First Things First by Pepper Phillips

Posted on Aug 4, 2014 by   15 Comments | Posted in Blog · Uncategorized

First things first when developing your novel.

You have the idea. But is it a big enough idea for writing a novel, a novella, a short story?

Let me take you through the steps to determine if you have a viable project.

I have a spreadsheet, those that know me know I LOVE spreadsheets. I have one for each manuscript and this is what is under the first tab. I’ve gained the questions over many years and have updated them whenever I feel I’m missing something or that the information will help me.

If you don’t know the answer to the question, you can come back to it when you have the answer.

Title of book.  (Dirty Dancing was the title of the movie, it’s all they had. They developed the story to fit the title.)

What is the initial idea?

What story character would most be effected by this?

What about the character or idea do you like?

Premise. (According to James Frey, in How to Write Damn Good Novel, a premise is “a statement of what happens to the characters as a result of the core conflict in the story.”)

Pepper PhillipsWhat’s the one/or more word that expresses this story? (Theme-“ Common themes, particularly in romance novels, are trust, self-acceptance, faith, and forgiveness. The easiest way to figure out your theme is to go back to your premise. Premise and theme are usually closely related.” ~ Emily McKay) 

Possible “hooks” to sell the story. (Long lost love, unknown baby, amnesia, use these when you send information to an editor/agent.) 

One sentence summary. (15 words or less. What does the character want?)

Which character has the most to win?

Which character has the most to lose?

Real conflict involves important issues. What’s at stake? What do both hero and heroine want, but only one can have? What do they both want so badly they have to work together to get it? (If you can’t state in one sentence why your hero and heroine need each other, perhaps that force needs redefining.)

One line blurb. (Use one line blurb in your signature line when the book comes out.)

Write one sentence with story set-up.

Write one sentence of end of Act One – First Disaster (should be at 1/4 of book).

Write one sentence of end of Act Two – Second Disaster (at 3/4 of book).

Write one sentence of end of Act Three – Third Disaster (Dark Moment – last 5-10% of book.

Write one sentence on the ending.

Write one paragraph on each of the above. Now you have a short and long version. The long version can be used to send out query/proposal letters. If you put the ‘hooks’ – as many as three, at the bottom it will let the editor/agent know where to market the story.  A well-published author does this before she writes the story, her editor/agent tells her which story (or stories) that she’s interested in, and the author gets to work writing the book. She generally sends in three queries/proposals at a time.

The rest of the spreadsheet.

The spreadsheet goes on to different tabs to do complete character descriptions on both the heroine and the hero, and the villain if they have a big part in the story.

There are tabs to outline the story in scene and sequel, which I find eliminated writer’s block.

There’s a character tab, where all the characters are listed.  On another spreadsheet for a series, I have those characters listed, with descriptions and what book they are in, it really makes life easier for the writer.

There is a Archetype tab, where I can refresh my memory and choose if my heroine is a seductress or librarian, I have both the heroine, hero and villain archetypes to select from.

A timeline tab is essential. Nothing makes a reader want to throw a book against the wall (or delete it from their ereader) when the author mixes up the years when certain things happen. Avoid it by using a timeline.

Research is essential, even in contemporaries. I’d read where one editor contacted the author and didn’t believe her research was correct. The author knew it was, but couldn’t find the location where she obtained the information. Don’t stall your book. Keep those references in one location, and the spreadsheet is the way to go.

There is a writing progress tab, where daily progress is kept until the book is done.

The Editing Process had 335 different lines. Daunting, but really helps when editing. Overused or uncessarary words are listed there. (Such as ‘just’…eliminate all except if in dialogue.)

At the end is information on where the manuscript is sent, either to contests, editor or agents, the date, when received/answered and the results.

As I stated before, I love spreadsheets. They keep me on track. If you haven’t tried one, try one to see if you have a story or an idea.

More About the Author

Pepper Phillips is a retired Nursing Home Administrator. Married to her high school sweetheart, they raised six kids in two batches. Five in the first batch, and a late baby born seventeen years after his brother. A transported Northwestern girl, she’s found Louisiana an amusing place to live and sets all her stories there.

Pepper’s first book: The Devil Has Dimples, is available in print and ebook.


In the Deep South, one of the first questions asked when meeting someone new in a small town is, “Who’s your daddy?” The answer defines you as a person. Not knowing is disheartening. 

Sara McLaughlin never knew she was adopted and is stunned to realize that if she wants to find out the questions burning in her brain as to the ‘why’ she was given up at birth, and who her father might be, she has to live in her birth mother’s apartment for the next six weeks. 

Grant St. Romain, attorney, is supposed to be helping, but the hunky dimpled devil is making her mind think of other things. 

Can she find the truth? Or will she break her heart trying to find out the answers in Boggy Bayou, where many secrets are hidden? 














15 Responses to "First Things First by Pepper Phillips"

  1. Comment by Anna Durand
    August 4, 2014 8:38 am

    Some excellent tips! I’m a definite pantser, but I still like to have the story’s skeleton assembled before I start writing. I’ll be trying out your spreadsheet method on several ideas I’ve been bouncing around in my head.

  2. Comment by Susan R. Hughes
    August 4, 2014 10:51 am

    Great tips! Thanks.

  3. Comment by Kelly Rae
    August 4, 2014 11:44 am

    Love these tips . I have a new idea I’m fuzzy about and I think I am going to try your questions and see if I can find a whole story in said idea. Thanks for sharing!

  4. Comment by Teresa Blue
    August 4, 2014 3:05 pm

    I’m a panster too but am definitely copying down these tips for when I get stuck or need a push.
    Thanks Pepper!

  5. Comment by E. Ayers
    August 5, 2014 12:13 am

    Yes, you love spreadsheets! Would you like to do one for each of my books? I really could use them. 🙂
    I’m such a pantser. I guess I do a lot in my head before I start the story. I sorta…kinda know where it’s going before I start writing. Otherwise I only have a story start that just doesn’t have enough meat to it to make it an interesting tale.

  6. Comment by marymarvella
    August 5, 2014 7:23 pm

    I’m allergic to spreadsheets and am recovering from the last one I used. (grin) This story rocks! I should know. I can use some of these points, though. Good job!

  7. Comment by Leigh Morgan
    August 6, 2014 12:39 pm

    Wonderful tips, Pepper! You really capsulized what makes a novel work. Brilliant!

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: