How to write a novel or a story - What are the rules?

Looking for advice on how to write a novel or a story? On this page, you'll find answers to frequently asked questions about fiction writing. Scroll down for links to free story-planning worksheets and other resources.

Recently, we've been receiving a lot of e-mails asking questions like these:

  • What's the maximum number of characters I can put in a story?

  • How soon after the beginning of my story does the main plot have to begin?

  • How many points of view can I use in a novel?

You will find books and courses that say the villain should enter on Page X, and you should have a plot twist on Page Y, but that kind of answer is only one particular person's theory. Most likely it’s based on analyzing common patterns. The answer might NOT be correct for your particular story.

Unless you're writing for a very specific market (e.g., different Harlequin Romance imprints have their own requirements), there are no absolute rules for writing fiction. Instead, there are artistic choices that you have to make as an author.

The real answer to all of these questions is: whatever works best for your particular story.

Let's look at this question by question.


Q: What's the maximum number of characters you can use?

A: You want to avoid confusing your readers and robbing your main characters of "stage time." You don't want so many characters that readers don't get to know any of them. Each character should be in the story for a purpose.

Apart from that, you get to decide. If you think you might have too many characters, try merging some of them.

Q: How soon after the beginning of your story should your main plot begin?

A: Normally, as soon as possible.

Often, stories take too long to get started. Experiment with cutting your beginning and see what happens. When you can no longer cut without hurting your story, then stop cutting.

Our online course Irresistible Fiction will show you how to design a story plot that keeps readers turning pages.

Q: How many points of view can you use?

A: The more points of view you use, the less intimacy readers tend to develop with each character. Weigh the pros and cons of including more points of view (e.g., variety, flexibility) with fewer (e.g., readers feel closer to your main character).

Keep in mind too that using more points of view is harder to do effectively. You are setting a greater challenge for yourself. And if you are using multiple points of view, you want to be very careful not to confuse readers when you switch from one to another.

Our online course Through Your Characters Eyes will show you how to use narrative viewpoint to pull readers deep inside your story.

***** General rule: When in doubt... experiment! *****

You can write as many versions of your story as you like in order to find the best approach. There's no risk. Readers will only see the final version you choose.

Try different things, play, have fun.


How to write a novel or story - more help

Learn how to write a novel that readers can't put down in our online course, Irresistible Fiction.

Sign up for our online course on narrative viewpoint, Through Your Character's Eyes.

You can also... << BACK from How to Write a Novel or Story to Creative Writing Now Home