The key to writing a novel really is to write, write, write — and not worry too much about editing or perfecting. The goal is to get your story down on paper (or screen). You can always go back and fix things later.
This guide will give you the tools to get started and see your novel through to completion. Learn how to create a novel with the following steps.
How To Write a Novel: 6 Steps
- Choose your story
- Create your characters
- Outline your plot
- Write your first draft
- Write additional drafts
- Edit and revise your novel
1. Choose Your Story
The first step to writing a novel is deciding on the story and the genre it fits within. What kind of story do you want to write? Science fiction? A mystery? A thriller? You will spend a lot of time in this world, so pick something you are genuinely interested in.
Once you've decided on the genre, you must develop an idea for your story. If you're having trouble coming up with an idea, try these exercises:
- Write down a list of your favorite books and movies. What do they have in common? Is there a similar story you could tell?
- Think about a time in your life when you faced a challenge. Could you turn that into a novel?
- Browse through news headlines. Is there anything there that sparks your imagination?
- Ask yourself what you would want to read. What kind of story would you enjoy?
- Is there someone you know with an interesting story? Could you turn that into a novel?
We interviewed Isaac Oosterloo, a novelist and travel writer from Ireland, to share his writing advice.
“Effectively, you need a strong enough initial idea to keep you hooked for the duration of the writing process (which could be years). I call this the seed – i.e., a seed strong enough to grow a novel's whole tree,” said Oosterloo.
“When I know I have the right initial idea, I can grow the rest of the story around that. For me, it's an intuitive recognition – an ‘aha' moment, when I feel inspired enough to follow the idea all the way in.”
Once you have an idea for your story, it's time to start creating your characters.
2. Create Your Characters
Your characters will be the people (or animals, aliens, etc.) who inhabit your novel's world. They need to be interesting and three-dimensional so that readers will care about them and want to follow their story.
When creating your characters, start by giving them each a name, age, and a job. Then, start fleshing out their personality traits. What kind of person are they? Do they have any quirks or flaws? What motivates them?
It can be helpful to create a character profile for each of your main characters. This is a document where you can record their important information, such as their physical description, backstory, successes, failures, and goals.
The more you know about your characters, the more you have to say about them. So take your time and get to know them — it will pay off in the long run.
“Your characters are you,” Oosterloo said. “They are aspects of your personality, fragments of friends/family, or projections of what you wish (or who you wish to love). You are the vessel (through) which you receive the world. Your story comes from you. Choose characters that evoke a passionate response within you, then follow that in,” he added.
“It's always a good idea to do a character profile on each — how they talk, walk, respond in certain situations, etc. When I stopped writing my last novel, I missed the two main characters because, by that stage, they were old friends.”
3. Outline Your Plot
Before you start writing your novel, it's a good idea to outline your plot. This will give you a roadmap to follow as you write and help you stay on track.
There are a few different ways you can create a story outline. One way is to start with a traditional three-act structure.
The three-act structure is a classic storytelling format that Syd Field popularised in his 1979 book “Screenplay: The Foundations of Screenwriting.” It looks like this:
Act I: The Setup: The stage is set, and the main characters are introduced. An incident occurs that the protagonist tries to deal with, which leads to a second and more dramatic situation.
Act II: The Confrontation: The main character(s) face obstacles and challenges as the situation worsens. The character must learn new skills to deal with the predicament and are usually aided by co-protagonists.
Act III: The Resolution: The climax occurs, challenges are overcome, and the characters gain a new sense of who they are. The story comes to a close.
Tips for Writing Your Outline
- Write a sentence that captures the essence of your narrative. This should anchor all points of your storyline.
- Know the big picture of your story. Include the main plot points and turning points of the story.
- Decide on the point of view (first person, third person omniscient, etc.) and stick to it.
- Develop your character and ask yourself what the character wants and needs in each scene.
- Don't rigidly stick to your outline. If you get inspired and want to take your story in a different direction, go for it!
- Be as detailed or as vague as you want. Some people like to write very detailed outlines, while others jot down a few key points. Do whatever feels right for you.
Have a general idea of where the plot is going and the main themes,” said Oosterloo. “Then use a storyboarding technique (the W storyboard technique is excellent and helped me with my last two novels) to build and release conflict throughout the work and give a cathartic conclusion to readers. I use a wallboard and post-it notes; each post-it note is a new chapter or section. When you can see it, it clarifies the fog and gives you direction.”
4. Start Writing Your First Draft
Now comes the tricky part: writing your first draft. You get to put your ideas down on paper (or screen). Just let yourself write, and don't worry too much about perfection. The goal is to get your story down, and you can always fix things in the editing phase.
If you get stuck, try these writing prompts:
- Write a scene from your story that you're incredibly excited about.
- Write a conversation between two of your characters.
- Write a scene where something goes wrong.
Your first draft is all about getting your words on paper. After you finish writing the first draft, you can go back and revise it to make it better.
“Get material down with your first draft,” Oosterloo said. “Stay in the creative zone as much as possible and get the bones of the narrative together. Complete the story and character arcs, then see if you can bring it all to a conclusion. Don't overthink this part, but enjoy the flow of writing (trust me when I say it's better for you than watching TV).”
5. Write Additional Drafts
Once you've written your first draft, it's time to revise. This is where you take a step back and look at your whole story. What works and what doesn't? Are there any holes in the plot? Do the characters need more development?
To revise your story, start by reading through it and making notes. Then, create a revision plan. What do you want to change? How are you going to change it? Don't expect to correct everything all at once. This will take many rewrites.
Ensure your story is compelling and engaging. Does it hook readers from the first page? Does it keep them guessing until the end?
After you have a plan, start revising your story. It can be helpful to get feedback from beta readers at this stage. These are people who read your story and provide honest feedback. They can help you improve your plot, give a new perspective, and spot areas that need improvement.
Be prepared to throw away at least a third of the material,” said Oosterloo. “Sorry, but that's the way it goes. If it's not serving the narrative — out! Read and reread. Do as many takes as possible until it captures what you want to say.”
Once you've revised your story, it's time to edit.
6. Edit and Revise your Novel
The editing process is about fixing the small things: typos, grammar errors, etc. At this step, the goal is to polish the story.
It can be helpful to use editing software or hire a professional editor or proofreader to provide the final polish to your manuscript by pinpointing grammatical or spelling mistakes.
Once you've gone through and made all of these changes, you'll have a finished novel that you can be proud of.
“You've been working on this for a while now. You're too close to it,” said Oosterloo. “Get others to read it, not just friends/partners who will say nice things. See if you can get other writers/editors to take a look. Feedback sucks — but it is essential. It's not a personal attack. Prepare thy ego! At the end of the day, it's all about the work and making it as strong as possible.”
Tips For Writers
Other tips we haven't mentioned that may be valuable to you:
- Set aside time each day to write distraction-free and establish some ground rules to avoid burnout.
- Be patient. Writing a novel takes time, and there will be days when it's difficult. Just keep going, and you'll get there.
- Get feedback from others and be open to criticism.
- Avoid perfectionism, don't expect your first draft to be brilliant, and know that it's okay to make mistakes.
- Know your character intimately and let them determine the story.
- Edit and revise your novel until it's the best it can be.
- Take a break after your first draft and come back with fresh eyes.
- Understand your audience. Know who will read your novel so you can write specifically for them.
- Have fun! Writing should be enjoyable, so make sure you're enjoying the process.
“Writing a novel is about finding that perfect balance between your creative and logical sides,” said Oosterloo. “You need the creative side to create raw material – to conceptualize original ideas that intuitively feel right for your story. Then you need your rational side to refine and present that in a way readers will enjoy. Most think creativity and logic are arch enemies. They're not; instead, they support aspects of the novelists' psyche. Creative first, then logic. Follow that pattern and tailor it to whatever mood you're in at the time,” he added.
“To be purely creative, you have to let go of everything you've been conditioned into since childhood and tap back into the imagination you used to have,” he said. “Just let go. Take a walk in nature, breathe and record or write what comes. If jumping around half naked in a Viking hat works for you, do it. That's where the best material comes from – the writer feeling free.”
“My material always comes from a deep place, almost subconscious, but I must move aside my stress and my often overactive mind to tap into that.”
You Got This
Writing a book is a daunting task, but it's also an enriching experience. Following these steps can make the process a little bit easier and increase your chances of success.
And don't forget, the most important thing is to start writing and don't give up. The rest will fall into place. Good luck!
This post was produced and syndicated by Finance Quick Fix.
Caitriona is a private language tutor and founder of TPR Teaching. Caitriona has been teaching the English language since 2016. She has taught in schools in Spain and the U.K., and she currently teaches online. You will find tons of language articles, worksheets, resources, tips, and advice for learners and teachers on her blog.