Three areas to develop before starting to write a novel

This post is the second in a series about writing a novel. Check out post one about writing myths here

You have made the decision to write a novel. Maybe you have a character or plot in mind. Maybe you have nothing but the desire to be a writer. Either way, you are determined to write a novel. So where do you begin?

Some people just being writing. They let their ideas and thought flow freely. Their thought is just to get that vague story in their head down on paper. Or maybe they just want to let their characters dictate the story. And this certainly is one method to writing a novel. But it is going to cause you hours of editing and cutting out of scenes that don’t actually add to your story.

Before you begin writing you need a direction. Your characters need a direction.

Without a goal in mind, your plot becomes just a haphazard collection of events with no meaning or purpose which will leave your reader wondering “What is the point of that story?”

So before you begin penning your novel, before you even write one word, I suggest you consider thinking about these three topics at a minimum.

Characters

Do not just give your characters a name and start writing. You need to know them better than that. You need to know their history, their personality quirks. You need to know what motivates them. So get to know more than their physical characteristics and know what they want and why. Knowing these things is the key to bringing your characters to life and making your reader believe they are real. A well-developed character can save a story just as a poorly developed one can ruin a story.

Now this planning is a must for your main characters but you don’t need to spend a lot of time developing minor/supporting characters and you don’t need to spend really any time on characters who are just in the background with either very few lines or none at all.

Setting

You need to know where your story will take place. And by this, I mean you need to know more than just a general idea but you need to know the specifics.

I find that it helps to have a map of the area. (If you are creating your own town or world then you will have to draw up a rough map so you can keep track of where stores, places of employment and homes are located.) You also want to know how long it takes to get from one location to the other. This is particularly important if you are writing about a real world location. (New Yorkers will be shaking their heads in disbelief if you have your character crossing the city in a short time when they know it takes much longer.)

Having this information will keep things consistent in your novel. (It shouldn’t take your character five minutes to get home from the store one time and half an hour the next – unless you are going to blame traffic or an accident.)

If you are setting your story in the past, you will need to research the location as well as customs and styles of that time.

If your story is set in a fictional world, you will have to take time developing things like technology, religion and a whole other bunch of things.

It is knowledge of all these details, whether they make it into your story or not, that will allow you to bring the reader into your character’s world.

Plot/Conflict

Without a plot, you just have characters meandering around. You need to have something that these characters are doing and more importantly, you need conflict. This is what drives your story. If everything was easy, no one would want to read about your characters going through their daily routines. Your characters need to overcome some obstacle. (We will cover conflict later but if you want to know more now, check out my post on the five types of conflict.)

You need to consider whether your plot ideas can last through the length of your novel. Not every idea will be worthy of a full-length novel or even a short story. If you are writing a full-length novel that is 70,000 to 100,000 words (or even more). If you are writing a short story or a novella, you are looking at 10,000 to 40,000 words. (Rough estimates – if you want to know more about the differences, click here.)

All of this may seem like a lot of work. And it can be a daunting task to do all this planning but knowing these things before you begin writing will certainly cut back on the amount of rewriting you will have to do when you get to your second, third and fourth drafts. It is the planning – the laying down of a foundation – that will give you the best chance to writing a publishable novel.

Over the next few weeks we will look closer at these three areas of planning and then cover whether you want to outline your novel or just begin writing. But first, let’s make sure you have a sound story idea before you get working on it. Tune in next week for more on that topic.

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