Starting a novel…

So you have decided to write a novel. Before you sits a blank screen. For some that brings excitement at the unlimited possibilities but for others it can be intimidating. It is easy to become overwhelmed by the magnitude of the task at hand.

I decided to post on this topic as I just published my latest work – The Heir to Alexandria – last month, and now I too am at this point. I am ready to begin my next novel.

Cartoon Characters uid 950048Now before you start typing your novel, you will need to do some planning. I am not saying you need to figure everything out but without a plan, your characters will just meander around.

You need a direction. Your characters need a direction.

Without a goal in mind, a plot becomes just a haphazard series of events with no meaning or purpose – one that will leave the reader wondering, “What was the point of that story?” (Or perhaps you will spend additional hours editing and cutting out all those scenes that didn’t actually add to your story.)

Before you begin to write even one word, I suggest you consider working on these three topics at a minimum.

Conflict/Plot – Basically, you will need to decide what your story is about. Conflict is what drives your story. You should be able to write down the conflict in just one sentence. (For more on conflict, check out my post on the seven types of conflict.) You also need to consider whether your plot idea has what it takes to last through the length of a whole novel. Not every idea will be worthy of a full-length novel or even a short story.

Setting/World – You need to know where this story is going to take place. If it takes place in the past, you will need to research not only the location but customs and styles of that time. If it takes place in a fictional world, you will need to spend some time developing this world. Even if you are writing a story that takes place in your hometown, you need to make sure you have planned out where everything will take place and know all the details of those locations. It is knowledge of these details, whether they make it into your story or not, that will allow you to bring the reader into your character’s world.

Characters – Don’t just give your characters a name and start writing. You need to get to know them. You need to know their history, their personality quirks, you need to know what motivates them. This is a must for your main characters, but you should develop at least some basic knowledge for the supporting cast too. Again, this development of characters will show in your writing.

As I said, I am currently starting my next novel. I am working on the overall plot/conflict right now. I want a strong storyline before I develop my world or continue developing the characters I already have begun. (Right now I just have the basics of two main characters.)

All of this may seem like a lot of work. And it can be a daunting task to start a new novel. But with planning – the laying down of a foundation – you will have a better chance of following through with writing a publishable novel.

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4 thoughts on “Starting a novel…

  1. sjhigbee says:

    So… what is the spark that pushes you into HAVING to write this new story? The character? The what-if? The amazing world?

    Because you’re absolutely right in your well-written, enjoyable article – you have to take all these aspects into account before you put word processor to paper – but in my experience, there is normally an overriding something that forces you to get the idea out of your head and onto the page… What’s yours?

  2. Sean P Carlin says:

    Breaking the back of a story is the hardest and most crucial step of the writing process. I outline extensively, plotting the narrative, tracking the transformational arcs, and conducting any preliminary research before I begin word one of a manuscript. Many writers prefer to discover their story and characters along the way — and there’s no wrong way of doing it, so long as it works — but I find there’s tremendous freedom in having done all the legwork beforehand (having plotted the scenes and determined what the conflict/value change/etc. will be), and then losing myself in the “reality” of those scenes. If I know going in that I’m on terra firma, it allows me to LIVE in the scene, and then bring that scene to life as I write it. So, yeah, there are “pantsers” and there are “planners,” and I fall into the latter category. Writing from a richly detailed outline (which includes character arcs and relationships and all the trimmings) is a joyous experience that far from inhibits creative surprises, but rather allows for a framework in which they can be discovered and fully exploited.

  3. […] it up. This is the year to get motivated and start writing. (For tips on starting a novel, click here. And for tips on dealing with writer’s block, click here.) Set realistic writing goals and stick […]

  4. […] five and a half years, I sometimes struggle with what to write. I have already covered characters, starting scenes, ending scenes, story arcs, setting, editing, grammar, covers, titles, pricing, and so many other […]

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