Today, I’m going to walk you through the process of writing your first novel. If you are looking for a concise strategic approach, or you are just stuck, read on.
Writing a novel is hard. If it wasn’t, everyone would do it. What’s even harder? Getting started. New writers often don’t know where to look for advice when starting on their manuscript. I’m going to try to sum the whole process up in 1000 words or less (that’s 10 minutes for slow readers). With NaNo right around the corner, it’s time to go into full story mode. Ready? Go.
1. Sum Your Story in One Sentence
Strip away all the parts that don’t matter and sum it up in one sentence. Strive for less than 20 words. “Jake discovers a key that unlocks the door to hell, now he has to figure out what to do with it.” Something like that.
2. Outline Your Story Idea
I’m not talking about one of those school note-taking outlines. I’m talking brain dump. Get the general story arc down. Splatter it over a page or two, and answer four questions. Who is your main character? What does he/she want? What must they do to get it? What stands in their way? Make a bullet list of the major plot points, and expand as needed.
3. Character Bio
You should write at least one. This can be a story about your main character’s past, or a general lead-in to your story. Don’t worry about being fancy, just hit the main points. What do they look like? What do they do? What are their likes/dislikes? What kind of a person are they? What are their weaknesses?
4. Bullets and Bricks
Make a list of things that will help your character out of predicaments they might fall into, emphasizing their strengths. Make a list of terrible things that can happen to them, preying on their weaknesses. You can use these later when you hit slow points in the story.
5. Start Writing
Quit wasting time thinking about where to begin on page one. Pick a spot and start there. Action points or an interesting turn of events are good places, but even if you have to start at a normal part (wake up, shower, brush teeth) then do it. Follow your main character to the first bullet point on your outline. What happens? If you are looking for a program other than Word, check out these tools of the pros.
6. Stop Editing
Now isn’t the time for that. Once chapter one is written, never look at it again, just keep the story moving forward. If you have to make a change to something, jot a note down in your notebook, or in a separate document on your computer. Pretend that the problem has been fixed, and move on. DON’T go back and edit.
7. Move the Story Forward
Every. Single. Day. Write something that adds words to your story. If a scene is being difficult, jot a quick note about what needs to happen in that scene, or a couple paragraphs of telly writing, and move on. If you are stuck, then write boring shit until your character gets to the next point. Writing too much isn’t a problem, you will be trimming later. Daily work is key. Even if it’s just one sentence, take that manuscript out and add words to it. EVERY, DAY!
Digest a couple short stories, or read a chapter of a novel. You will find yourself picking up on details, like how another author handles the little things. Internal dialog should be italicized. You can separate scenes with some little ***s or a blank line. You can learn about a certain writing tense or point of view.
Also, read blog posts or how-to’s about writing. When I started my first novel, I would read one or two of these every day, making my words better as I progressed through the book. One or two writing nuggets per day, and then use them in your writing. DON’T go back and edit previous chapters, just keep moving forward with better writing.
9. Collect Muses
You are going to find that certain things make you write easier. Make a list of those things. I always found that a few pages of O’Brian would inspire me to jot down better words. Hard candies, coffee, a certain drink, a special chair, a coffee shop. Figure out the things that help you get more words on a page, and use them when you get stuck. You can get some ideas here.
10. Throw Bricks
You made that list for a reason. At some point in the middle of your story, you will find it lacking action. Give your protagonist problems to deal with and puzzles to solve. Torture the protagonist. It will make you feel better and it will get them back on track if they try to derail your storyline.
11. Go out with a Bang
Before the dramatic conclusion, focus on raising the stakes to the point where it appears, even to you, that your protag is going to fail. Make him or her want to quit and go home. Demoralize, humiliate, and thrash them until they are begging for mercy, and then make them get up off their whiny butt and finish the story.
12. Rest and Party
You finished a book! You should feel damn good about that. Let the haters hate while you and your friends celebrate. Give it a rest for a couple weeks. Recover. And keep writing every day. Maybe some side stories you couldn’t fit into the novel, some poetry, or short stories.
This is the part that will consume the rest of your life, hahaha. You’re reward for all that hard work novelling and becoming a better writer? Edits. Enjoy.