The Hard Truths on Writing by SJ Garland


Welcome back to the second episode of Hard Truth’s on Writing with me, SJ Garland! Today I’m going to give you a few hard truths on getting that core, wonderful, change the entire course of the cosmos idea into a whole story.

Hard Truth #1 One idea, no matter how great it is, does not a full manuscript make.

Everything has become so condensed in recent years that it’s hard not to think of movies or books as their logline. It seems like everything has been boiled down to acronyms and no one bothers to unpack them. Unfortunately, your new job is to unpack, explore and derive an entire story from the one idea that has been bouncing around in your head. Today we’re going to talk about how we get from:

“Winning will make you famous. Losing means certain death.”


“A world at stake. The quest for the ultimate prize. Are you ready?”

(These are examples of the loglines for some of the biggest YA books selling right now)

You have the core concept or idea. How do you actually sit down and write your masterpiece?

I’ll give you a hint, you do not sit down in front of a blank page on your screen and contemplate how much laundry you have to fold.

There is no easy or hard way to get through the next step. You have to find the right system that works for you and I can tell you it’s going to be unique to you. I’ve taken advice and tips from loads of authors and experimented with finding what unlocks my creative voice. This can seem scary and unnerving, especially if you’re someone like me who just wants to know the answer so I can get on with writing. I can tell you it’s immensely satisfying when you’ve done it a few times and you know how you are going to get from point A all the way to Z, but no one can give you that journey, it’s something you need to figure out for yourself.

Some authors simply wake up in the morning and the whole book is in their head. Done and dusted except for the typing. Amazing. If you are one of these people then you are in the wrong place!

Hard Truth #2 Once we start unfurling that idea…we need to write down everything that comes to mind with it. Even if it doesn’t end up being the central theme, scene or character.

My story ideas always come from a character in a certain situation and I play out their reaction. Then I sit and write other one line scenes, ideas or dialogue out on a page or two in no particular order, just allowing the character to show me where they want to go. By the end of the process, I’ll normally have the bones of my book.

At this point, don’t worry about ideas or characters that don’t seem to fit. This is a raw process and the ideas that you write down may or may not end up in the final product of your story. I’ve had ideas that I thought were brilliant not make the end cut of a story and that’s ok. You might revisit them again in another manuscript or maybe you needed that core idea to get you to another place. The point is never waste an idea! You may need it again in the future. Unless it involves tequila, then I suggest you drop it immediately.

My latest work started off with a central idea: A young woman carries an ancient bloodline curse that will either save or destroy the world.

For the most part, The Rebirth of Bao is all about this logline. However, it’s also about friendship, loyalty, honouring the past, while remaining true to yourself. All of these are ideas that I explore, while keeping to the central theme. They give flesh to the bones of the story and keep us thinking about the story long after we have finished reading.

Hard Truth #3 You’ve got plenty of ideas now, all floating around… how are we going to organise them?

Again. Do not just gather up your precious ideas, sit them next to your keyboard and open up a blank page on your word processor of choice. This will lead to certain doom. At least it would for me.

I like to organise everything. Take the chance out of things and the reality is you’re only going to get better at doing all of these steps if you sit down and do them! I’ve used many different methods and recently I’ve just picked up a new one for organising my plot, keeping my characters organised and knowing how I’m going to get from the beginning of my story to the climax and finally to the resolution.

Don’t forget! Every good manuscript has these five plot elements:

  • The premise (that’s your handy logline!)
  • The ensuing action or events
  • How the sequence of events connect or don’t connect to build the story
  • The complication. Whatever happens to delay our hero/ heroines
  • And the point of no return. The main character is committed to their path.

 If we keep these elements in mind as we again take a piece paper or open a blank page, we can start to sequence them together to build a cohesive plot line for our story. By the end you should have all the elements you need to start making a more detailed plot outline.

I’m going to talk about how we take this high level plot and break it down even further next week so that you’ll have a chapter by chapter outline to work with. I can tell you from experience, when you have your book basically written beside you, it makes staring at that blank page far less scary!

Don’t miss my Instagram live on Monday evening around 8.30pm New York time to watch my discussion on these hard truths on writing and a few extra tips on pulling apart your main idea until it becomes a whole story.

Were you able to guess the books from the loglines above? The first is of course, from the Hunger Games and the second is from Ready Player One. Both great books that read exactly like what their core idea or logline says, but are so much more!

Join me next Monday and if you liked these hard truths share this post, tell me about your hard truths or just like the crap out of it.


SJ Garland