So you have an idea for a great novel. You eagerly attack the keyboard, but a couple of chapters in you realise you have no idea how to turn this story idea into a novel? What you need is a step-by-step guide on how to write a novel.
You have already take the most important steps to writing your novel:
- You had an idea and you started writing.
- You have recognised that a story does not make a novel.
- You have stopped to reassess what you are doing.
If there was a simple step-by-step guide, we would all be churning out novels, and they would all be the same.
Writing a novel is one of most complicated projects you will ever embark on. No one is born knowing how to write novels; the same as no one is born knowing how to read or write. These are skill we need to learn and develop.
Writing a novel is a learning process. You may be better at telling stories than some other people, or better at grammar, have a larger vocabulary, be better at editing, be willing to sit at a keyboard for extended periods etc, but it is unlikely you will be good at all the skills needed to write a novel at the start of the process, or even know what skills are needed.
Here are a few steps to get you on your way:
First you must understand the Plot:
At the very minimum you need a three line plot. This consists of
- A Premise – what is the story about.
- Complication(s) – (But) what difficulties do the characters have to overcome and how do they overcome these complications
- A Climax – How your characters over the complications and resolve the story.
Keep playing with your three line plot until you have something that grabs you or intrigues you, it’s not easy, but it pay dividends in the end: if the plot grabs you, it will grab your readers too.
Now think about the conflicts you have had in your life and use them as the basis for barriers that your protagonist has to overcome to get what they want. Obviously up-the-anti, and exaggerate the hell out of each situation, but basically that is how you develop the plot.
Next you need to understand your characters:
How your character(s) overcome the complications of the plot forms the main body of your story. Without complications, objections, and hurdles for your characters to overcome, your story will fall flat, because all stories are about how humans overcome conflict. Stories are so hard-wired into human nature, that even stories we think are about something else are ultimately about humans.
In fact, the more difficult you make it for your characters, the more their personalities will be exposed and the more interesting your story will become. Plotting is really all about storytelling and storytelling is all about conflict.
For instance: a Princess is born, grows up, meets the Prince of her dreams, gets married and lives happily ever after is not a very interesting story (unless you are three years old). A Princess grows up overcoming the eccentricities of her parents, meets the Prince of her dreams who turns out to be a monster, but the Princesses’ pure love helps the Princes overcome his Monstrous traits – Beauty and the Beast – is more interesting. Add that the two families are monstrous and compare that against the forbidden pure love of the prince and princess and you have Romeo and Juliet, turn pure love into obsession and you have Twilight. It’s all about what your characters have to overcome and how they go about it that makes your story interesting.
Character and conflict are at the heart of every good story. So here is what you do :
- Dream up an interesting character.
- Give them some interesting character flaws.
- Think of something they really, really want, then put it out of their reach.
- Dream up another character with opposite characteristics and have them really, really want the same thing.
- Now pit the two characters against each other, or they could be two aspects of the same character.
Now you have a protagonist, an antagonist, a plot, and conflict – all the elements of a good novel.
Now you need to break the plot down into plot points:
Somehow you need to get you from the premise of your plot, through the complication, to the climax, so you will need a story arc.
At this point you may need to learn about story arcs: from a simple three act play (beginning,middle, end), through the classic eight point arc, to the sort of twenty-two point arc used in genre fiction.
Once you have settled on your story arc, you will need to come up with major scenes to populate your the arc. Remember, each scene also needs a simple story arc (I use a modified version of the classic story arc for my scenes).
Next you need some scene progression:
Now you need to tie all the scenes together and plan how you are going to get from one scene major scene to another. The key thing to remember is that every scene in a story arc, subplot, or character development, except the first, must be the direct consequence of what happened in another scene. Often this is the scene before it, but not always.
If you can’t work out a particular scene flow then work backwards. What has to happen in scene Y in order for scene Z to happen, what has to happen in scene X for scene Y to happen, what needs to happen in scene W… you get the idea.
Find out how you are doing:
Join a writing group, either physically or online, where members can read each other’s work and provide constructive feedback, this way you can all learn and grow together. You will soon discover what works and what doesn’t.
Publish your work in progress on somewhere like Wattpad and see what real readers think and how popular it is.
Keep tweaking, changing, and re-writing things until the story works. One of the things you will learn is that there is absolutely nothing that cannot be changed, scrapped, edited or re-written to make a novel work.
There is a lot more to writing a novel than that (like editing—wow, a whole subject in itself), but I hope these steps will get you started on the journey so you can discover the other things for yourself as your novel and your skill develop.
I think this diagram I found on the internet sums up the novel writing process quite well:
The rest is down to hard work.
Good luck, and keep writing.