would mean at a minimum riding along with a person doing pizza deliveries and talking to them about their jobs.

And that’s how I would start.

If you write, how do you start a book?

PS Thank you Comcast for brining my Internet back!

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