In honor of the recent release of my debut novel Fateful Voyage, I decided to write a blog post about providing an overview about novel writing basics. Perhaps you are reading this and you’ve always wanted to write a novel. But something’s stopped you. Maybe you’ve tried before, only to get thirty pages in and lose steam because your story idea didn’t hold up, you couldn’t overcome procrastination, you feared your writing wasn’t good enough, or you ran out of ideas and had no clue what to do next. You may be surprised to know that I deal with those exact problems every time. Don’t let any of that junk stop you! Imagine a finished manuscript in your hands, or your name on the front of a newly published book—does that excite you? Better yet, imagine letters from readers saying your novel changed their lives, that your words gave them a new perspective. A renewed hope. If other writers enjoy these things, why not you? First, you have to write a novel. Let’s take a look at the basics.
Writing a novel is a creative process, and you never know when a good idea might come to you. Carry a notebook and a pen so you can jot down ideas wherever you go. You might feel inspired by something you hear on your morning commute, or while daydreaming in a coffee shop. You never know when you'll be inspired, so you should keep your eyes and ears open wherever you go.
Don't wait for inspiration to come to you. Writing is kind of like digestion — there won't be output if there's no input. For example, you know when you get an idea out of absolutely nowhere, while you're doing something totally irrelevant to your idea? That's when you observe something, let it slip into your subconscious where it gets processed, and at some point, returns back to your conscious. In some instances, these are some of the best resources for ideas — the spontaneity of these ideas can really help to develop rich irony or exciting twists and turns in your story.
Consider your genre
Not every novel fits neatly into a certain category, but it's helpful to think about your intended genre and audience as you begin planning your work. Read all of the major works that fall into your chosen genre to get a good understanding of how to construct a novel according to the standards of your chosen genre. And if you haven't completely decided on one genre or are working in more than one genre, then it's no problem — it's more important to be aware of what tradition you're working in than to stick to one specific genre or category.
Consider your setting.
Once you've decided which genre (or genres) to write within, start dreaming up a setting for your novel. This goes beyond the particular city where your characters will dwell; you've got an entire universe to dream up. The setting you create will determine the mood and tone of your novel, and will affect the problems your characters will face.
Create your characters.
The most important character of your novel will be your protagonist, who should be fleshed out with recognizable personality traits and thought patterns. Protagonists don't necessarily have to be likable, but they are usually relatable in some way so that readers stay interested in the story. One of the joys of reading fiction is recognizing yourself and living vicariously through your favorite characters. Additionally, your novel also doesn't have to have just one protagonist. You can have multiple characters that engage the readers and engage each other harmoniously or through conflict, and you can even play around with telling the story from multiple points of view. Moreover, your world should be populated with other characters too. Think about who will interact with your protagonist, serving as either friends or foils.
Visualize the plot.
This step could either make or break your novel. Many times do novels have good characters, but not a good plot. If you do not do this right then it will drive your readers away. A common theme in designing a plot is to create conflict. Most novels, regardless of genre, have some sort of conflict. Tension builds until the problem comes to a climax, and then it's resolved in some way. This doesn't mean novels always have happy endings; it's more about providing motivations for the characters' actions and creating a vehicle for change and meaning across the span of your novel.
Decide on a point of view.
Novels are typically written in the third or the first person, though they can also be written in the second person, or in a combination of multiple perspectives. The first person is the "I" voice that is told directly from the point of view of a character; the second person, less commonly used, addresses the readers as "you" and tells the reader exactly what he or she is doing, and the third person describes a character or set of characters from an outside perspective.
Consider making an outline.
Every novelist has a different method for starting a new novel. Creating an outline can be a good way to map out your ideas and give you small goals to accomplish as you work toward the larger goal of writing an entire book. But if you write from the hip and don't have all the details — or any of them — down yet, then you should just let yourself get inspired and write whatever feels right until you latch on to something that really appeals to you.
Do your research.
The amount of research you need to do will depend on the novel you write. Be sure to know, research, and learn as much as you can about your novel's setting (starting with the character's culture, locale, and era). The research you'll need to do to write historical fiction set during the Revolutionary War, for example, will be more copious than the research you may need to write a Young Adult novel inspired by your own experiences in high school. Still, whatever novel you're writing, you'll need to do enough research to make sure that the events in your novel are accurate and believable.
Write a first draft.
When you feel ready, sit down and begin writing the first draft of your novel. Don't worry about making the language perfect — no one will read this draft but you. Write without judging yourself. The first draft of a novel does not have to be spectacular — it just has to be done. Don't hold back. The roughest parts of the novel may turn out to be the most compelling in future drafts.
Don’t be afraid to write a paragraph here, a page there. Not everything has to be a full-fledged chapter in the early stages of novel-writing. If you have a scene in your head that you know you want to write, go for it. But if you sit down at your computer and feel flustered and uncertain, allow yourself the freedom to think in small bits. Tell yourself, “Today I’m going to write 1200 words about where my character lives,” or “Today I’m going to write 500 words about what’s troubling the narrator,” or “Today I’m going to write the last paragraph of the novel.” That last one is kind of weird, right? But the point is, you don’t have to write in a linear fashion. You can piece your novel together later. For now, get some stuff on the page.
So, there you have it, ten tips to get you started on writing that novel! Published authors will tell you it’s all about perseverance, the one characteristic all successful writers share. They’ll tell you as long as you’ve got a computer and keyboard, or pen and paper, you can write. And as long as you write you have a chance to get published. Don’t forget my latest novel Fateful Voyage is out now so check it out on Amazon and most major online retailers. Until next time!