Writing a Novel: The First Steps

Maybe the thought of writing an entire novel is daunting for you. Maybe you want to write one but don’t have an idea. Or perhaps you have an idea but don’t know where to start. Either way, I know how it is. When I wrote my first book that wasn’t garbage, I didn’t really know where to start. The first first book, the one that was garbage, I wrote by the seat of my pants the entire way, with no planning, no forethought, no nothing. It ended up with no real structured plot, no real goals, no motivations. That’s why I believe in the power of at least a little planning and plotting beforehand, even if you consider yourself a pantser. Just a little forethought can really go a long way in the quality of your novel.

Photo by Karina Curci from Pexels

That doesn’t necessarily mean you have to plot out every little detail of your novel, especially if you enjoy writing by the seat of your pants and seeing where the story and its characters take you. There’s nothing wrong with that. But knowing what your characters’ wants and goals are before you start writing can help you get to your ending a little more quickly — not to mention a little more neatly. Don’t get me wrong, I’m a fan of explorative writing, but that’s mostly to learn about my characters and who they are — not as a way to write a novel.

But there is something to be said about writing by the seat of your pants. No matter what gets you writing, be sure to write. You can’t edit a blank page. So whatever gets your fingers to that keyboard (or pen to paper), go for it.

Below are just a few of my own tips that I’ve learned over the years in my writing journey on how to start your novel.

  1. Start with a spark of an idea.
    It can be even a tiny glimpse of a scene, of a character, of a problem. I say spark of an idea, because it doesn’t have to be an entire idea for a novel. It can be just a tiny piece of the puzzle, and that’s what you’ll build your novel around. Prompts can be useful if you’re stuck for sparks, and you can find a ton of prompts on various writing websites.
  2. From that spark, figure out a loose plot.
    This is where character goals and motivations come in handy. By knowing what your character wants, you can throw obstacles in their way to keep them from reaching that ultimate goal. What will happen if your protagonist fails to reach their goal? What do they stand to lose? Essentially, that’s all plot is: the events that happen in a story that keep your character from gaining what they want. Granted, a novel is typically more ornate and intricate than just a bunch of plot points. But learning plot structure can help you mold your story, such as the Three-Act Structure (K.M. Weiland of Helping Writers Become Authors has a great series on this). By learning plot structure, you can predetermine where the major plot points of your story will go, and this can help you determine what plot points need to happen in your story. There’s a reason pre-determined plot structures, like the Three-Act Structure, are so popular; it’s the natural points, the inherent ebb and flow, in a story when audiences expect something major to happen.
  3. Get to writing! (And don’t worry about being perfect.)
    Whether you’re prone to plotting or pantsing, you should have at least an idea of what your characters want, what their goals are, and a loose plot structure. Like I quoted before, you can’t edit a blank page. Don’t worry about finding that perfect word or perfect phrase during your first draft. You can edit that later. Just write.
  4. Edit, rewrite, and rewrite.
    If there’s one big mistake I made on that first “novel”, it’s that I didn’t take the time to edit it. I didn’t go through it to make sure it adhered to proper plot structure of some sort; the characters had vague motivations and goals. In other words? It was a hot mess. Make sure you reread your story, check it for cohesiveness, for good flow. Find beta readers and get feedback. Be a nitpick, but remember that you can’t edit forever.

These are just some beginning steps to writing a novel. I want to be clear that it can be much more detailed and involved than just stringing some words together. Carefully think out your novel. Think of how you could sum up your novel and what it conveys in just a sentence or two.

As a reminder, I’m looking for writers, authors, and bloggers to interview on my new podcast (available on Spotify and Apple Podcasts!), so if you’re interested in being featured, email me at lithiumskylar@yahoo.com or comment on any post on my blog! I’m also now on Twitter and looking for mutual follows, so follow me @SkylarWwrites.

New Podcast Episode!

Quick post here just to announce that a new episode of The Lithium Writer podcast is up! It’s currently available on Apple Podcasts and Spotify. Episode Two is all about my life with bipolar disorder. (But, I promise, I keep it quick in a ten-minute show!) I truly hope you’ll check it out.

Again, I’m looking for authors, writers, and bloggers to interview on my podcast, so if you’re interested in being featured, feel free to email me at lithiumskylar@yahoo.com, or comment on any of my posts and I’ll reach out to you.

Enjoying the Craft

I thoroughly believe you should enjoy your writing (or any craft that suits your fancy). Just like those who enjoy mathematics. Personally, I hate math. Gets too complicated for me, and I end up frustrated and feeling stupid. Now, show me a study guide for Latin, and I’m all over it. Foreign language classes were my favorite classes in school, and I took every language my high school offered: Latin, Spanish, and French. Do I remember anything other than “Quelle heure est-il? Il est huit heure et un”? Nope, I can barely speak a lick of French, but I enjoyed learning about the grammatical rules of the language. Latin was probably my favorite language to study, as we didn’t study it conversationally but rather learned about the grammatical building blocks that made up the dead language. That has helped me a great deal in my own writing. (Not to mention we also studied ancient Roman culture, and that is a fascinating subject.) Spanish has been most useful, and I still remember enough that I can read and write some Spanish.

Photo by Lisa Fotios from Pexels

I suppose what I’m getting at is that you should enjoy what you do. Not necessarily your work—sometimes you have to do what’s necessary in order to get by. But your hobbies? I’ve tried a lot of hobbies that I thought I enjoyed, and even dropped some money on—yoga, crochet, video games…the list goes on. The one hobby I’ve maintained over the years? Writing.

Writing isn’t a craft that can be forced, I feel. Don’t get me wrong—there are times I hate my own writing, and I get so exquisitely frustrated with it and want to hurl my laptop out the window. But for the most part, I love it. I love rereading some of my older works and critiquing what I could have written better.

I suppose what I’m trying to say is that you should love your work. Yes, you should want to grow as a writer and improve over time, but you should also love what you write, even if you dislike certain aspects of your writing. In fact, disliking certain aspects of your writing is even a good thing — it means you recognize your weaknesses and areas where you can learn and grow. But if you don’t love your work, what reasons are there to want to make it the best that it can be?

If you enjoy the craft of writing, you’ll actually want to make time to sit down and write. That’s why I believe writing cannot be forced. Write because it’s a way to express yourself. Write because you have a story to tell. Write because there are worlds you want to visit, people you want to meet, experiences you want to explore. Write because you have something you want to say, and the only way to express every single emotion inside of you is through words.

Write because you love it. Write because you love the craft, because you love the beautiful structure of a sentence, because only words can come close to expressing what’s inside of you.

New Podcast!

I’m excited to announce that The Lithium Writer is now a podcast! You can currently listen on Buzzsprout or Spotify. Episode 1 is currently up and available for download and streaming.

The Lithium Writer Podcast, cover art by guavanaboy on Fiverr

This is a huge step for me, as I’ve been wanting to start a podcast for some time, and I’m thrilled to announce its arrival. I hope you’ll stay tuned for the upcoming weekly episodes and bear with me while I figure out the technical setup.

I’m also looking to interview authors and fellow bloggers, so if you’re interested in joining me on my podcast, email me at lithiumskylar@yahoo.com. Or, if you have any topics regarding the craft of writing or mental health that you’d like me to talk about, email me or comment on this post!

UPDATE: You can now find it on Apple Podcasts!

Writing Realistic Friendships

I wanted to talk today specifically about friendships — not romantic relationships. Like any relationship, a friendship has dynamics to it. It is a many layered thing, ever evolving, ever changing. There are ups and downs, good times and bad. Most real friendships are not shallow. It’s about give and take, a two-way street.

Look at your own friendships in life. You probably share the good and the ugly with them, and they support you through it all. But you give back in return, supporting them through good and bad times, through the ups and downs. My best friends had a small trophy made for me on the anniversary of my first suicide attempt, and it reads “For Making Bipolar Her Bitch”, followed by a quote from Carrie Fisher.

You also probably share a lot of the same views, whether socio-economic or political, but that doesn’t necessarily mean your characters have to share the same views on everything. In fact, varying views on different issues can create conflict in your story. For example, in Harry Potter and The Goblet of Fire, Harry’s best friend, Ron, believed Harry put his name in the Goblet of Fire for the TriWizard Tournament, even though it wasn’t true, leading to the two best friends not to talk to each other for some time.

So, here are some tips for writing realistic friendships:

  1. They need something in common.
    Whether it’s a common interest, a shared trait, or a common belief, your characters should have something that draws them together. Ron and Harry both love quidditch, hate doing homework, and both are Gryffindors. There should be at least one thing, one rallying point for your friends to agree upon.
  2. It can’t always be happy-go-lucky and stars and rainbows.
    People fight, and while it’s not a fun thing, it can be a natural part of relationships. People don’t always get along 24/7 with loving stars in their eyes. In my novel, The Days Without You, Cat tries to force Kylie to cheer up after the loss of her mother, and when Cat learns that Kylie is throwing away her relationship with Adam, she walks out of Kylie’s life, telling her, “I’m done trying to make you open your eyes. Call me when you do.”
  3. Make sure you’ve fleshed out your protagonist’s bestie.
    While you’ve probably done extensive research for your story’s protagonist, it’s important to also build up your protagonist’s best friend into a real person — someone your readers will care for or relate to in some way. The best friend shouldn’t be just a best friend; they shouldn’t serve the sole purpose of being the best friend. They should have their own wants and goals, their own faults and flaws. In essence, they should be a well-rounded person.
  4. Give them backstory (if their friendship started before the beginning of your novel).
    In The Days Without You, we learn that Kylie and Cat have been friends since kindergarten, from the first day of school when Cat asked her to play with her at recess. But they’ve had their ups and downs, such as the time when Kylie lost her father in tenth grade, grew depressed, and stopped talking to Cat for a few months while she learned to accept her loss.
  5. Give them meaningful differences.
    While, yes, they should have some things in common, your best friends shouldn’t be the exact same person. Everyone has their differences, and this can be a source of conflict for your story. Where Harry can be firm and — frankly — sassy (“There’s no need to call me sir, professor” remains one of the greatest examples of Harry’s sassiness), Ron can be more timid and laid back.

What are your thoughts on best friends in books or film? There are always great examples out there of best friends! Han Solo and Chewbacca, Frodo and Sam, Harry, Ron and Hermione. What are your favorite friendships in literature and film, and for what reasons?