For many authors, writing a novel is the ultimate dream.
So, what’s holding you back?
Far too often, writers start, get only a few chapters in (or less), and simply give up.
Maybe the story idea wasn’t strong enough.
Or procrastination took over.
Ideas seemed to fly away, or you just felt your writing wasn’t good enough.
Even the best writers in the world deal with those same problems many times over. The difference between an author that finished their novel and one that does not is the ability to overcome these challenges.
Having a strong novel-writing plan will help you to barrel past these obstacles. Today, we’ll share the 12 steps on ‘how to write a novel’.
How To Write A Novel: Solidify a Strong Story Idea
Novels typically range between 75,000 and 1,000 words. That’s a big step up from short stories, and your idea has to be able to withstand the challenge.
First and foremost, you need a powerful concept, a winning idea.
Create a story idea that’s rife with conflict, because conflict will drive your plot.
Don’t rush here. Take some time to parse through your ideas to find one you are passionate about. Your idea must capture you before you can possibly use it to capture an audience. Pick an idea you can’t get out of your head, one you are driven back to day after day.
Find Your Planning Style
Some authors like to map out their stories before writing. They plan out their characters and main plot points before writing. These authors are known as “Outliners”.
On the other hand, Pantsers “write by the seat of their pants”. They have a seed of a dream and they run with it, discovering their writing as they go.
Neither approach is superior, they just work differently for different people. Chances are, one of the approaches will feel more natural to you. However, you can also be a hybrid. Those who are hybrids may do some planning or brief outline and then also let the story take them where it may.
Find the strategy that works best for you, but also beware that you’ll need SOME structure. You must have an idea of where you are going.
Develop a Striking Main Character
Your lead character is essential for a great novel. The character must go through an arc, transforming throughout the story. They should be a different person by the end than in the beginning.
Unforgettable main characters have heroic qualities that emerge at the climax. Of course, the character should have human flaws, but the flaws should be redeemable.
Most likely, you’ll also have an antagonist. The villain should be just as compelling as your main characters. He should not just be bad simply because he should have reasons for his actions.
Orbital characters will also be important. Give every character a distinct name and description so that they don’t get easily confused.
Don’t overwhelm your ready with too many characters early on. Introducing too many characters at once will make it hard for readers to keep up, and when it’s hard to keep up readers drop off.
To make authentic, compelling characters, you have to make believable characters. With realistic traits, you can make your characters feel believable.
Inner turmoil will bring your main character to life. Share their insecurities, fears, and inner weaknesses.
Allow your readers to identify with your characters, and watch them develop. Even Pantsers can benefit from imagining the characters’ weaknesses, strengths, insecurities, and more prior to writing.
Nurture Your Idea Into a Plot
Some of the world’s best novelists don’t plot. However, the vast majority of writers will still need some structure. The Classic Story Structure from Dean Koontz is essential for transforming your idea into a full-blown plot.
- Throw your main character into terrible trouble right away.
- Your main character will try unsuccessfully to escape the trouble, but every step they take only makes it worse.
- The situation will appear hopefully.
- Your hero learns from every misstep, growing into a true hero who’s able to succeed (or not) in the end.
Remember the basic plot elements including:
- Pivotal moment.
- Series of obstacles to build tension.
Use your plot to snatch readers from the beginning and keep them strapped in for the whole ride.
Do Your Research
Fiction is made up, but it still has to feel real. Even science fiction and fantasy seem believable as a reader. Your premise has to be believable. The key to creating a believable plot and elements is research.
Learn everything you can about a weapon your character is using. Study the relevant geography. Ask people of the other gender about their experiences.
Some of the basics for research include:
- Atlases and World Almanacs for geography, cultural norms, and character names that fit with the setting.
- Thesaurus to find simple words.
- In-person interviews with experts.
- Search engines.
Research is not a time for shortcuts. Failures to align geography, culture, technology, etc will be noticeable by readers. However, research is more of a personal venture for your understanding. You don’t need to share all of the facts in your writing, just use them to create realistic descriptions.
Picking your point of view is a big, important decision. Point of view encompasses voice (first person, second person, or third person), but it’s also more expensive than that. You have to choose who will be your POV character, the lens of your story.
Most novels stick with one perspective, but some may also chance perspective characters per chapter depending on the storyline. Regardless, you must limit your story to one perspective character at a time.
With First-Person, it’s pretty easy to stick to the one perspective character, but Third-Person Limited is a popular choice. You can use the characters with perspective to reveal other characters.
Grab Your Reader on the First Page
You have to snatch the attention of your reader right away. Start “medias res”, or in the midst of things.
This simply means avoid setting the scene too much. Get into the guts of the story. You don’t have to fret too much about the backstory. Trust your reader to put together the pieces, and use every word to propel readers to the next.
Spark Reader’s Imagination
Readers have their very own movie theater. The book is so often better than the movie because nothing can compare to the reader’s imagination.
Your goal is not to impose things exactly as you see them, but to illuminate the reader’s mental theater. Give them just enough detail to turn on the mental projectors. The magic does not happen on the pages, it happens in the reader’s mind.
Build the Main Character’s Dilemma
The terrible trouble you plunge your main character into must get worse. Everything he does just intensifies the dilemma.
The hero’s life should not be too easy. Make it a challenge. Thrust him into mounting obstacles.
Conflict fuels your story.
Despite how difficult things get, don’t make your main character appear ridden with flaws. He should have humanized qualities, but he shouldn’t be hopeless.
Probe readers to realize the character is developing important skills that will help him eventually.
Make Things Seem Hopeless
According to novelist Angela Hunt, this is The Bleakest Moment. At this point, the situation should appear hopeless. This is the low point. The lowest of lows. This is not the point for a miracle.
Next, your hero must face his ultimate test. At this point, the stakes are sky-high, and failure would be all-ending.
All of the mounting conflicts should finally meet at the climax.
This is the time to reward your readers. Make the climax fireworks. But, you are not yet at the end.
Finally, you reach the ending. The reader has invested in your story, it’s time for a great ending.
The best endings honor the reader for their investment. It’s the best possible option of all. Aim for the heart by igniting emotions. Your hero should remain on stage until the very last word.
Endings can be hard to do right after such a booming climax. Don’t let the ending just fizzle out. While it won’t be as action-packed as the climax, the ending should be just as moving.
Take the time to write a satisfying ending for your readers. Slam down the curtain.
One common question writers have is “how long does it take to write a novel?” There’s no easy answer. It can take a lifetime. It should take as long as you need. Writing is not about speed, it’s about quality.
You have to be 100% confident in your manuscript before submitting it. Quality is paramount. That being said, it’s common to take 6 to 9 months for a 100,000-word manuscript.
The next big question is about the difficulty. To be frank, writing a novel may be one of the hardest things. It’s certainly not easy. Every novelist began unpublished and unknown. You must be determined and persistent.
Lastly, many writers want to know if their story idea is one with potential. If you find the idea festering within your own mind, slowly growing and developing, chances are it has potential. The idea has to compel you to keep writing. Ask someone you trust for their opinion, and pay attention to their nonverbal cues to see how they really feel about it.
Novel-writing is a grueling process, but it’s also a beautiful one. Take it one step at a time, and do not let doubt hold you back.
Using the steps on ‘how to writing a novel’ above, you can steadily make your way through novel writing.