How to Write a Novel Step by Step

All novels start life as an idea and as the idea is brought to fruition; it is as an original copy of every other novel the writer ever read. Stephen King says in his book ‘On Writing’ that the two most important things for writing a novel are non-stop reading of the novels of others and the basic act of writing, writing and writing. But it is very helpful for aspiring novelists, to have a framework in which to create. All-good novels have a central idea at heart. The idea is fleshed out by the chosen genre, the setting, in terms of time and place, the plot and most importantly the characters within the narrative. It is often said that we all have at least one book within us. The difference between those who actually write it and those that only ever talk about writing is simply their physical diligence in front of a word processor or sheet of paper. It is all about having the will to write a book, and how to use your creative mind.

Your central idea or theme needs to appeal to others and ideally be sellable. If others don’t want to read your novel, it is just a diary or a fantasy. It is wise to start with subjects you have some knowledge of and do the mental exercise of asking. ‘What if’? Jane Austen must have had the idea at some point; two young people fall in love at first sight, but ‘what if’ they are too proud to admit it to themselves. This became the seed of the most successful novels of the 19th century, ‘Pride and Prejudice’. Frank Herbert must have developed the idea; what if water was the scarcest resource in the ‘world’, into the quintessential science fiction classic, Dune. Jane Austen knew everything about the ethos of the upper-middle classes in England, during her time. Frank Herbert was a scientist with an incredible imagination.

Once your idea has taken shape, the second step in writing your novel is, to begin with the end in mind and then write a short synopsis of the plot and main things that happen, in each chapter. This outline of the whole book, beginning, middle and ending, is not set in stone. It will change and adapt as the work develops, but it is important to keep it up to date. A reader will spot a continuity error instantly, and it can be the difference between a satisfying enjoyable read and having your novel thrown into the bin out of frustration. An outline of your entire novel may well be a daunting prospect, but if the project is ever be completed it is an essential step to write carefully using a plan.

Step 3 in writing that novel is building a picture of each of your central characters. List their names, their character traits and physical descriptions. Again, these can change during the actual writing process. As the novel progresses the reader learns more about the characters. Indeed, the central theme of a novel is often the personal growth of characters. Together with your plot outline the good novelist makes sure that the people in the story act only in character, at each significant point in the narrative. Place markers at the points in your outline where you will inform the reader of key character points. A top tip for writing a novel is to keep a character file and refer to it whenever you are writing a character piece. It ensures integrity and continuity of both your plot and character development.

Building your characters

Novel writing step 4 is the penultimate, the biggest and the most ‘enjoyable thing you can do with your clothes on’, as Terry Pratchett describes it. It is the act of writing. Most writers have to discipline themselves to sit for a set time period or word count, every day. The important thing is to keep writing, without going back to rewrite and edit. That is the final step in writing that novel. Then when you have got all your ideas to paper, and have typed it out make sure to read it and then and only then edit! Writing a novel can be a great way to spend your time. It can also turn out to be quite profitable too. Think about JK Rowling and where she is today.


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