How Do You Write A Novel?
This is a very common question of those who’ve been mulling over the idea of writing their own fiction book.
It’s also a loaded question because some don’t like the answer. Writing a book is not a task that takes care of itself, you must be willing to commit and focus.
Starting can be the most difficult part of the journey, but you’re here today so continue reading and see where you fit in. With the ten different ways to start, you’ll find something that’ll fit your life.
Make the Commitment
Once you’ve decided that you do indeed want to write a book, you need to commit to getting that first draft out of your head and down on paper or typed out.
Pens, pencils, a laptop or computer, notebook to keep notes, and a space in which to write.
On top of all that, you’ll need the tenacity to keep yourself focused and on task. If you say you’re going to do, then do it. Don’t worry about the finished product at this time…It’s about getting the stuff transferred from your brain to the page.
Pretty doesn’t count at this time. Pretty writing, clean office, or most expensive laptop–they mean nothing if you don’t do the work.
I wrote much of my first novel in the driver’s seat of my car as I waited for my son to finish school, swimming, or whatever activity was going on at the time. And a writer friend of mine set up a folding camp chair and TV tray in their family’s laundry room so he could write. If you want to write you’ll find a way.
Don’t make excuses.
You’ll also need patience, and lots of it.
Getting your thoughts out of your head and onto the page, may take some practice. It’s a lot of hard work and more of a struggle for some. Don’t give up and don’t worry about the structure or grammar–especially in the first draft. Errors and such will all be edited in future drafts.
Even for seasoned writers who know what direction they’re going, it can be a challenge.
It depends on who you ask, but there are formal and informal ways to start a book. There are rules to follow and rules to ignore or break (I often prefer a mixture of the two), but the key is to continue on, even when you don’t think you can.
What you really, really want to do is find a way and a rhythm that works for you.
This is your book and you have the right to make it what you want. Now that doesn’t mean that it’ll be perfect or immediately salable, but that first draft is all yours.
Go Ahead and Do What You Want… Just DO it.
If you want to start your story off with “Once upon a time…” or “It was a dark and stormy night…” please be my guest, but know that such cliche beginning must be edited out.
Just want to give you fair warning.
Okay, are you ready? Seriously ready? Take the first steps in your journey…
Here are ten ways to start after you’ve decided to write a book….
Okay. The decision is a firm one. You’re ready to go… Let’s see what’ll work for you.
One: An Inciting Incident
What the heck is an inciting incident?
Well, think of it as an event that causes some sort of change for the main character. That incident will shape how the story plays out and how the characters grow and morph.
For Example: in Bambi, the inciting incident is when the hunter shoots Bambi’s mother. It’s shocking and starts the ball rolling on the actual story of Bambi’s survival and what will happen.
In Girl on a Train by Paula Hawkins, the inciting incident happens through observation of the main character. She see discarded clothing, she sees landscape, and then boom she sees a murder… or did she? This incident sends the main character spiraling through an adventure that affects her entire life.
In The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins, main character Katniss volunteers to take her sister’s place in the Games, thus changing the entire trajectory of her life including fame, fortune, love, and family.
In all three of these examples, the inciting incidents aren’t necessarily on page one of chapter one.
First there is the introduction of the characters, setting, and perhaps the expressed desires of the main character.
Once the reader is entrenched in the general nature and happenings of the story, the tension begins to build and an inciting incident occurs. See the diagram of Freytag’s Pyramid below.
An inciting incident engages the reader and brings about tension, and raises questions about what will happen.
Writing this way means an inciting incident with an arc to climax and then falling action and resolution. Some find this very formulaic, but highly effective.
Check out what author John Mavin says about the Freytag’s Pyramid.
Two: Write in “Scenes”
Each chapter can be a scene.
Think of it as watching a TV show.
Get rid of the commercials and what you have are scenes. A scene plays out, then a break is taken, aka commercial (or a new chapter), and when you return, the focus has shifted to another character or setting… or as you’ll now see, a new scene.
Whats neat about writing in scenes, is that you don’t need to write sequentially.
If you have a particular scene you want to get out of your head, then write that chapter and slip it into the larger picture later.
Each scene can be from alternating points of view, which is often very effective in keeping the reader moving forward. In fact, each scene needs to either move the plot forward, build character, or increase tension.
A scene, just like on TV, has the feeling of a beginning, a middle, and an end and leaves you wanting more. A scene is powerful in keeping the reading moving forward.
Think back to when the commercial comes on in your show–it’s a a cliffhanger, right?
Then they come back but are focused on someone else–ugh.The intrigue of having to know what happens keeps the audience (in this case the reader) coming back.
Ground Your Reader With Setting
When you think of a scene include things like setting–this grounds the reader–it can be a city, a neighborhood, a kitchen. It doesn’t matter so long as the reader has somewhere to place the scene.
Play with Point of View
This is where you’ll consider things like point of view (POV).
Which character should be front and center in a particular scene. What do they add to the story? How will they spin the story?
Remember POV can be tricky and you don’t want to be head-hopping–that creates confusion and muddles the reader–stay only in one character’s mind/thoughts per scene.
Show Don’t Tell
In your scenes you want to paint a picture for the reader.
This is where the art of Show Don’t Tell comes in. Once you learn it and make sense out of the concept, if does really help your writing.
Don’t get so tied up in knots that your forget to write the story. While show don’t tell is important, the key in the first draft is to get the story out of your head. Don’t drive yourself crazy by trying to get too clever.
Write it. Move on. Edit later.
Using Active Voice not Passive
This is a way of writing that keeps things moving in an active way. This is when the subject of the sentence does the action.
Example: I began to walk up the street. (passive). I walked up the street. (active). Example:The cat was chased by the dog. (passive) The dog chased the cat. (active)
I’m not a huge fan of grammar, but in the writing world, active vs passive voice can be the difference between success and being overlooked.
The reason is that the passive voice is slower paced and can cause the narrative to lag. While it is used sparingly, it’s a good idea to learn the difference and for the most part avoid passive voice.
Check out my post on Active v Passive Voice
Slip in the Visceral and the Senses
When writing in a scenes, don’t hesitate to add the senses: sight, smell, taste, hearing, touch…
These are very important in building that scene and can be wound in through the characters thoughts or actions.
And visceral scenes have a physical reaction that is instinctual or a gut reaction… like your mouth waters when the aroma of cookies fills the air, or you shiver at the thought of a spider.
These are details in your writing that will make it better.
…if you’re writing sex scenes, Diana Gabaldon, Bestselling Author of the Outlander series, says that you must employ at least three senses.
So think about it. Hmmm…
The Truth About Scenes
Writing scenes is still a lot of work.
Don’t kid yourself into thinking that it’s going to be a piece of cake. Nope, you need to really complete each scene and then weave them all together like a master craftsperson.
Remember that the first draft is just that…a draft.
The really hard work starts after that draft is done. The getting rid of the boring stuff (that which does not move the story forward), extra words, even scenes….oh man…I have complete faith in you!
If you really want this then you’ll make it happen. I believe it.
Three: Write With Your Heart
Do you write in a contemporary setting? or Perhaps historical? Young Adult? Fantasy? or Horror.. It doesn’t matter.
Be You. Write You!
Perhaps you really want to write a literary masterpiece that follows a more twisted and artistic logic and plot… Hey, go for it.
Go where your heart and talents take you.
Close your eyes and allow your imagination to soar–to float over the lands just like the picture above–wherever you land is where your heart has taken you. Trust it.
Many writers will tell you that the words flow through them and they are but a vessel of delivery.
So, don’t be afraid to follow your muse.
Four: Maybe You’re a Plotter
A plotter is the type of writer who does a detailed outline of the plot and then makes several pages of notes on the characters, their motivation, characteristics and traits.
This style of prep works for some who are very detail oriented and like rules…because once the outline is complete it’s like plugging in the story and filling the empty spots.
While some may see this as formulaic, others see it as organized.
My suggestion to you would be to leave yourself some wiggle room within your plot to add the unexpected.
I once wrote a story and found myself veering way off course. I had no idea what was going to happen but I let my fingers fly and the end result was far superior to what I had tactically planned or plotted.
So, if doing a detailed outline is your thing, just be open to change.
Five: Perhaps You’re a Pantser
A “pantser” is the opposite of a plotter or planner. This is like flying by the seat of your pants.
This type of writing is usually quite messy, but fixed at the revision stage.
I am a bit of four and a lot of five…
I do a loose outline, (sometimes) but don’t always follow. My brain moves so fast that it has a tendency to take a plot or outline out of the equation. lol.
Whether a pantser or plotter, you’re going to have to edit afterwards. You’ll add and you’ll take away.
Remember, for the first draft you need to get the story down–that is the goal.
Six: Maybe You Know the End and Want to Start There
An exciting well thought-out end of a book can make for a bestseller.
If you know the end and have that engrained in your mind, then go for it.
You can add twists and lead the reader through a quagmire of issues and circumstance when you know your direction.
But like I said, the muse often wants to have her say and may veer you off course.
Make sure you’re open to change but go work your magic. Work your way backwards with a reverse outline.
Seven: Start on Page One
This is doable too.
Put your butt in the chair every day and pump out 1,000-3,000 words. An average novel is 80,000–you do the math.
It’s not easy because after that first draft you need to let your manuscript sit and marinate for a few weeks before you can go in and get some edits done.
Remember too, you don’t need to write an entire novel, and there are options. Perhaps it’s a novella you want?
Also check out Tips to Succeed from Bestselling author Jonas Saul. He has some great information to share. Also check out Writing Truths with Carol Rose GoldenEagle
Eight: Always Keep in Mind That You Learn by Reading
Have you ever read a book and thought, wow… I could’ve written this…that is very true and perhaps you could’ve even written that particular book better than the author did.
There’s one huge reality though–that author actually sat themselves down and wrote the book.
You need to write the book in order for it to be read.
Learning the craft of writing is best done through the act of reading, talking to other writers, and being open to receiving advice.
Reading other books is how you learn about what you like.
You can note what you don’t like or what it you think it needs more of.
All authors are different and as you continue to read, you become aware of the format, vocabulary, pacing, flow…
Let it wash over you. Read. Read. Read.
You can also study too.
Read books like Stephen King’s On Writing. Another great book is Writing Down the Bones by Natalie Goldberg. or My Twisted Writer Brain blog–and I’ll answer your questions too.
Always be open to learning.
Nine: I Start My Story in my Head
Yup! That’s my twisted writer brain. Seriously. Characters speak to me and I listen. They relay story, satire, situations, and characters.
They wake me up in the middle of the night, and poke me in the brain during the day when I’m trying to get other stuff done, and are constantly vying for attention.
These characters become part of me.
They start to become real and fleshed out in personality until I **know** them.
Once I’m ready to start writing, I invite them to the writing session–with my sometimes bare-bones outline, and I take a deep breath.
Sometimes they tease me in my restlessness and other times will show up and fall out the end of my fingers.
It doesn’t always work and can end up a bit of a shambles, but in that case I’ll press forward anyway trusting that it will in fact come.
Ten: Where do You Start?
If you want to write a book you’ll have to sit your butt in the chair and get to work. Check out The War of Art by Steven Pressfield. It can really give you a kick in the butt.
The fact that you’re asking is a very good thing, but you must stop talking and asking about it and get to the task at hand.
As a new writer, be open to taking advice, tips, and/or opinions of those you respect into consideration, but always find the way that YOU want to do it.
Action is key and I know you can do it.
Writing a book or novel is hard work or everyone would be doing it.
It takes a ton of patience and dedication–not to mention time.
Get it out of your brain. There’s a saying that story trumps craft and what this means is that a great story and well thought out characters can override the quality of the writing.
Coming up with the twists and unique slants to a story offer it an edge.
The craft of writing can, and should, be learned, but can also be edited and that’s why a good story should always be told.
Take that dreaded empty page and fill it with your words… your story!
Now that you’ve read what it takes to start on your novel, go back and read the ten steps again. Read through slowly and pick out the suggestions that will work for you.
Every writer is individual in their thoughts and actions. There is no one like you and no one to relay stories the exact way you would. Sit thy butt in a chair. You’ll never know if you don’t try.
Questions? Leave them in the comment section below. Tell me which of the ten suggestions above most resonates with you.
Thank you for stopping by and reading my post. I hope enjoyed it and learned a lot. Follow below. Thank you.