How to Write a Novel: Tips
Updated: Jun 13
Perhaps you're already a writer, or you're simply playing with the idea of writing a novel because, after all, you've read countless novels, and it just seems like an easy task to come up with a story and flesh it out for the masses to consume. Except, here's the thing: It's not as easy as you think. It's rare for a writer to produce an amazing novel in just a single draft. It just doesn't work like that for us regular folk.
In this post, I'm going to give you some tips on how to write a novel—not because you can't find them anywhere else on the web, but because there's LOTS of information out there. This breaks it down for you instead of overloading your brain. Let's get started:
How to Write a Novel - Beginning
OK, before you begin writing your book, consider getting a guide on writing (for those of you who have never written before) or taking a writing course. Or, you can do what so many others tend to do—jump right in and see if you can swim. That's fine too! It's the motivation behind this post.
If you're not an avid reader of the genre you would like to write in, I recommend reading several books in that genre to understand it. Many books tend to contain more than one genre. Therefore, not only will you get to enjoy a good book, but you'll learn more than you originally sought out to learn.
You're not reinventing the wheel. Just research and pay attention to how others have done it. Go from there to create a story of your own. Remember—no two writers approach writing a novel or short story the same way. I highly encourage you to check out additional sources for writing a novel. Take this guide for what it is: short and simple tidbits of advice that will (hopefully) help you along your path.
Come up with an idea
Even though this one is self-explanatory and seems easy enough, remember that it is also important because you will spend a lot of time expanding on your idea. You don't want to become bored halfway through. Maybe you already have a great idea. If not, here are some questions you can ask yourself:
What do you want to write about?
What do you like reading? Mystery, Romance, Fantasy, Science Fiction, etc...
Have you heard any good rumors or drama in your family lately? (Oh boy, if your family is like my family, then coming up with crazy *real* drama would be easy!) Just make sure to use different names and change identifying information.
Think about real-life mysteries. Honestly, real life is extraordinary—and sometimes a little strange. Some of the events you see in the news are left unsolved, so why not solve them in your story?
Do you ever daydream? What do you daydream about?
If you don't already, have you considered people watching? (I do this a lot when I'm out in public! It's actually kind of fun.)
You could eavesdrop on someone's conversation. (Neighbors, co-workers, people at the store, etc...)
Come up with a setting. Where do you want your story to take place? You can choose anywhere. Pick an actual location on the globe or create your own unique location.
Come up with a theme. What central idea is your book about? Be careful here. This is different than the plot. What are you trying to say? If you're still not certain, then read some books or watch some movies. Figure out what the underlying message is in the story.
With characters, the possibilities are endless. You're going to have to carve out each of their lives that will play a specific part in the book. Consider these questions:
What is their story, and why do we want to read about them?
Who is your protagonist?
What conflicts does your protagonist face? Give them a purpose or reason for wanting to overcome these conflicts.
Do you have any friends/family who would make an excellent hero in your book? Perhaps a villain/antagonist?
What type of characters can you relate to the most or characters you enjoy reading about?
Does any of your characters have a drug problem? Overcoming depression?
Do they have a forbidden lover?
Were they injured in a war?
What about these characters makes them unique and stand out in the story?
What are their strengths, weaknesses, attitudes, and beliefs?
Think about it this way: you can't let your characters succeed at everything because that would make for a boring story. Mix it up. Make it interesting. Give them a conflict(s) as they pursue their goals.
Develop a Plot
By this point, you should have an idea and some characters. I recommend settling in with a hot coffee or tea because it's time to create your plot or the basic storyline. There are many different methods for developing a plot for your story. It's the journey your main character goes on until the end of the book.
Typically, you start with your protagonist and something that impacts their life (conflict). Then, you move on from there with various ways the protagonist uses to overcome any external or internal conflicts, building up to the climax and finally the resolution. If you plan to lead into another book, you would leave the ending open and ready for the next story upon the initial resolution.
Many writers find it helpful to create an outline of the story. However, you won't find every writer utilizing any single method. Some start with the development of the characters and then write a summary of each chapter. Others complete a proper outline and write it all out in each chapter. Some take post-it notes and put them on a wall while they work through the story. Use index cards, a whiteboard, notepad to write everything on. Whatever works for you—do it! Trust me, nobody's judging you.
Make sure it's interesting, such as a police officer who dies after suddenly being stricken with lung cancer, leaving behind his wife and small children. The wife discovers that her husband wasn't the man she thought as she delves deep into the hidden world he left behind. What does the wife discover? Who was this man? Did he leave a second family behind? Dirty cop complete with hookers and drugs? Was he the kingpin in a deadly criminal organization? Double agent? Descendant to the throne in some faraway country? What is so important about this man?
Well, it doesn't really matter. I think you catch my drift. You want to entice your reader to keep reading. Make them thirsty for more, and then give them a drink, but don't give them the entire bottle. It's like wine—you don't want to drink the entire bottle in a single sitting. (Or, maybe you do?) You can also check out different writing prompts littered all over the web. You can find them anywhere if you're short on ideas.
Writing Your Book
Once you've completed your outline, go back and flesh it out. Don't worry about making it perfect the first time around. Just write it. Get it all out of your system. Chances are, it's going to be utter crap the first time around anyway. That's why you're going to go back and rewrite it. You may want to hold off on letting anyone read it the first time around. I've gotten mixed reviews from doing that with the books I'm currently rewriting.
You see, I knew that I was going to go back over it to edit and rewrite, but I forgot to mention it until I let a few people read several chapters. They basically just uttered, "They're alright..." trailing off, not able to look me directly in the eye. I think they might have even been a little embarrassed for me. To which I replied, "Oh, this isn't the final draft. I'm rewriting the entire book." Basically, I wanted to get a feel for what it might be missing at that point and how I could make it better. I don't think I'll be doing that again. I'll wait until I've completed the second draft, at least.
Books are about dialogue with action. Lots of descriptive scenes without action are boring. While you may feel that describing everything in the room is necessary, it is more important to write it so that the reader feels as though they're there in the moment. You want the reader to experience the emotions and really feel the highs or lows. If you're not excited about your writing, the reader won't be excited about it. If it doesn't make you sad, then it's probably not going to make the reader sad. Understand?
If you find that you've hit a brick wall and can't figure out what comes next in your story, keep writing. It doesn't matter if it's nonsense. Establishing a writing routine can help you stay on track. If you keep writing, then something is bound to come out of it because you're going to rewrite it anyway when you finish the book.
Rewriting Your Book
Once you finish it, it's time to edit and rewrite it. Trust me, after you go back and read the first draft—you're going to want to rewrite it. This is when your story really starts to develop. Ideas will pop out at you, and the changes will flow. Be prepared to spend hours at this phase.
If you've joined a writing group, then this is the time to present your book to the group to receive feedback. It's constructive criticism, so try not to take it personally. Besides, it's better to receive critique from members of the writing community instead of the general public, who definitely won't try to help you become a better writer.
After spending hours pouring your tears and sweat into rewriting your book, you have some decisions to make. Are you planning on self-publishing your book, or do you want to try and get it into print? Figure out your goals to make a solid decision over which one is better suited for you.
You may find someone to accept your novel soon after searching for a publisher, but then again, it may not get accepted for years or even at all. The thing about self-publishing is that you can get it out there in the public eye as soon as you're ready. It's in your hands.
Also, don't forget that you will need to either create the art for the book cover or hire someone to make it for you. Often, people choose their books according to the cover. So if you have to hire someone, you're going to need to include this in your budget.
Good luck and happy writing!