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        How to Write a Novel: 8 Steps to Help You Start Writing

        • calenderAug 21, 2023
        • calender 5 min read

        While writing a novel, every writer struggles with developing a coherent story out of a shapeless mass of ideas. Luckily, you’ve got us to guide you through your worries about how to write a novel that does justice to all your ideas. From establishing a plotline to fleshing out your characters, we’ve covered it all.

        Writing novels demands meticulous organization and attention to detail, and this guide to novel writing will help you achieve exactly that. Here are the eight steps to writing a novel:

        • Distill your story idea
        • Establish a setting that enhances your story
        • Develop a foolproof plot outline
        • Finalize character details
        • Create meaningful and lasting conflict
        • Choose the right point of view to tell your story
        • Maintain a daily or weekly writing target
        • Take a break before you revise your draft
        • Hire a professional editor to elevate your writing

        Time to dig into these novel writing tips! Let’s begin.

        1. Distill your story idea

        Your decision to write a novel obviously began with an idea. The question is, is your story idea expansive and sustainable enough to last an entire novel? We’ve all read novels that wander so far from the original premise that we lose all interest. How can you avoid that?

        Don’t overcomplicate your story idea in an effort to stretch it to 70,000 words. Instead, think about whether your idea will be better off as a short story or a novella. If you’re confident in the excitement and durability of your story idea, you’ll have to refine it before you start writing your novel. All other tips for writing a novel will fall flat if your central idea isn’t well-developed!

        Consider these two aspects when brainstorming your story idea:

        • What’s unique and interesting about the setting I’ve chosen?
        • Can my story keep the reader engaged through the beginning, middle, and end?

        Once you’ve distilled your story idea, it’s time to articulate it masterfully.

        2. Establish a setting that enhances the story

        The setting of your novel brings your story to life. Sometimes, the setting of a novel can function almost like a character, amplifying the narrative with mood and atmosphere. Think about the elements of your setting that you’d like to explore and how you can incorporate them into your plot and character development.

        Build your world around these axes:

        1. Time: The general and specific time period of your story
        2. Place: The geographical landscape your novel explores
        3. Environment: The social, cultural, political, and physical environment of your world

        If your story is based in the real world, you can focus on the time period since the specifics of place and environment will depend on it significantly. After all, Jane Austen’s England is quite different in terms of geography and environment from Zadie Smith’s England!

        If you’re building a fictional world, however, you’ll have to undertake a hefty bit of worldbuilding. One thing to avoid here is excessive detail about the elements of your setting. Instead, sprinkle intriguing information throughout the novel so they enhance important events in the story and advance the plot.

        For example, the seven kingdoms in A Game of Thrones are revealed to the reader one by one, as and when the plot progresses to those locations. Other aspects such as various religious practices and customs are also mentioned gradually, never overwhelming the reader.

        3. Develop a foolproof plot outline

        In recent years, novelists have moved on from prioritizing the plot to focusing on  the character development in their novels. Since the plot of a novel is merely a cause-and-effect chain of events, it’s easy to see why that happened. However, there’s a reason this is an essential stage in the steps to writing a novel. If you’re writing a mystery or thriller, for instance, a tight-knit plot becomes paramount.

        If you’re an architect (someone who plans their novel meticulously), you can refer to popular plot templates such as Hero’s Journey or Save the Cat. Gardeners (writers who follow where the story takes them) can still create a rough outline to maintain a basic story structure.

        Every plotline follows this basic structure:

        1. Exposition
        2. Opening incident
        3. Rising action
        4. Climax
        5. Falling action
        6. Resolution

        Whether you develop a novel outline or write as you go, make sure your overall plot structure is logically foolproof to your readers.

        4. Finalize character details

        However engaging the premise, a story falls flat unless readers form a genuine connection with the novel characters. Your characters must be more than just chess pieces that move around the board: Their emotions and opinions must drive the story to some extent. 

        Here’s how you can develop characters that readers will care about:

        • Give your characters some basic strengths and flaws that change over time.
        • Provide them with strong motivations and desires.
        • Put them in difficult situations or moments of emotional distress.
        • Let their choices and actions reflect their personality.

        A good novel balances plot and character, creating a push and pull that moves the story forward. Your plot can present obstacles for your characters to overcome, helping them recognize or overcome their flaws. In turn, your characters’ choices can influence the story at key moments, leading it in a new direction.

        4. Create meaningful and lasting conflict

        Conflict in a novel is the bedrock of dramatic tension, urging the reader to keep turning the page. A conflict can be external (a character’s struggle with another character, society, or even nature) or internal (a character’s struggle with their own self).

        Whatever the type of conflict, it features two things: stakes and consequences. You must raise the stakes for the characters and give them more to lose. This can be their kingdom, house, loved ones, or even their life. The higher the stakes, the more engaging your central conflict will be.

        Your central conflict must force the characters to make important decisions that result in actual consequences for them. This drives home the seriousness of the struggle and draws in your reader. Further, the consequences of your central conflict force the character to evolve, leading to a meaningful character arc.

        If you’re worried that your central conflict isn’t expansive enough, try adding subplots. These may involve your protagonist or secondary characters. For example, the central conflict in The Hunger Games is Katniss’s multi-faceted struggle against the Capitol. This is complemented by various subplots such as Haymitch’s role, inter-district relations, and rebellion across different districts.

        5. Choose the right point of view to tell your story

        There are three points of view from which you can narrate your story:

        1. First person: A character narrates the story from their own perspective using “I” or “we”.
        2. Second person: The reader is drawn into the unfolding story using “you”.
        3. Third person: An external narrator tells the story using “they”, “she”, or “him”.

        The first and third person points of view are most commonly used, while the second person point of view in a novel is limited to experimental works. Your third person narrator can follow one character closely, reveal multiple perspectives at once, or remain an impartial observer in the unfolding events.

        You’ll have to choose a point of view that works best for your novel. Account for the plot details to be revealed to the reader, the characters that have access to them, and what you feel most comfortable with. After all, the point is to apply our tips for writing a novel to your own writing style.

        You’re free to experiment with the point of view for greater impact but try not to overdo this. Consider your readers’ ease above all else, since constantly switching between points of view can irritate them.

        6. Maintain a daily or weekly writing target

        Like any other art, writing is hard work that only improves with practice. Setting a target of words or pages to complete is the best way to habituate yourself to the process of writing a novel. It sounds simple at first, but soon you’ll struggle to focus or find the motivation to write every day.

        The best way to combat this is to develop a writing flow. If you’re wondering how to start writing a novel and actually finish it, the answer is simple: Don’t worry about how it looks! No one’s first draft is perfect, and yours won’t be an exception. So just get all the words on the paper to the point that they’re coherent enough, and then move on to the next chapter.

        Don’t stop to reflect on your plotline or character arcs, and certainly don’t get lost in trying to edit the piece. You can get to all this in your second draft, once your first draft is complete. Stick to that writing target and you should be fine!

        7. Take a break and then revise your draft

        Now that your first draft is done, it’s time to catch your breath. Take a break for about one or two weeks from your manuscript before you come back to revise it. This will help you develop some distance from the work, making you more effective at finding scope for improvement.

        This stage is for you to compare your first draft with your original idea. Do they match? Have you outdone your vision or fallen short? Note down the sections you love, the ones you can improve, and the ones that have to be removed. Then, it’s time to kill your darlings!

        Check every little detail: Are there any plot holes? Do all the important characters get satisfying character arcs? Does the resolution tie up all the loose ends? Undertake several rounds of revisions to keep the novel writing process as organized and systematic as possible.

        Revise the novel as many times as it takes for you to finally decide that you now need some external feedback. On to the editor’s desk, we go!

        8. Hire a professional editor to elevate your writing

        Novice writers often self-edit their own manuscripts, but this robs them of the crucial literary feedback required to elevate their work. Expert editors understand your readers’ expectations and genre standards that your novel must meet. So, they’re your best bet to ensure that your novel is of the highest possible quality.

        If you’re submitting your novel to literary agents or publishing houses, it’s a good idea to edit your work beforehand. Obviously, an elevated manuscript has higher chances of getting published than an unrefined piece. If you’re self-publishing your book, you’ll have to ensure that your novel goes through developmental editing, line editing, copy editing, and proofreading before it’s ready to be published.

        You can work with experienced novel editing services to get superior work while saving time and money spent scanning individual editors for quality. Ultimately, what matters is to get expert feedback and revise your novel one last time before it reaches your reader.

        Equipped with these novel writing tips, you’re ready to take on the challenge of a lifetime. It certainly won’t be a smooth sailing ride, but we can promise you that it’ll be much easier with this blueprint at hand. All the best!

        If you’d like to keep reading about how to write a novel, here are some resources you might find helpful:

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        Prasanna Linkedin

        Prasanna is on a little break from academia and spends his time compiling fiction writing tips. He enjoys poetry, mythology, and drawing lotuses on any surface he can find.

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