Building a Book: Constructing a Novel in Five Steps By Barbara Oliverio

Passports-and-Plum-Blossoms200This is a guest post by Barbara Oliverio, author of “Passports and Plum Blossoms“.

Barbara Oliverio is an award-winning author of romantic comedy featuring sparkling dialog in an engaging plot to make a joyous read. Her characters live authentic lives while being true to their faith and family.

Oliverio’s novels include Love on the Back Burner, Love on the Lido Deck, Passports and Plum Blossoms and the upcoming Game On. When not writing, reading, or cooking, Oliverio efficiently packs and unpacks suitcases for worldwide travels with her husband.

Barbara Oliverio


Every budding novelist seeks the magic formula for producing a book. The bad news is that there is no magic formula. The good news is that some formulas work better than others. Following is a five-step plan that works for me:

Research your genre.

Whether you are going to write mystery, paranormal, young adult or any other genre, you need to know what the genre looks and feels like so that you can know how to reach your target audience. I chose to write romantic comedy for my novels, not because it is the only genre I read, but because it fit well with the stories I wanted to tell.

While preparing to write my books, I must have read thousands of romances to understand the ebb and flow. I knew that I was going to concentrate on comedy and dialog, so I also watched rom-com movies to study that dialog. Eventually, I could map out the rise and fall of a plot and it was ingrained in my head.

Interview your characters.

I create a “persona” sheet for each of my characters. On it I give a physical description and list everything I know about them. I list their favorite colors, movies, and books, and tell what their hobbies and interests are. I write down where they went to school and have them tell me about their favorite memory. Usually, I also find a photo who the character would resemble. For example, in my second novel, I reviewed the web for photos of blonde actresses with extraordinary green eyes to base the main character.

Does all the information make it into the book? Probably not, but if I have a solid background on each character, I am better able to have them move through the story organically and stay in character.

Know how characters are related.

I take a big sheet of paper and draw a circle with the name of my main character smack dab in the middle of it. Then I draw circles near her depicting the people that she is directly connected or related to. At that point, I draw straight lines from people who know each other directly, and dotted lines from people who only know “of” one another.

What I end up with is a map that assures that one character can’t comment about someone they don’t know and upset the continuity of the story. You can do the same with index cards on a corkboard and different colors of yarn connecting them.

Outline – but don’t get stuck on it.

I know. That sounds contradictory, but it works for me. I make a broad sweeping outline of the plot of the story because, after all, if you don’t know where you are going, you’ll never get there.

I’m never afraid to let my characters lead me down a different path occasionally. They sometimes have better ideas than I do! I do reserve the right to reel them back and get them on my path if where they go doesn’t work. (Note: I do have some author friends who outline meticulously and others who don’t outline at all – I’m just telling you what works for me.)

Set a schedule.

We’ve all seen the movies and seen the writers stricken by the muse. That’s the movies. In real life, writing is a task that needs to be scheduled. I give myself a number of words per day. (Usually, I go over that number). Even if you think you are blocked, and the words that you write look awful at the moment, you will have written SOMETHING. You can always delete and start again the next day, or edit, or save the bit for somewhere else.

I do all of this researching, etc., before I even write the first word in the first paragraph in Chapter One. Folks are surprised when I tell them how quickly my writing flows, but I attribute it to all of the planning and research I do. I guess it’s a version of the carpenter’s mantra of “measure twice, cut once”. Who knew that building a bookcase and building a book had so much in common.

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