I’m going to say this straight out because I don’t want to give you the wrong impression – I have finished exactly one book. It is 469 pages and it took me a year to write it. So maybe I’m not the best person to give advice on finishing books, but I do feel like I have to share how I start books. (Also I feel I have to add that I have several other books nearly at 300 pages that I have endings planned, I just haven’t actually finished.) I’ve asked a lot of people how they write books, and half the time I get an answer I’ve never heard before. I also get a lot of people who tell me a certain way I absolutely must do it (I hate it when people try and tell me I absolutely must do it one way) and I’ve tried that and it doesn’t work, so I’ve decided it works differently for everyone. But I think I can safely say a few things that are true for everyone.
You have to have an idea for your story. This sounds really simple, but a lot of my failed stories are only a few pages or chapters long because I got the idea for exactly one scene, or one character, and then hit a road block very early on as I realized I had no idea where the story was actually going. You need to know who your protagonist is, and what the general conflict is going to be, or it’s just not going to work.
You need to be prepared for things to change. This is where I’ve run into problems with a lot of people. Some people get an idea, and they go with it, figuring out the plot as they go along. This, of course, happens in degrees. Then there are people who I call hardcore plotters, who plan every chapter out and flush out their characters so that the book is practically written before they begin.
I’m in between these categories. I’ve tried planning my book out carefully, but for me that takes the fun out of writing the book. I get bored and move to a new idea. I love when I’m working on a story and all of a sudden a question I’ve had about the plot just answers itself and it’s this very beautiful ah-ha! moment. I create plot twists as I’m writing that never would have occurred to me if I tried to plan the whole thing out before I started.
So whether you go with the flow of your story, or you’re a plotter, be prepared for a new idea to come up, and be ready to try it. Even if you go back to a different plan, see how it works out. After all, many books are started with the two words what if. Why can’t you ask what if halfway through your book? Also, if you aren’t expecting a plot twist, you can be sure your readers aren’t going to be expecting it either.
Know your audience. You can pick an actual person – this can be an imaginary person – or a type of person. For example, I target my books to teens, because I think that who knows what teens want to read better than a teenager? This also means knowing your genre. A lot of books are mixes of genres, but I can give you an example of where this doesn’t work. I’ve read a few books where it’s someone having a family crisis, and halfway through the book, the author seems to have given up on trying to figure out how the protagonist solves the problem, so they throw some magic into the book – because magic can explain anything, right? No. Pick your genre and stick with it.