10. Steps for Writing your First Novel

10. Steps for Writing your First Novel

Part of the series “From Zero to Hero – Journey of a Novelist”
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I have come up with some steps that I think I should have followed in the beginning as a brand new, first-time writer. Hind-sight is 20/20?

  1. Write a chapter or two or three
    Just jump in and start writing; no, really – there’s a reason for this.
  2. Stop writing
    Accept the fact you won’t be coming back to writing your story for a while (several weeks at least). There’s a reason.
  3. Create a limited (or full) “outline” depending on your preferences
    • This one could be argued; there are plenty of authors who don’t like to outline. Let’s not use the word “outline” here – let’s call it your “vision”. After all, you do know what you want to write about, don’t you? The point is, write a little bit down about what you want to do. Your vision should have, at the least (these can be short, single sentences):
      • Beginning [Why should the reader start reading?] and/or your main character
      • The major problem [What makes the main character(s) start doing something? Is someone in danger? Is the world going to be destroyed? Do they need to win a competition?]
      • The middle [See step 6 below…]
      • End [Do they “win” or “lose” – do they rescue the person in danger; do they save the world; do they win the competition?]
  4. Reflect on your outline – Specifically the end
    • Do you have any idea at all how they rescue the person in danger? Not a detailed step-by-step, but the general idea? How do they save the world? How do they win the competition?
    • Is there anything to be learned by the character – and thus, the reader – by this ending? Does the rescue show how to overcome fear? Does saving the world entail learning how that world really works? Does winning the competition show how meaningless winning really is? Or how important? [This does not need to be profoundly “deep”]
    • What is it about your character’s struggles that make the reader care if they succeed?
  5. Reflect on your outline – Specifically the middle
    • So you have a great character, a great “problem”, and a clever way to solve the problem. That covers maybe the first fourth and last fourth of the book. What do you do the entire rest of the time?
    • What is it about your character’s struggles that make the reader care about anything that happens in the middle?
  6. Stop
  7. Realize that questions 4 and 5 [might] have shown you a serious problem [if it doesn’t, you’re way ahead of the game]
    • You may not have been able to answer the questions, or you can answer them in a vague sense, but not specifically, even in your head.
    • You may have an idea how the character will accomplish the task/solve the problem, but realize you don’t know how to express that in words. You don’t know the “mechanics” of writing (versus what the story/plot is).
  8. Stop and do some serious, serious research.
    • Before you send out your chapters to your friends to get their feedback; before you send your chapters to on-line buddies through writing forums to get critiques; before you solicit paid help: research.
      • Spend AT LEAST one entire week that you would normally set aside for writing, and so some preliminary research. Start with blogs in two areas: (1) The publishing process, including self-editing; and (2) basic writing tips.
      • DO NOT GET DISCOURAGED. You will read all over the place how tough it is to get into publishing. I do believe it’s true, but the more I read, the more I think that the “statistics” are so low because so many of us newbies don’t first learn these concepts that I list below (after the stop sign).
      • Once you have spent this first week, it should give you an idea how much longer you need to spend researching and educating yourself before you can continue on. Read the next bullet to see if you are ready to continue.
    • Stop If you don’t know what these mean in the list below – all of them – then STOP NOW and learn them, at least on a very basic level, before continuing. You don’t just have to know what they mean (everyone knows what “Dialog” is, right?); you have to know how to effectively use them in your story. As of this writing, I myself do not understand them; however I know enough to realize that in order to write a great story, I must learn these, before I continue.
      1. Plot Concepts [reference]:
        • Separating your story into “Acts” (usually 3)
        • Hook [Why start reading this book? What questions are posed that need answers?]
        • First Plot Point [when the disaster strikes – point of no return]
        • Midpoint / Turning Point [Characters stop being shocked and start “doing” something]
        • Key Events [??]
        • Pinch Points [Something to do with the bad guys]
        • Climax [How the problem is solved, roughly 10-15% of the end]
        • Resolution [After the Climax dies down, final farewell and/or glimpse of what comes next in the character’s life]
      2. Theme / Moral / What your story is “ABOUT”
      3. Characters
        • Conflict <– –> Change
        • Creating an emotional experience with your readers – do you give your readers reason to love (or hate) your characters, passionately?
        • Backstory
      4. World / Setting / Milieu
      5. Style
        • Action: “Show don’t Tell” – what it REALLY means and when NOT to do it
        • Dialog
        • Inside the character’s head: monologue and/or emotions
        • Narrations / Descriptions
        • Flashbacks
      6. What else? [Hey, you successful Authors – what else would you put here?]
      7. Whatever else you add here,  do not try to become an expert all at once.
  9. Go back and revise your first two-three chapters
    • If you can get some of the above under your belt (at a high level), then use this opportunity to practice the self-editing process.
    • This will also let you practice using some techniques you have learned as you revise.
    • The reason to do this after your first chapter or two or three, is so that you have enough to revise, yet not too much so that you can make really major revisions if you need to.
  10. What’s next?

So tell me, what should YOU have done? Can you help newbies like me by adding comments here, telling us some good tips that helped you get started with your very first book? 

Featured Images
Copyright: magisjaponica / 123RF Stock Photo
Copyright: kirillm / 123RF Stock Photo

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