How to Figure Out What Your Book Will Be About

You show up and write crap until you stumble upon something.

If you read my last Book Bound piece, then you know I was writing a book until I realized I didn’t actually want to write that story. Considering I read lots of horror books, I thought that was the genre I was supposed to write in.

I was — and this is rarely so — wrong. (Okay, fine, its not rare.) While I’d love to write a scary story someday, this isn’t the time. I thought about some of my favorite books, themes, and characters, and eventually, I came to the conclusion that I wanted to write a YA novel.

You can’t plot if you don’t have an idea

If I’m honest, a part of me always knew my first novel would be YA, but I was resisting it. I thought writing YA wasn’t legit, but once again, I was wrong. YA books are fucking brilliant, but that’s a whole other topic.

However, I still didn’t know what genre to write. I wrote a lot of fanfics when I started writing, and they revolved around two things: crime and romance. So, I tried my hand in both of those genres. Over and over again.

Nothing was working out. I tried taking plotting courses, but nothing helps because I still had no fucking clue what I was going to write about in the first place.

You have to show up every day

Despite my struggles, I still sat down every day and tried to put words onto the page, hoping a story would come out of it.

At the end of the day, that’s how it works. You show up, write a bunch of crap that not even future-you will read until you stumble upon something good — an idea you can run with.

That’s what happened to me on December twenty-sixth.

Finding your “What if?”

I don’t remember where I read this, but I once learned that you can break down any book you’ve read into one big “What if?” question.

For example, Beartown by Fredrik Backman could be broken down to: What if the star hockey player of a small town raped his coach’s daughter?

Or you could break down It by Stephen King to: What if a small town was haunted by a killer clown and a group of friends managed to escape it every time?

There’s a big idea, a premise, to every book you read. That’s what every “idea” of mine was lacking. They were enough to take me to a couple of pages or random scenes, but there was never something that connected everything I wrote.

I could never come up with the big “What if?”.

Eventually, your efforts pay off

The day after Christmas, I sat down in front of my Freewrite, wanting only to write whatever the hell came to mind, as usual, but this time, that writing session ended differently than the rest.

Rather than turning off my Freewrite in frustration, I continued writing, and I thought, “Wait, this could actually turn into something.”

The next day, I wrote again. I talked about the characters, some backstory, and the more I wrote, the clearer I got on what could happen.

For once there was more that could occur — story to unfold. By the end, I’d had my big “What if?”

I had an actual fucking story to write.

Don’t force what doesn’t want to be written

The genre I’m writing is what surprised me the most. I’m writing a YA dystopian novel. Never in a million years would I have thought I would write that.

There’s a lesbian love story between two teenagers and all of my characters are Latinx because they live on some island. (I don’t have all the details.)

I’m not going to tell you what the story is about or what my “What if?” question is, not because I’m afraid someone will steal it or some other crap like that — I just don’t want to. Not yet.

I’m holding it near and dear, especially because if I change my mind about something I won’t be pressured to stick to what I told you I’d write.

So far, it’s the story I’ve been wanting to write. LGBTQIA+. Diverse. Badass female characters. An uprising. Needless to say, I’m excited as fuck about it.

How to figure out what you want to write about

There are two things I did that stand out. One, I found relating characters, themes, and storylines.

I loved We Set the Dark on Fire, The Miseducation of Cameron Post, and Wilder Girls for different reasons, but even they are similar in some ways. Knowing the books I love, the ones I consumed in a few days, helped as a guide to figure out what I wanted to write.

The second, most important thing you have to do to figure out what your story is about is to write. Every day, you have to sit down and put some words on the page.

Write crap until you get to the good

No matter how shitty your ideas seem, you have to turn them into stories you’ll probably never look at again or find so embarrassing you lock them away in folders you hope you forget the password to.

You have to write out the bad before you can get to something good. You might get your big idea while driving to work or in the middle of a dentist’s appointment. You might get it while writing crappy stories.

But you can’t wait. You can’t wait until the idea comes; you have to write because that might just be the way you stumble upon it.

The process will suck sometimes, and you’ll feel a lot of doubt, but keep going anyway. If you want to write a book as badly as you say you do, you don’t have a choice.

A self-help writer trying to be as honest as possible and hoping to make people feel less alone along the way.

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