Before you start to write a novel, make sure you know your word-processing software in and out.
Many published authors recommend Scrivener, but there’s a steep learning curve. Want to learn it fast? Here’s an online course that will make working with this great software much easier. Click here.
Next, choose a genre. I’ve heard it said to write a detective story, you first need to read two hundred of them. This advice also applies to romances and historical fiction. Here’s a selected list of genres: romance, detective, fable, fairy tale, fantasy, folklore, historical fiction, horror, humor, legend, mystery, science fiction, thriller, and Western.
What are the basics?
Write a story you would want to read. Think about the books you love that make you live vicariously through them. Do you like mysteries? Write one yourself. Do you enjoy reading historical romances? Maybe you should create your own.
When getting started writing a novel, ask yourself why you are writing it. Your idea must be something so compelling you’ll persevere and finish your book.
Here are some Ideas for starting a novel.
Decide from the beginning what kind of story you want. Is it a journey plot where the hero searches for treasure or something more important?
Is it a rivalry story such as two brothers competing to win the same woman?
These are some tips for beginners.
Be persistent and commit to setting aside time almost every day to write—even if it’s only for a half hour.
After you’ve come up with your idea, expand it and create a story summary from beginning to end. Then ask and answer questions about what happens to your characters. Although some writers write from the seat of the pants, many writers need an outline. Write on cards a title for each scene and arrange them. Scrivener has that inbuilt function.
When you write your first draft, don’t edit as you go. Take your editor’s hat off, and let the words flow. The next day you can edit. You will want to edit, edit, and re-edit your work.
Don’t worry about the advice you may have heard to write what you know. Instead, write about what you feel. There’s so much information on the internet. If you want to write about something you know little about, research it and then you’re qualified to pursue your book. I’ve almost completed a book about ancient Rome. I researched two ancient Roman writers, Tacitus and Suetonius. After studying their books, I could write with authority based on their writings.
Avoid false beginnings.
1. Don’t kill your main character off too soon.
2. Don’t start the book describing the scenery like a travelogue. That’s boring.
3. Don’t spend pages describing your characters.
4. Don’t create a scene that readers believe is real only to discover it was only a dream.
5. Many agents aren’t that fond of prologues. They want to hit the story running.
6. Don’t begin the story with too much telling. Show us instead.
7. Use adjectives and adverbs sparingly.
8. Avoid flowery descriptions.
9. Don’t make a secondary character too prominent.
10. Avoid information dumps—especially at the beginning of your story. These are lengthy sections of explanations and background material. You’re telling readers, “Wait, you need to know this before you read the story.” But they’re saying, “Get on with it.”
When you delve into your story, follow these guidelines for creating compelling characters.
Begin with your point of view character. Be sure to make the protagonist likable but flawed and believable. Some authors advise you to work up a dossier on your protagonist. Consider analyzing your protagonist with a psychological test. That way you delve into the depths of your point of view’s character. You won’t divulge all this in your book, but you’ll be able to make your protagonist more believable.
As soon as possible plunge your character into terrible trouble, but before you do, make the reader care about what happens to the protagonist.
Your main character should not be perfect—either physically or in any other way.
Make your character have a deep desire for something.
Give your main character a compelling goal with huge stakes. A story without a problem is no story at all.
In your character preparation list what each one looks like and how they speak. Decide on their motivations and core values and show how they’re connected to one another
In the beginning, create a significant secondary character that interacts with the protagonist.
Choose a point of view.
Whose eyes will view what’s happening? In the first person, use I, in rare second-person use you, in the third person, use he or she. Want to see into everyone’s head like the classic authors did? Use the omniscient viewpoint.
Invent riveting plots.
From the start, fill your readers’ heads with questions and delay answering them. A proven way to begin your novel is showing your protagonist in a stable lifestyle. Then something happens, the inciting incident, that changes everything. One incident causes another. This results in a chain reaction—like dominoes falling over.
You could show the protagonist changing first and then the rest of the story follows. Perhaps the main character is sick of life as usual and decides to change. The characters will have to be very proactive for this to work.
Give your character a challenging problem to prod the protagonist forward. Without conflict, there is no story. It may be external, internal, or both.
Readers want to get involved with books where the story moves forward without stalling. Something crucial has to happen in each scene. Each must keep the action going. If it doesn’t, remove it. You can use cards or software like Scrivener to list scenes on individual index cards. Then lay the cards out in the order you desire. You’ll see right away how your story is going. Throw in enough surprises to keep your readers’ interest.
In the end, your protagonist changes for the better or worse by resolving the conflict of the story.
Make your settings believable.
Add sensory details from the beginning and to the end—sight, smell, hearing, touch, and taste. Try to make the setting as real to you as the back of your hand. Go to the location, already be familiar with the place, or research it.
Here are the basics of writing a novel in a nutshell.
Your story is about your chosen characters in a setting and what happens to them. Show they change for the better or worse because of the unexpected conflicts they go through.
Don’t forget to save your work.
You can use a thumb drive, Dropbox, and other devices. You can even email your work to yourself.
Now decide whether writing a novel is what you really want to do. These tips should help you as you travel the long and arduous journey ahead to publication.