Every aspiring author has a unique story that they’re destined to tell. Think about it: nobody else in the world has your brain, your ideas, and your life experiences. When I began plotting The Helheim Princess, I knew right away that this was the story I was born to write. It combines everything I love—women warriors, sapphic romance, enemies-to-lovers, Norse mythology, and horses. The result is a story that I think will truly resonate with readers, because everything about it came from the heart.
What story is in your soul? Here are 5 brainstorming steps that will help you figure out what book you were born to write.
- What are your areas of expertise?
Do you know a lot about a sport, fandom, hobby, or job? Any of these can enrich a story. Something that stands out to me is the way Maggie Stiefvater writes about cars in The Raven Cycle. Her love of cars and her intimate knowledge of them bleeds through onto the page and enriches the story. For me, I was able to add rich details to the “horseback” part of “warrior women on horseback”.
- What are your passions and interests?
Readers, agents, and publishers can always tell if you’re passionate about what you’re writing. Incorporating your interests into a story will give it feeling, emotion, and your unique point of view, which will keep the reader turning pages.
What are your favorite things to do in your spare time? Is there a career that you think would be awesome? Say, a paleontologist, or a researcher at CERN? Are there any topics you’d like to learn more about?
Here’s the great thing: interests don’t need to equate to expertise. Yes, there’s that old advice to only “write what you know”, but I think that advice is dated. It’s pre-internet. If you don’t know about a topic but you want it in your story, that’s what research is for! You’ve got the entire internet, documentaries on Netflix, and the ability to connect with a stranger on social media who can tell you about subjects you’re unfamiliar with. Through extensive research, I ended up learning a ridiculous amount about Norse mythology, and now I’m pretty proud of the extent of my knowledge!
- What’s your background?
What’s your family history? Did they immigrate from another country or go through struggles in a war? What about you? Do you have unique life experiences? Do you identify with any marginalized groups?
Writing a story based on who you are and where you’ve come from is a great way to make it real and captivating. Publishers want authors who have written about a character who shares part of their identity – that’s what #ownvoices is all about.
Diversity is obviously important in stories, so think about the people in your life and how you can represent different ethnicities, sexualities, cognitive and physical abilities, political leanings, and other cultural and social diversities.
For me, I share a lot of my identity with Sigrid, a queer girl of Icelandic/Germanic descent, so I was able to write about her experiences in an authentic way.
- What story do you want to read?
What are your favourite genres to read/watch? Fantasy, sci-fi, rom-coms? What kind of stories would you like to see more of? As author Toni Morrison said, “If there’s a book that you want to read, but it hasn’t been written yet, then you must write it.” Think about what kind of stories and themes you want to put out there in the world.
- Channel your strongest emotions.
Think of everything that gives you strong emotions, like anger, fear, or joy. As Robert Frost said, “No tears in the writer, no tears in the reader. No surprise in the writer, no surprise in the reader.” In other words, strong emotions in you will equate to strong emotions in the reader.
Maybe the location of your first date with your partner triggers feelings of love, or maybe you have a family member you have a special relationship with. Also think about what terrifies you, what makes you burn with anger, and what makes you jealous.
Let your book be inspired by who you are and what you care about. Your life experience, background, and feelings combine into something pure and unique – and that is the story you were meant to tell.