How to Write a Novel

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A lot of people want to write novels, but don't know how to begin. There's not a right or wrong approach to novel-writing, but here are some general steps to get you started.

1) Set a writing schedule.

Writing a novel's a big project. If you leave the writing for when you happen to have a free moment, it's not likely to get done.

You need a plan. For example, maybe you can make writing time by waking up half an hour earlier every day. It's okay if you can only write for a short time each day; the key is to be consistent.

Imagine you write just half a page per day. If you do that every day, in one year, you can finish a draft of your novel!

2) Come up with an idea.

Some people get stuck at this step. They're afraid that their ideas aren't brilliant enough or that they're too much like novels that have already been written.

Remember, though, it's not the idea that will make your novel great or original -- it's what you do with it.

Click here for a free e-book with prompts you can use for inspiration.Click here for a free e-book with prompts you can use for inspiration.

3) Develop your idea.

A classic story plot is built around a character's struggle to overcome a problem or to reach a goal. This struggle gives your story a structure, and it gives readers a reason to keep reading -- they want to find out if the character will succeed or fail.

Often story ideas begin like this:

- "I want to write about vampires."

- "I want to write a spy thriller about the Cold War."

There's nothing wrong with those ideas as starting points, but they aren't story plots -- yet.

Your next step would be to decide on a main character and a central problem or goal for the character to struggle with in the story.

4) Outline - or not.

Many novelists like to start with an outline. This doesn't have to be as scary as it might sound.

Remember how we just talked about developing your idea so that your character's struggling with a problem or trying to reach a goal?

Brainstorm a list of actions your character might take to try to overcome the problem and reach his/her goal. What new problems or obstacles might arise? What might your character do then? All of these are possible scene for your novel.

Make a list. Then play with your list, ordering the possible scenes, removing ones that don't seem to fit and adding new ones to fill the gaps. Voilà -- you have a novel outline!

The outline doesn't have to be in any special format. It's just for you.

Other authors prefer to work without an outline and dive straight into the writing. That's fine too. As I've said, there's no right or wrong approach.

Should you outline or not? It's not a life-or-death decision either way.

If you start without an outline and feel lost, you can stop and brainstorm some scene ideas to keep you going. You can go back and outline at any point in the writing process.

On the other hand, if you begin with an outline, you're not stuck with it. When new ideas occur to you, you can explore them. You can update the outline if you want or leave it behind.

5) Flesh out scenes.

A novel outline might begin like this:

- Karen argues with parents about going to Joan's party.
- Vampires attack Joan's family and take over her house.
- That night, Karen sneaks out of her bedroom and heads to party.

Here you have three scene ideas. Now you have to turn them into scenes with dialogue and action and descriptive detail.

For example, take the scene where Karen argues with her parents. What does she say? What do they say back? What is their body language? Where is all of this taking place? If the scene is from Karen's perspective, what is she thinking?

Imagine the scene as vividly as possible from your main character's perspective. Then try to capture it on the page.

You want the reader to feel as if s/he's watching the important events of the story in "real time", as if s/he's actually there.

6) Finish a draft.

It's okay if your rough draft is a mess. It's okay if all the pieces don't fit together. It's okay if you get bored with it partway through. All of that is normal.

Great novels often begin with messy first drafts. They become great with revision. So just keep going.

At some point, writing a novel can turn into an endurance test. Don't give up. Don't get distracted by doubts and by the fantastic, sure-to-be-a-bestseller new ideas that try to tempt you away from your current project. Your job is to finish that draft, and then you'll have something to revise.

More on How to Write a Novel

Where to Get Creative Writing Ideas. Maybe you want to write a novel, but you're just not sure about what? Here are some ideas for getting ideas.

Plot Structure. How do you develop your idea into a story plot? Learn the essentials of plot structure and how to build your novel from start to finish.

Novel Outline. A simple way to lay out a plan for your novel to avoid false starts and dead ends. Always know where you're headed.

How to Write a Great Beginning. The beginning of your novel is where readers (and agents and editors) decide whether to keep going or to put your novel down. Learn how to write a novel opening that grabs readers' interest right away.

How to Complicate Your Plot. Add plot complications and twists to keep your reader's interest and prevent your story conflict from resolving itself too quickly.

How to Write a Satisfying Ending. The end of your novel forms the reader's final impression. Here's some advice on how to write a novel ending that will leave readers satisfied.

Frequently Asked Questions. What's the maximum number of characters you can use? How many points of view can you include? Answers to common questions about how to write a novel.

Elements of a Novel. Need a 2-second review of terms like "narrator," "plot," and "narrative point of view?"

Types of Novels. Thrillers, science fiction, romance, contemporary realism... there's a heaping buffet table of options for your novel. Browse around and see which one's for you.

How to Write a Mystery. If you're a mystery buff, you'll have a great time writing a crime novel of your own. Advice on planning a mystery, planting clues, and getting away with murder.

A Simple Suspense Writing Technique. Here's a simple way to provoke your readers' curiosity and keep them turning pages.

Use Foreshadowing for Suspense. Learn how to create a suspenseful atmosphere by hinting at what's going to happen.

How to Write a Thriller. How to write a novel that will get your readers' hearts pounding, their palms sweating, and their families shouting to get their noses out of the book already and come help with the dishes...

How to Write Science Fiction. Invent new worlds; explore the wildest possibilities of the universe. Writing science fiction is a chance to push your intelligence and imagination to the limit.

How to Write Fantasy. If you love creating worlds and prefer magic to science, the fantasy genre's for you. But even magic has rules. Before starting your novel, read these dos and don'ts.

How to Write Romance. What research should you do before you start writing a romance? How hot can you make the bedroom scenes? Why are romance novels almost always written from the perspective of women? Find answers here.

Romance Story Ideas. To write romantic fiction, you need three elements. Find out what they are, and get lots of ideas for your stories.

How to Write Historical Fiction. Find out how to write a novel that brings the past to life. Advice on planning, researching, and writing your historical novel.

More on Writing Historical Fiction. Where and what to research before writing a historical novel, and why the research really matters. Learn how to write a novel that transports readers to another place and time.

How to Revise Your Novel. Use this revision checklist to whip your manuscript into shape, starting with larger structural issues and working your way down to smaller details.

How to Keep Your Reader Interested. Three important tips to strengthen your story and keep readers turning pages.

How to Write a Novel - Developing Your Idea. "I've got an idea, so what now?" Ideas are great, but at some point, you have to turn them into stories. Read about four kinds of writers and how they take ideas to the next level.

Top Novel Writing Tips. Avoid typical writing mistakes and give your novel the best chance of success with these top tips from experienced novelists.

Author Interview: Meredith Sue Willis on How to Write a Novel. Novelist Meredith Sue Willis shares her Archipelago Method to novel-writing and offers advice on keeping up momentum during the novel-writing process.

Author Interview: Nicole Peeler on Fantasy Writing. Nicole Peeler, author of the Jane True urban fantasy series, discusses fantasy writing and the line between popular and literary fiction.

Author Interview: Skhye Moncrief on Writing Romance. Romance writer Skhye Moncrief talks about writing romance novels, what it's like to work with druids, and her thing for kilts.

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