It doesn’t matter if you’ve had a niggling idea for ages or tripped over inspiration on the way to work; if you have made the decision to write a novel then congratulations. Making the decision to write a novel is the first step. There are of course many others, but having reached this decision is an excellent start.
Some writers like to brainstorm, make copious notes, and generally organise themselves into a story. Other writers jump straight into the deep end regardless of where the story’s start, middle or end is. Writing isn’t always a perfect process. It proceeds backwards, inside out, or upside down more often than simply forward. You are the writer; it’s your decision. Do what feels right for you, but make sure the finished product is worthy of a publisher’s time.
What Is Your Story About?
Deciding the course of your story is actually working out the plot. It could be about a ravaged refugee fleeing his war torn country, or a little boy that is bullied for being disabled, or a sweeping romance set by a lighthouse on a remote island. Once you have the main storyline, subplots will emerge until you have a full-bodied plot. A plot needs a beginning, middle, and an end. It also must have conflict and a resolution.
Who Are Your Characters?
Usually there’s a main character (a protagonist) and readers want to see this hero win or overcome whatever happens. To help conflict along, there is usually another character that is evil, mean, cruel, or whatever negative points you wish to add. This villain is the story’s antagonist. You need to know all your characters, even the ones playing minor roles. You have to know their faults, their weaknesses, and their strengths. They have to have likes, dislikes, and habits.
To help you visualise these, you could draw rough sketches of them or use models from magazines. Be careful not to have all your characters looking beautiful with perfect bodies unless there is a specific reason to do this. Write a list of characteristics, such as age, facial hair, tattoos, hair colour, eye colour, and so on. You need to know them well, so you know how they would react in any given situation. Remember that not all people will react in the same way. Make sure your characters are believable and natural.
Don’t make your protagonist perfect. If your protagonist is flawless, your readers will have trouble connecting to him or her. After all, nobody’s perfect. For the protagonist, character development is very important. Scenes must tell the reader something more about the character. This will help the readers feel more strongly about him or her.
The same applies to the antagonist; he or she shouldn’t be completely bad. If they have no good or human qualities then they will seem wooden and the story will fail. There must be something about the character that readers can relate to or understand.
Serial killers are a different type of character and, even if the readers don’t know who the killer is, they will hate the person. Even if the readers understand the motivation behind the killings, they will celebrate at the killer’s arrest or death.
There are several common approaches to writing:
- Begin with the ending in mind. If you know the ending of the story, it can help you form the theme, the plot, the settings, the characters, and it can help you progress more easily towards that ending.
- The big picture approach. Try to create the world (the overall setting and environment), treat it like a canvas, and then paint your characters and situations to create your novel. Your canvas could include geography, races, towns, cities, capitals, cults, factions, governments, etc.
- Dive in approach. You have an idea and you start writing while it’s still fresh in your mind.
- Start with characters. Create three or four characters and let the plot build around them. This way will allow the characters to be more embedded in the plot.
Make The Commitment
Understand what you’re undertaking. Many wonderful writers go unnoticed and unread because their drawers are filled with unfinished novels. If your novel isn’t written, or if you don’t attempt to get it published, then the blame is yours. Set small goals so it will inspire you to continue when you achieve each goal.
Create a Writing Habit
It’s no big surprise that humans are creatures of habit, so make it work for you. Train yourself to write every day – whether it’s a few paragraphs, a chapter, or a nominated number of pages – and dedicate the time to work on your novel.
Set aside an hour where everyone understands it’s your time to be alone and write. If children are likely to interrupt during this period, then create a reward system where they are treated if and only if they leave you alone while you’re at your computer or desk.
Use whatever time is available to you – morning or night. The ideal time to write is when you are the most creative, which will vary for each individual; however, this may not be possible so don’t give up. The important thing is to write even if it isn’t at a time when you’re creatively tuned in. Train yourself to be able to write when you have the time and you’ll adapt. Bottom line: just make sure you write daily.
Create a workstation or area for your writing. Find a cosy place where you can relax and there are no distractions. Select a good chair to sit in, which won’t give you back pains, and position your equipment accordingly for optimum work without causing any injuries or stress to your body. You don’t write a book in an hour, it takes months, so protect your body.
If you are a procrastinator, try setting an unbreakable deadline. Writers tend to work better when there’s a deadline to face.
Seek Constructive Feedback
Never show your precious writing to someone you don’t completely trust. Your writing is in its ‘baby stage’ and it needs to be nurtured and loved. You need someone who is encouraging yet honest. If a part of the story or character isn’t working then you need to know that.
A manuscript assessments from a professional is a good way to obtain unbiased feedback that is constructive. Knowing what works and what needs work allows you to move forward with your novel.
Rewriting is what makes the story better, but be careful not to over edit because this can knock the life out of your story. Always save and keep every draft. You never know if your computer will suddenly develops a flutter – you don’t want to lose your hard work. Or if you get a little carried away with editing, then you still have a previous copy elsewhere. Label each draft clearly so you know the order of the drafts. Add a date and time to your labelling if it helps.
Novel Title Draft 1 or Novel Title Draft 1 4.15pm 12032019
Novel Title Draft 2 or Novel Title Draft 2 6.30pm 14032019
If you’re using a spell check program to help pick up typos, ensure the default language has been changed from American to Australian spelling. Auto-dictionaries will undo the correct spelling in favour of its default, so either turn the spell check off or ensure it’s set to Australian English.
Publish Your Work
Make sure your manuscript is polished and is fit to be seen by a publisher. Consider hiring a professional editor or have it professionally assessed.
Don’t forget to ensure your manuscript fits the intended publisher’s format requirements and guidelines.
Other Important Tips
A good way to start writing a novel is to think about what interests you. If you don’t write for yourself, your novel will seem superficial and plastic. It’s better to share your plans with someone else that you feel comfortable with and discuss plotlines. Write what you know and enjoy the process.
Keep a record of any ideas you may have. You might want them later.
An amazing process can happen when developing characters, it’s as if they come alive when a writer’s fingers move frantically across the keyboard trying to keep up with the characters’ dialogue. It feels as though the characters have taken control and want to have their say in their own words. The writer is merely a puppet trying to take down the quotes as if it were being dictated. Something wonderful is happening. It’s magical! If this happens to you then don’t fight it; go with it. You have accomplished something that authors yearn to do and not everyone has achieved.
Try not to lose heart in your book. When you get to a boring bit and stop for the night, you might not want to go back to that part. If you feel that way, try writing an exciting bit to get yourself motivated again.
Don’t be disappointed if you lose heart. Many writers pen hundreds of stories a year, some which never get past the first page let alone the first chapter! You’ll know after a while if a story you’re working on has captivated your attention and imagination. If you don’t feel this right away, then keep developing ideas and persevering. Sometimes it helps to listen to music or go for a walk. Think of different scenarios and adventures. Think about how the characters might feel about these adventures, or themselves, or even other characters around them.
Never give up! Some people will discourage you, but many more will love what you write if you love it as well. Write with passion.
Jot down your ideas. Its good to see at a later date what you were previously thinking about a subject matter, character or situation in case you view things differently.