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Swoon Author SM Koz's First Draft Report: A New Way to Build a Book

When brainstorming ideas for my second Swoon Reads book, I knew I wanted two characters who couldn’t be more different. I went through a few options—religious person vs. atheist, athlete vs. clumsy book nerd, elite private school student vs inner city school student—but none of those got me excited. Then one day while talking to my dad, an ex-Marine, inspiration hit. I was raised in a strict household that focused on personal accountability, respect, and detailed daily scheduling, much like the military. I loved the idea of having a character raised in a similar way set against someone who grew up with little parental involvement and a more laid-back approach to life.

With this as my roadmap, I began to flesh out the details. The first decision to make was who would be who. I loved the idea of a military student for the hero (Logan), but quickly realized that was falling into my typical characterization of strong guys (e.g., Brad in Love Me, Love Me Not). With each book, I like to challenge myself and figured writing a more passive hero who readers fall in love with could be a great learning experience. Plus, as an added bonus, I’d be able to structure the heroine (Paige) after my own life and personality, which would make her fairly easy to write.

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The next big decision was figuring out how to get the two of them together. Military school was the most obvious way with Paige there by choice and Logan there against his will. The bigger issue was what could have sentenced Logan to a military school? It had to be something bad enough to land him there but not so bad it was unforgivable. Coming up with a solution to this issue was probably the most difficult part of brainstorming. It took significant discussions with Kat, my editor, before we developed a (hopefully!) believable storyline.

The next major decision was to round out Paige’s story. I thought I had a good idea and actually ran with it during my first draft, despite a beta reader suggesting some significant modifications. Her suggestions made sense and I went back and forth a few times before ultimately presenting the two options to Kat for her feedback. She (and Lauren) offered great insight, which helped evolve Paige’s story to what it is now.

The final major decision was getting the plot sorted out. With the other pieces set, this actually fell into place fairly easily since I knew where I needed to be at key points in the story.

One of the great things Kat had me do with this book was provide a very detailed synopsis before I started writing. In general, I’m not an outliner. I’m aware of and believe in all the benefits, but I seem to lose creativity the moment I start putting things in a bulleted list. I was worried it would be the same with the synopsis as I prefer to just start writing and see where the story takes me. That works well when you have all the time in the world (as evidenced by the three years it took me to finish my sci-fi novel), but not so much when you’re under the gun and working with a publisher. So, I was pleasantly surprised by how well the synopsis helped me gather my thoughts and identify holes in the plot and inconsistencies that I usually don’t notice until well into the writing process. Now, I’m totally sold on spending time upfront on a detailed synopsis before typing even “Chapter 1” in my manuscript.

Seeing how it all came together, I feel like Risking It All is a unique YA romance with atypical characters in an unusual setting. It still has the swoonworthy romance elements we all love, but I have a feeling Paige and Logan’s antics will have readers shaking their head, sighing, laughing, and saying “aww”—sometimes all within the same scene. At least I hope so! You’ll have to let me know after you read it!

Risking It All goes on sale June 18! Don't forget to add it to your Goodreads shelf!

Author spotlight

SM Koz

SM Koz was born in Michigan, but moved to North Carolina for college and never left. She enjoys traveling, camping, ...

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