JJ Barnes – Writing Advice

Free writing advice – writers supporting writers

By - JJBarnes

The First Piece Of Advice That I Give To Anyone Who Wants To Write A Book

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I’ll be writing about the video “The First Piece Of Advice We Would Give To Someone Who Wants To Write A Book” from the Writing, Talking, And Dog Walking series I’m doing on YouTube with Jonathan McKinney.

When you’re a writer, people will often tell you that they too want to write a book. They have ideas, maybe a character or a concept, but they’re just not sure how to start it. And I always give them the same piece of advice.

  1. Work out who your main character is
  2. Work out what they want
  3. Work out what’s stopping them have it

Your story is your character in pursuit of something. So you start with your character realising they want something, then through the story you send them after it, throwing challenges in their way, and you end you story when they either get the thing they want, or realise they can’t have it for some reason.

Sometimes through the story they will realise through the story that the thing they’re in pursuit of isn’t what they wanted after all, and their story is taking them back to realising that what they wanted was there all along, because they wanted satisfaction in life not the thing they were in pursuit of.

The best example of this piece of advice put into action can be seen in any Disney movie.

Disney movies will start with an “I Want Song”. Simba sings that he can’t wait to be king, his story follows him on his path to becoming King of the Pride Lands. Ariel sings about wanting to be part of the human world, and her story follows her on her path to becoming a human. Moana sings about her desire to go out onto the ocean, and her story follows her on her path to leading her people off on boats to explore the world.

Jack Skellington in The Nightmare Before Christmas is a good example of a story following a character in pursuit of what they think they want, only to realise they were wrong. Jack feels dissatisfied with his life in Halloween Town and pursues the dream of being the Santa Claus, but comes to realise his satisfaction can be found at home, but with Sally not alone.

Sometimes your character will get what they want, sometimes they won’t, but your story follows them in pursuit of it.

Books and films aimed at children will often tell the audience what it is the story about in a simple way, such as the I Want Song. In Nature-Girl Vs Worst Nightmare, the book I wrote with my daughter, sees Nature-Girl in the first few pages expressing the desire to be a super hero without any of the adults in her life getting in the way or holding her back.

Adult books will often convey this message about what the character wants but in a more simple way, but it’ll still be the point of the story.

When you’re telling your story, keep the character’s motivation and what they’re in pursuit of in mind the whole way through. If you let yourself get distracted your story will start to wander and you can get lost which makes the story feel aimless and can be quite boring for the reader. Even if there is competing goals for your character, sub plots, and other events going on around them, your main character should always be actively working to achieve their goals.

You can find more writing advice on our YouTube channel where we’ll be releasing a piece of writing advice every day to help you become a better and more confident writer. If you have any writing questions, comment below and we will try to do a video for every question we get!

Click the picture to find details about all the books written by JJ Barnes and where to buy them.

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