Your Novel and How to Start Writing It
Where to Start?
Nearly all writers and authors are avid readers, and they tend to write the same genre they read. This is probably why you are reading this article right now, you love to read and are itching to write but have no clue where to start. Hopefully, this will help you.
Every writer must start somewhere. In most cases, it's an idea that has been nagging at them for days upon days, demanding to be written. However, that isn't always the case; sometimes it's just an overbearing desire to write something... anything.
Let's start with those of you who are craving to write but have no idea what. From personal experience and from speaking with other writers of different genres, the best thing to do is get yourself a notebook and pen, and simply write down whatever comes into your head. It doesn't have to make sense. It doesn't have to be whole sentences; sometimes individual words are enough. This technique can lead to an idea, because you may come across a scene in your everyday life that is unbelievable or inspirational, and that you need to take note of it. Maybe you overhear a conversation that you think, "that would be perfect in a story," and need to jot it down immediately or forever lose it. Heck, even a painting could inspire a fantastic idea, so going to galleries and museums are a great resource for an aspiring writer.
Already have an idea? That's easy, write out a brief description of your idea and keep notes of anything that suddenly pops into your head for scenes or dialogue. Having an idea is amazing but getting a well rounded and clear picture of what it will look, sound, smell, feel and taste like is a different matter altogether. If it’s a story, script or novel, having a clear description of your characters can help develop the story, so write how each of your characters can look—don’t worry, you can tweak and change these as you go or before you start writing. If it’s poetry, try writing down key words that represent the subject matter you’re trying to express in your work.
Another alternative is to go online or get a book on writing. Books on writing can be useful to dip in and out of for helpful tips, ideas and suggestions. However, they are not the be-all and end-all of how to write or what to write. There are good for reference information—a bit like an artist and using photographs to help create their masterpiece.
You can also use writing prompts; these can be fun exercises to help inspire an idea, as well as help you develop your writing skills and techniques. Many authors use them to help with writer's block as well when they can't think of a word to write for themselves and their work.
You may be asking whether these techniques work with everyone, probably not, but from this, you can get a feel of what might work for you to get you started in your new hobby or career as a writer/author.
What About Writing Courses and Books?
If this isn't enough for you, or you think that your writing skills are not quite up to scratch, then you may want to consider online writer and writing courses. Whether you want to pay for them or complete free online courses, it's entirely up to you. I'm listing some free online courses you can try out. Make sure to read full details of what they involve, as some may not be right for you; everyone is different.
Free online courses:
Surprisingly, these types of courses are useful for getting to grips with your own writing style, as well as how you develop an idea or even how you find inspiration—I've tried them out myself, I especially enjoyed the OpenLearn course. However, these are not perfect; every course teaches something different in how to write—like people, they have their own expectations based on what they have experiences or learned through life and other courses. Knowledge is key for a writer, so never stop learning. Buy the books, complete the courses and make your notes—keep developing and growing as a writer.
This book may be of use to you:
These books and websites are just suggestions; it's down to you to determine whether you want to take part in an online course or to buy a book. I have this book myself, and I still refer back to them when starting a new novel; there is so much in there to read, learn and practise from.
Research the courses and books carefully before deciding, should you wish to go down this path.
So, You Have an Idea... What Next?
This when you need to tread carefully; one false step and you may find yourself part-way through a book with no end in sight. This is the time to start plotting and planning out your idea. How, I hear you ask? Well, that is dependent on yourself.
I can already see your brows furrow and the total look of confusion on your face. Don't worry, I'll explain.
Writers write their books in different ways:
- You have your in-depth plot developer, who plans out every inch of the story from beginning to end, including the timeline, the length of each chapter, the relationships between each character, etc.
- Then you have your, write out details of the plot and storyline, but refrain from going too in-depth. They then beginning writing, allowing their imagination to fill in the gaps.
- You also have your writers who do a brief description of the storyline, then put all their effort into developing the characters and the connecting relationships before writing their novel.
- Then there is the 'off the cuff' or ‘panster’ writer. They have an idea and all the details of the characters; the plot and timeline remain a mystery. They simply begin to write, and as they go, they develop the story and characters, etc.
You need to make up your mind as to the kind of writer you are. Once you realise that, you can begin to produce your novel.
This is not the only step in creating your novel; the next thing you need to decide is whether it will be a stand-alone book or the first in a series. This is not always the easiest thing to determine in the beginning, then again you may know straight away. The good thing about an idea for a story and being in the planning stages is that you can always change your mind. Hell, you can change your mind at any time prior to getting it published or pitching it to an agent. However, it is still important, as it can change the shape of your novel and what you intend to include in the book, as well as how you elect to end it.
I bet you’re wondering how to make up your mind whether it will be the first in a series or not? That, unfortunately, I can’t answer for you. That is down to you and the idea you have. If you feel you would not be able to get everything you want into just one book, then maybe a series is for you. As to how many books that will be, you can decide that when you begin planning out your book or during the research and development side. Or... you can just wing it and say, “I’ll make it a three book series.”
Which Genre Should I Write?
Okay, so now you are ready to develop your idea into something more tangible. Now, think about the genre of your idea—some genres need more research than others. That’s not to say that you shouldn’t do research for all your books, it’s just some can be a little more complicated to write than others, example; Crime Fiction.
Crime novels are very complicated in that you not only need to research police and forensic procedures, you also must think about how the crime or murders are committed, and why the criminal has done what they have done. Psychology is very important in a crime fiction. Is that it? Nope. You need to think about the type of crime novel you want to write if that is the direction you’re heading in: cosy, whodunnit, whydunnit, howdunnit, procedural, thriller and countryside.
Or maybe you’re creating a paranormal fiction. I bet you think there’s no need to do research for this genre of fiction. Well, you would be wrong. Reading paranormal fiction books, research the type of paranormal creature you will be writing about is important. Are you writing about vampires, ghosts, werewolves or something else? Do you know everything there is to know about them? Do you want to write something a little sophisticated like the books Ann Rice writes or do you want to go more dark and sexy books like Christine Feehan? Maybe you want to write about a shifter; do you know how the animal they change into moves, acts, reacts, etc.? There is more to research in paranormal fiction than you think.
Fantasy fiction and Science Fiction can be as complicated as crime fiction in that you may be creating completely new places, creatures, beings, planets and even universes. Skies the limits with these types of fiction; however, they do come with drawbacks. If you plan on creating a whole new world, you need to design the countries, continents, animals, creatures, civilisations, etc., and this takes a whole lot of time, patience and research. You may have to create maps to help you and the readers see the world you are creating—not always an easy thing. Do they speak a unique language? What does it sound and look like? Are they going to speak this language and translate or just use keys words, which are explained as you progress through the story? So many questions and so much to do; these genres are not for the faint-hearted.
Romance is a genre that can either stand alone or be mixed in with the other genres, example paranormal romance. Romance is self-explanatory, but don’t forget with any romance comes conflict, confusion, turmoil, doubt, anxiety and all those other fascinating emotions that come with romance and love.
These are merely some examples of the genres available to any writer; there are many more. It’s because there are so many genres and sub-genres that you can become overwhelmed and unsure which genre your book falls into. Just pick the genres that best suit your book and what it entails and soon you will have a much clearer picture of your novel.
What is your favourite genre to read?
Voice: The Narrative Viewpoint
Point of view is one of the top mistakes made by inexperienced writers. Choosing a point of view is difficult and this is why writers have so many problems. You have first person, third-person limited, third-person omniscient and second person. Perspective is how the characters view and process what’s happening within the story.
If you want to really get into more detail about points of view, this is a great blog post: All About Point of View: Which One Should You Choose? So let’s go into more details about the different perspectives to choose from and how they differ:
First-Person Point of View
Obviously, anything that is done in the first person point of view will use the words I, me and myself (personal pronouns) throughout the narrative. The first-person character or narrator either relates the story as it’s happening or retells a story as it happened in the past.
Let’s look at the four types of first-person narrators you can use:
- The Protagonist – S/he is the main character in the story. This character shares what happens to him/her as it happens, along with a narrative.
- The Secondary Character – S/he is not the main character but is part of the main character life (usually in a relationship with them in some way) and so can relate his/her experiences within the context of the story.
- The Observer – This narrator is a witness to the story but has limited or no participation in the story. This point of view is very similar to the third-person limited point of view but uses personal pronouns.
- The Unreliable Narrator – This person is skewed and cannot be trusted to convey the story accurately.
Second-Person Point of View
I can already hear those cogs turning and mind trying to figure out what second person point of view is. It is unlikely that you have ever heard of this or even seen it within a novel because it’s a very uncommon point of view to use. Why, I hear you ask? That would be because it’s the hardest to pull off without sounding awkward or corny. You can recognise this point of view by the use of the words you, your, yourself. The narrator is the reader.
Third-Person Point of View
You will find that this is the most common viewpoint used by writers, due to it being more flexible than the other two points of view. Third person gives a more global view of what’s happening in the story and with the characters. However, it can also be quite limiting to follow just one person.
- Third-Person Limited – The story is read from one character's point of view throughout.
- Third-Person Multiple – This point of view can follow multiple people, switching back and forth between their individual stories and perspectives.
- Third-Person Omniscient – This narrator knows everything about everyone. It also knows everything about the world within the story. Nothing is off limits, whether past, present or future.
Character Creation and Development
After finally deciding on the narrative point of view, you can now focus on your characters. Every writer/author does this differently. This is how I have developed my characters for my novels. This may be correct for me but may not work for you. Alter it, change it and make it your own. It’s all about what suits you and helps you create your perfect novel, with believable characters. That is the key with any book, having believable and relatable characters within your novel—without them, your story will flop every time. Now, you don’t need your characters to be like-able. The good thing about people is that you don’t like everyone you meet; this is also true with fictional characters. From my personal stand-point, the more information and detail you put in a character biography—which you can refer to when writing your novel—the better it is for you, as you are creating a well-round individual.
Let’s start with what to include in a character biography. Remember, you want to write detailed biographies for your main, influential characters. Smaller, sub characters don’t need a much detail, but I find it best to still give them a small biography to refer to (just in case you write a series of books and they pop up again in a later book).
Biography and What to Include:
- Full Name, including any nicknames that they will be known by.
- Sex/Gender – This is very important.
- Height and build – If one character is taller than the other, they may have to look up at them when speaking with them.
- Nationality/Race – This depends on the type of genre you are writing
- Religion – This is up to you whether they have a religion or not.
- Skin colour – The reason for this is they may be an alien and have blue/green skin and pink spots.
- Age – This is also dependent upon what genre you are writing.
- Eye and hair colour – This is because you may refer to them a lot or they have a unique eye or hair colour.
- Features – Do they have a slim face, tattoos, birthmark or scars? Something to think about to enhance your character that little bit more.
- Likes/Loves & Hate/Loathe – Because everyone has things they like and hate.
- Fears – You can include this one, but you don’t have to. It can help to define the character a bit more and why they do what they do in certain situations.
- Personality – Are they quick-witted, shy, reserved, tense, etc. This can greatly affect your character during the story.
- A brief history – Where were they born? Did they have family? Anything important happen in their life? This is where you detail their past as best you can, to help you define your character.
Remember, this is just an example list. You can add or deduct from this list with whatever you feel you need to create your character biography and help you write your novel. You may not even write this, as you may be a panster.
Sometimes, when creating a character, you can’t think of a name to call them. It can happen. In some cases, you can’t think of a name until part way through writing your novel, so what do you so. From personal experience, I’ve found using simple names like ‘John Smith’ and ‘Jane Doe’ work well as a temporary measure until you’ve found the right names to use. To help discover the right names, try checking out baby names websites; there are plenty of names on these sites from all over the world.
You need to think about how your character speaks. What I mean by this is, do they have an accent? Do they have a lisp or a speech impediment? Maybe they don’t speak at all and are telepathic or they’re deaf and use sign language. It’s important to remember, if you decide to write the accent of your character, you still need to make sure the reader can understand it. Not everyone is good with accents. Sometimes it’s best to just mention that they have an accent rather than trying to write the accent.
Lastly, regarding a character's personality: This can be easily created by observing people around you—friends, family and strangers at a bus stop or café. Take note of how they act, their posture, their speech. All of this will help create a realistic character that readers can relate to. You can even use yourself as the basis for a character.
Time to Start Writing Your Novel
This is where you either have a slight panic attack or become overexcited from drinking way too much caffeine just before sitting down at your laptop/computer. As a writer get used to drinking lots of coffee and tea, eating snacks instead of real food or forgetting to eat at all. It comes with the territory. You get so engrossed in writing that you forget about everything else. This is a time to think about setting alarms to remind you to take a break. It may be an exciting time, and you want to write as much as possible as quickly as possible, but you don’t want to burn yourself and not finish what you started. Pace yourself. Set yourself specified writing times so you don’t overdo it.
Get ready, it’s time to write—one quick note about dialogue: if you’re from America you use “double quotation marks," and if you’re from the UK you use ‘single quotation marks.’ Most believe that you should start writing at the beginning but that is not always the case. Some write the end before they write the beginning. Some even begin part way through. Best thing to do it begin writing and get a feel of whether you have started at the beginning if your novel or not. Just keep in mind that the first chapter sets the tone for the rest if the book. As your write, remember to save regularly. If your battery dies or computer crashes you don’t want to lose what you have just written, and make sure to create a backup of your story as well—always good to have a spare copy in case anything happens. You’d be surprised at how many writers forget and then lose their story because their computer crashed or completely died on them.
Keep your story idea clear in your mind as you write. If you’ve planned out your book from start to finish, make sure to refer to your plan or notes to keep on take with what you’re writing. Also, make sure to check in with your character profiles wine necessary, you don’t want your character going from having black hair to auburn.
Whilst writing, don’t focus on spelling, grammar or punctuation, these things can be sorted out after you’ve completed the first draft. During the first draft, all you need to focus on is getting that story out of your head and onto paper... or a computer screen. It is a well-known fact that all writers have a multitude of problems with the first draft, that’s why you redraft your manuscript several times before bowing down to the expert touch of an editor.
With writing your novel, as well as deciding on what point of view to choose, you also need to decide on the tense. Writing in the past tense is the most popular and easiest, but you can write in present tense, which many writers only use with 1st person point of view. You’ll know which tense to write in as you type, it will feel natural to you. So natural, you will hardly have to think about it, it will just flow from your fingers.
You may notice that you constantly second guess yourself, which can cause you to become distracted from writing. Don’t worry this will eventually pass. You will become so focused on wanting to see what happens to your protagonist and how the story will end that you will forget about the book formatting, the weird font sizes and MS Word decorating your screen with red and green wavy lines.
Show, Don't Tell
There are some writers that will understand this; others will not. So, what do I mean by ‘show don’t tell’? When writing a story, it is sometimes hard to distinguish between telling the reader what is happening and showing them; allowing them to become part of the story. They can visualise what is happening within the world of your manuscript.
Let me elaborate with an example:
Mary walked along the street, the birds were singing, and the flowers were in bloom.
Mary ambled along main street; she listened to the bird sing their merry tunes and breathed in the scent of the daffodils from a nearby garden.
Make the reader feel that they are there seeing this happen. Have them hear the bird and smell the daffodils. Give things proper names, don’t simply say ‘it’s a flower’; say what it is. If it’s a rose, then call it that. Don’t simply say a person walked down the street—did they amble? Did they jog? Did they have a skip in their step? And don’t forget to name the street. All this provides the reader with the means to recreate your world clearly in their own mind and imagination.
My top tips for showing and not telling are:
- Avoid using “to be” verbs excessively – (am, are, was, were, is, being, have been)
- Use verbs that show, instead of adjectives that tell. (Example: instead of ‘a loud man’, use ‘the man roared’).
- Use specific descriptive words. (Example: Instead of ‘he’s tall’, use ‘he’s 6 foot 3”).
- Name things. (Example: Instead of just calling it ‘a street’, say ‘Main Street’ or ‘Kingfisher Avenue’).
- Strong verbs will provide more of an impact than adverbs. (Example: Instead of, ‘he shouted angrily’ try, ‘he bellowed’ or ‘he screamed at the top of his lungs’).
- ‘Very’ is not a practical descriptive word. (Example: ‘It was a very hot day’, a better way would be to say, ‘Flowers wilted, and dogs panted in the shade’).
- Use dialogue. It allows the reader to experience the scene as if they were there. (Example: Tell – Her boyfriend was so angry with her. Show – ‘Louise,’ Jake yelled, ‘Tell me the truth, now.’)
Utilising the Senses
Many new writers forget to utilise all their senses in a manuscript. You can do more than just see, hear and taste. You have five senses at your disposal; six if you include psychic powers. Don’t narrow your view and writing style by ignoring all these senses and how they can enhance your novel and the reader's experience to the fullest.
The senses can help create suspense, intensify fear or thrills, and even heat up things in the bedroom. However, don’t confuse the senses with over detailing the surroundings in the scene by ‘telling’ the reader what it looks like instead of describing it through the eyes of your characters—if it’s of importance to note for progressing the story.
The best scenes focus on the core elements of conflict — which means before you can write amazing scenes, you must find the conflict in a story. Conflict is essential to a strong story.
So, what is conflict? Let’s look at the dictionary definition:
1. a serious disagreement or argument, typically a protracted one. "the eternal conflict between the sexes" synonyms: dispute, quarrel, squabble, disagreement, difference of opinion.
1. be incompatible or at variance; clash. "parents' and children's interests sometimes conflict" synonyms: clash, be incompatible, be inconsistent, be incongruous, be in opposition, be at variance, vary, be at odds, be in conflict, come into conflict, differ, diverge, disagree, contrast, collide
If we analyse this definition, it is easy to comprehend and imagine scenes that would contain conflict. You may even recall times when you fought with friends over silly things or had a major argument with your partner or parents. These memories and experienced are great to draw upon when planning and writing conflict within your story.
The four character types to fill first, as you plan, are:
- The Friend/Confidante: What would you expect to gain or receive from a friendship. What does the exchange of goals look like in friendship?
- The Authoritative Figure: How does this relationship create benevolent and/or negative energy? What gives them such authority or power over others??
- The Love/Admiration Interest: How does the protagonist think of, and possibly plan to, pursue his/her love interest?
- The Enemy/Antagonist: Who opposes the protagonist? Is it direct opposition (contradicting the protagonist’s goal), or competitive (pursuing the same or a similar goal)?
Once you’ve established what the protagonist wants from each of these characters, you can start to make notes of how they would conflict with each other; ideas, thoughts, goals. What might the Authoritative Figure want from the Friend? The Friend from the Love? And so on.
This helps plant the seeds of conflict that will blossom into strong scenes. When characters are engaged in authentic relationships, the conflict between them occurs more naturally, making for a more realistic read.
Still not sure? There are some great books out there that can help, including Writing With Emotion, Tension, and Conflict: Techniques For Crafting An Expressive And Compelling Novel.
On a Final Note...
Being a writer can be a very lonely and isolating hobby or career. You find yourself locked away for hours and sometimes days at a time planning, researching and developing your writing skills, and that's even before you start writing a word of your story, poem, novel, script, etc. This can stunt your creativity and can bring about the dreaded writer's block, and no writer wants that.
As such, it is best to join social writing groups online or physical groups local to yourself. Meeting and chatting with like-minded people can help spur further creativity, as well as help develop ideas or move them in a new direction and even help develop your own skills as a writer. All this from chatting and discussing your work with others. Amazing, right?
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
Questions & Answers
How do you get motivation for a novel you can not often work on due to commitments?
I've found taking a note book and pen with you where ever you go can help, because you have the ability to continue writing or just take notes when you get a small break whilst being busy or when you have lunch etc. That can help keep you motivated. Also, make sure your normal writing area is away from any distractions. Lastly, you can try making a schedule .... write done when your busy and when you're free and use that knowledge to plan ahead for when you can get writing. I hope this helps.
© 2019 Gemma Newey