There is one thing you can do that will give you help in the process of writing your novel, helping you keep on track and not meander off into tangents. This same thing will also provide you with the best book marketing tool you could hope for— one that will help you and your readers get others interested in your book. And it will take you about an hour of your time.
This magic writer’s tool is a simple thing called a storyline— a one-sentence summary of your novel. Like this one: “A girl telepath in 1869 Texas must fight like a man to protect the survivors of a crashed alien spaceship.” This is the storyline of my current WIP, Sky Machine over Texas. (Yes, it’s a Western with aliens and a spaceship in it.)
This storyline is meant to arouse the curiosity of potential readers, and warn people that hate Westerns and science fiction and girl heroes and telepaths that this is not for them.
Here’s another storyline. “A rogue physicist travels back in time to kill the Apostle Paul.” This storyline is from the novel Transgression, written by Randy Ingermanson, who also wrote the storyline.
Writing a storyline is step one in the Snowflake method of novel writing. You can read about the Snowflake method here: http://www.advancedfictionwriting.com/articles/snowflake-method/ or you can buy the book above, Writing Fiction for Dummies, which provides information on the method.
How does a storyline help you? As you write, the storyline will help you decide which potential scenes are a part of the story, and which are not. (The second Snowflake step, the 3-Act Structure of your novel, also can keep you from wandering off and writing scenes that don’t help your story and will have to be removed in revision.) Having a storyline helps, because writing it will help you understand what the story is about.
The storyline is also your most essential marketing tool. You have to learn to rattle it off along with your book title. (“Sky Machine over Texas? It’s about a girl telepath in 1869 Texas who has to fight like a man to protect the survivors of a crashed alien spaceship.”) It’s the answer to the question “What is your book about?” Don’t mention your book without it.
Most authors don’t write storylines. If they are traditionally published authors, maybe someone from the publisher will write a good storyline for them. Most likely, they will write a bad or misleading storyline, or each person working for the publisher will make up a bad storyline of their own. If the author provides his own good storyline, all of these people will use that, instead.
Indie and small press authors have even more reason to write their own storyline. It’s great to use it in your back cover blurb, because then your most enthusiastic fans will use your storyline when they tell all their friends what a great book it is and why they must buy it and read it at once.
Some of the rules of the storyline— it’s best to be shorter and simpler. You usually only need mention one or two characters. The part of the plot that you reveal should be an important or central one. Don’t mention characters by name (unless they are the Apostle Paul, who’s kind of famous), use a description— ‘a rogue physicist’, ‘a girl telepath.’
If you are a writer, have you written a storyline for any of your books? Please share it in a comment, and include a link to where one can buy the book in question. (No more than one link per comment, besides the link-back to your blog, but include all the storylines you want, it will help other blog readers learn how to write storylines.)