“How To Write A Book Now” Website Review

The How To Write A Book Now (HTWABN) website was really just thrown into my lap. It was April; I was getting nervous, sick of writer’s block but not sure if the Lord wanted me to take another writing course. My mom suggested that I start researching some writing courses, perhaps one in novel writing. As I was researching, I came across this website–and after several hours of reading through it, the wheels of my mind finally started turning!

We understand that a great book must be original – both in content and voice, and that you must let your passionate muse take you on a journey towards a book that is truly unique. At the same time, writing a book does not have to be like an off-road journey, with no map or signposts to help you reach your destination in a timely manner. You can benefit greatly from the wisdom of other writers, as well as writing tools and techniques that help you write a book more quickly, and improve your writing style. The trick is to know when to apply this knowledge, and when not to let “rules,” “theory,” or the fear of not being good enough drive you into that paralysis we call writer’s block.

The website’s section “How To Write A Novel” contains 10 articles, each with a balance between the “theory” of writing a novel and the freedom that I, as the authoress, have over my project.

HTWABN also taught me how to create a detailed plot outline and compelling characters. I need to know where the story is going, step by step; I need to know who my characters are, what they look like, what their goals are, and what makes them tick.

When I first started reading through the site I had only a rough idea for a potential story, but not a concrete plan. As I was reading through one of the first articles, I came upon this suggestion:

Here is one of the simplest ways to come up with writing ideas you can turn into novels.

Step #1. Get a bunch of plot summaries for existing stories.

You can find these on book jackets, TV listings, or movie guides. For example, the Internet Movie Database (www.imdb.com) can be a great resource for generating writing ideas. It provides a brief plot summary for almost every movie ever made…Choose summaries that are brief, perhaps one or two sentences at most.

Step #2: Create original writing ideas by changing one thing at a time…

Step #3: Rewrite the plot summary, incorporating your change….

Step #4: Make the writing ideas fit your passion….

Well, as you might imagine, my first thought was, “HUH?! It won’t be original! Taking ideas from IMDB?! Nonsensical!” And then I came upon this, and (at the risk of sounding completely off my rocker and melodramatic) my entire writing philosophy changed forever. Forever, folks–I kid you not.

In case you think this method is cheating and that you should be coming up with writing ideas totally from scratch, let me remind you that some story ideas have been used many times by different writers.

Take this one, for example …

“An orphaned boy is raised in the care of a powerless uncle, but watched over by an old wizard. When the boy reaches a certain age, the old wizard tells the boy about his true heritage and helps him develop his powers until he is able to avenge his father’s death.”

That is the basic writing idea behind the stories of King Arthur, Harry Potter, Star Wars, Eragon, and many other novels and films. For example, change the word “powers” to “ballroom dancing skills” and you have the premise for the Australian film, Strictly Ballroom. Change it to “soup making talents” and you have the premise for the Japanese film, Tampopo.

Similarly, Helen Fielding took this writing idea from Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice

“A young woman wants to marry for love rather than money. But she discovers that, of her two suitors, the poor man she initially likes is a villain, while the rich man she initially hates is most worthy of her love.”

… and reworked it into her original novel, Bridget Jones’ Diary.

Do we call this plagiarism? No, because the writers took only the basic writing ideas from earlier works. They made major changes to the setting, plot, and characters in order to create a new and original piece of fiction. That is perfectly legitimate.

MIND. BLOWN. All of a sudden I started seeing the common details in every story I love:

1) A Protagonist who, while imperfect, is courageous and lovable. You want to see him/her succeed in his/her goal.

2) Both a Guardian and a Contagonist. The Guardian figure is the teacher, mentor, parent. The Contagonist is the one who may or may not be the supreme villain, yet still hinders the Protagonist from achieving the goal.

3) A character who provides Reason and another who provides Emotion. (You see this especially in Sense and Sensibility, with the polar-opposite sisters Elinor and Marianne Dashwood.) This creates conflict in how the characters are going to approach their goal.

4) Sidekicks and Skeptics. Someone who supports the Protagonist wholeheartedly, and someone who ridicules the Protagonist’s hopes and dreams.

Then there’s the Consequences that’ll happen if the Protagonist doesn’t reach the Goal–the Requirements for reaching the Goal–the Forewarnings, events that make you scared out of your wits that the Consequences are about to hit the Protagonist–the Costs the Protagonist will have to take on the long road towards the Goal–Dividends, rewards the Protagonist will receive for perseverance–Prerequisites, the requirements for the Requirements–and the Preconditions, forewarnings to the Forewarnings.

All these make for the complex, compelling story plots for every film or book worth anything to anyone.

So imagine me mulling over these things for several weeks, taking these tips and applying them to my own vague ideas. Then, imagine me sitting at my computer one afternoon looking at Pinterest. One of my Pin-friends (can’t remember which one) had pinned this image . . .

And before you look at it, be aware that I haven’t seen Harry Potter NOR DO I WISH TO–BUT the image works for MY purposes in this article. Thanks for allowing me the disclaimer 😉

I take issue only with the description of the Ring and the lightsaber as “supernatural help” because they’re not really; better to describe the Ring as “more harm than good” and the lightsaber as…well, a super-duper sword. But I digress.

My mouth fell open and ran downstairs with my laptop squealing, “EEEEEEP! Mom, Mom, MOM!!! Look what I found!”

HTWABN told me, “…some story ideas have been used many times by different writers.” This image confirmed it for me with astonishing clarity, following the first plot HTWABN had mentioned (“Orphaned boy discovers he has a great destiny”).

Frodo, orphaned boy raised by his uncle, has to bring the evil Ring to Mordor in order to destroy it; Luke Skywalker, orphaned boy raised by his uncle, is to become a Jedi Knight and confront an evil Empire. Frodo has a “Guardian figure” in Gandalf; Luke has a “Guardian figure” in Obi-Wan Kenobi.

The super-evil villain Frodo confronts is Sauron, the Dark Lord; the super-evil villain Luke confronts is Emperor Palpatine. And last but not least, you have the characters in need of redemption, who also happen to be the Contagonists (people who hinder the Protagonist) in Gollum and Darth Vader.

I won’t even go into all the similar story themes and details. (Well, I’ll mention one just for the laughs: both Frodo and Luke violently lose important features of the human arm.) Yes, there are very real differences. But the most basic, rudimentary plot is the same.

I realize some people cringe at the idea of an archetypal plot. “Archetypal” meaning “recurrent as a symbol or motif in literature, art, or mythology.” They scream “Cliche!” and “Unoriginal!” and a year ago I might have screamed it, too.

Now, however, I glance up at that image, consider the historical timeline (Lord of the Rings in the 50’s, Star Wars in the 70’s) and I say, “Hmm. ‘Unoriginal?’ I don’t think so, haha!”

Moral of my story? It’s okay to use an archetypal plot, whether it’s about an unlikely hero rising to his destiny and responsibility, or a young woman marrying for love, or even a superhero with an alter ego (Batman, Superman, etc. are inspired by The Scarlet Pimpernel, believe it or don’t). As long as you change enough of it–creating completely original and believable characters, a compelling Story Goal and horrific Consequences, with all the fantastically difficult Forewarnings and Prerequisites and Dividends thrown in–nobody will know.

That is, until LouisianaPatriette puts it under the microscope and asks with glee, “So who was your inspiration–Austen, Tolkien, Tolstoy, Orczy? Come on, out with it–I’ll never tell a soul!”

Second moral of my story? If you’re an aspiring writer, check out How To Write A Book Now. It’s the most encouraging, helpful website I’ve ever visited. Praise the Lord for good Internet resources–and Mommies who tell you to go on a researching spree 😉

5 thoughts on ““How To Write A Book Now” Website Review

  1. Maribeth,
    Can’t wait for you to apply these ideas in your writing and give me something wonderful to read. Keep up your good work.
    Mimi Poche

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  2. I AM SO GOING TO CHECK OUT THAT WEBSITE!!!!!!! THANKEE FOR THE LINKY!

    Wow, I hope all that caps lock doesn’t make me look like I’m screaming in your face, lol. I’m just excited. 😀

    ~Jamie

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  3. Yes, yes, YES!! I have been thinking about this lately and I am so glad I came across this post. I hear ALL THE TIME about avoiding the horrible thing known as ‘cliché writing’. But if we take elements that have been used before (there’s nothing new under the sun) and add our own originality to it, we can make a new masterpiece that may one day be ranked with LotR, Star Wars, etc. 🙂 Isn’t that a great thought!

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    1. It IS a great thought! I love utilizing all the inspiration I get from other stories, and yet my stories stay fresh and original (I hope anyway, haha). Thanks for commenting!

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