1. Begin with the premise
I like to begin my writing process by nailing down a premise. I want to identify — the central character, the struggle, the stakes. Here’s an example of a premise:
When she is drafted into The Hunger Games, a gruff loner must learn to trust another competitor while they fight others and the game itself, or else lose her humanity and her life.
See how much there is in there? We really get a sense of the whole story — the protagonist, her central characteristics, the antagonist, the struggle she faces and the stakes. It’s all in there. Do I use these for my own work? Why yes, I do. I work on the premise before I do anything else.
Here’s one I wrote for my first book, Monument 14:
When a series of escalating environmental catastrophes strands a group of fourteen kids in a superstore, they fight to protect themselves from chemical warfare compounds in the air and to establish a new way of living. But when two desperate outsiders threaten to take over, the kids must fight back or lose everything.
2. Bust out the magic markers
After you have the premise, create a movie-style poster for your book. This is incredibly fun. Draw ten versions. What you’re doing here is pin-pointing the tone and also what’s special about this book.
Think of the poster for ET, or Jaws, or Little Miss Sunshine, or La La Land. How about the one for The Fault In Our Stars, with the two kids laying face to face, and the air tube twisting across the Shalene Woodley’s face. It tells you so much about the movie — it’s a love story. It’s intimate. It’s clever. It’s gonna be sad and tender.