While looking for new topics to write about for this blog, I did a search for the steps to writing a novel. And found that most of the steps listed were already topics that I have done. I guess after doing this for so many year this is the problem I face.
So rather than keep searching for new topics (though I am always doing that and open to suggestions), I thought I would go ahead publish the outline of what it takes to plan, write and edit a novel for publication.
This is an important step and goes beyond just getting a notepad and pen or a computer equipped with word-processing software. Before you write your first word, you need to do some planning or you will be doing A LOT of editing and revising.
- First you need an idea. Maybe you already have one or a dozen. Or perhaps you know you want to write but no clue about what. This then would mean you need to brainstorm for a story idea.
- And once you have your idea picked, you still need to analyze it to make sure it is strong enough to sustain a whole novel or perhaps you will decide it is better for a short story or novella or even scrap that plot idea and move on to another one.
- Create a list of characters – both major and minor. Develop your major characters through character profiles. Failure to do this step could lead to unbelievable or flat characters. You also need to decide what point of view to tell your story. (And if you do third person, how many POV characters there will be.)
- Pick you setting (which could mean developing a whole other world or even just a small town).
- Develop your plot. Make sure there is a compelling question the protagonist needs to answer. Consider the beginning, middle and end of the novel. Now some people love to outline their whole novel while others like to “fly by the seat of their pants” so to speak. This means they start with a general idea but don’t plot out every move of their novel. They focus more on letting the characters drive the story.
Once you have your prep work done, you are ready to begin writing.
- When writing your first draft, many experts suggest you just write. Don’t worry if what you write is perfect but get the ideas down on paper. I have a habit of writing and editing at the same time. But for someone new to this, it is probably easier to just write. And no one said you need to write chronologically. If you feel the urge to write a scene that happens later in the story, then go ahead and get those thoughts down while they are fresh in your mind.
- Of course with writing sometimes writers block sets in. It happens to all writers and there are numerous suggestions out there on how to get through it.
Once your first draft is done, you can begin the next step of editing and shaping your novel. (Here is a revision check list that might help.)
- One of the first things to do is to look at what was said. You go back a read and adjust it and then read and adjust some more. Some of the things you are looking for…
- Viewpoint – make sure it is consistent and is clear to the reader when you change from one view point to another. (Change should be done in sections or chapters. Make sure you aren’t thought jumping from one character to another.)
- Characters – make sure their behavior is consistent throughout the book. Yes, people change but gradually. (For help on content editing, click here.)
- Setting – Is the setting described enough, too much or perhaps not at all? Make sure your readers have at least some sense of where the story is taking place
- Inconsistencies – Check your plot, setting and descriptions for inconsistencies. Maybe originally your character was in a blue sweater and later you refer to the red dress she is wearing. Or in a murder mystery if the character originally was supposed to shoot someone but instead stabs them, you will need to look for any subsequent references to the murder and make sure that a knife is mentioned and not a gun.
- Novel Overview – Look at the pace (is the first chapter too slow?), can scenes be cut without effecting plot, are there any dull scenes, would it be better to rearrange the order of some events, does anything need to be added or expanded?
- Once you have gone through a few drafts and perfected your story it is time to start looking at your word choice and tightening/refining the prose. This is an excellent time to weed out unnecessary words or phrases and polish your writing.
When you are finally done with all this you should have a publishable novel. You still will want to have someone else read it – Beta readers or a professional editor or at the least a good friend who will give you an honest opinion.
After that it will be up to you whether you want to self-publish or go the other way and look for a traditional publishing house.