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.