Writing a novel can be intimidating but exciting. What you might find is that the entire process of writing a novel can be so intimidating that you never ever start. But do you really want to be that person who says to their friends “I could have been a writer too! I had a great idea BUT…”
Of course you don’t. No one really likes those people (okay, okay, we like them but we find them so frustrating).
The alternative of course is to write that novel. That insistent story that has been stuck in your head for days, months, YEARS. You’ve maybe jotted down an idea or two, kept yourself busy doing other things, focussed on other work in your life, but you’ve decided that now, now is the time to write that important novel. The one. The big one. Your first.
Until you face the blank page and go “I can’t do this” so you open up Facebook for the millionth time that day and doom-scroll to your little heart’s content. Or you go on Instagram and look at pretty pictures of other people’s finished books and scoff that “pshaw, I totally could have done that but I just don’t have the time that other people do.”
Please don’t do that.
First off, it’s insulting to think that writers have all the time in the world to finish their novels. We don’t. We make do with the time we do have and focus on our worlds we bring to life.
Secondly, I’ve learned the hard way that Facebook scrolling is just a recipe for burn out of a social kind. You’re so busy being social you forget that you have actual things to do.
Let’s get your butt in that chair first.
When I started writing, it was for fun and writing should be for fun. Don’t think “I want to be a paid writer, this is a bestseller blahdeeblahblah” because you’re setting yourself up for disappointment of the epic kind. So chill the hell out and let yourself calm down.
Let’s take your idea. I’ll even give you one. A dragon captures a princess but it turns out he just needs her to complete a quest to get him his crown back so he can turn back into a prince. So sets an epic adventure of the princess completing this dangerous mission. It ends with the princess earning the treasure.
Okay then. Easy peasy. Let’s just start.
Whoa there, tiger, let’s just chill for a second and think this through. When you learned to bike, swim, walk, did your parents throw you in the deep end and hope to God you didn’t go and die? Of course not. (If yours did then your upbringing was different than mine). So let’s start simple. Start a document and answer these questions first before you dive into your story headfirst.
- Who is your Character? Answer a bit of their history, their looks, their sexuality, their gender preferences, their motivations and their desires, their hopes and their nightmares. What was their childhood like? Or their adulthood? What drives them to be how they are and how are they going to change in the novel?
- Where are you? What’s your setting like? If it is a fantasy novel, what city/land could be a reference point for building your structure. Is it ‘alive’ or is it ‘dead’ (I love living cities myself. It shows up everywhere in my books). Give yourself a bit of history and make your setting breathe life into your story.
- What’s the theme? I hate this one. I don’t like theme setting before I finish the book because often times I never have a theme until I’m done the story. But if you have to set a theme, and you feel like you need to, do this early and work to an achievable goal.
- What’s the genre? Genre fiction does have rules, as does general fiction/literary fiction but you can definitely break those rules. Read in the genre you like. If you want to mash them up, have at it, that’s fun too. But make sure you read the books in what you want to write. It can help you learn how it is done well but also how it can be done poorly. Adapt and improvise as you go along. Mash things together. Stew them. Make something new.
- What’s the plot? Are you making it a straight up quest of good versus evil? Or a diversion into something a bit more unusual? Character study? Issue study? Whatever your plan is, it is a good idea to have your plot structure done well which leads to…
- How are you going to outline? Not everyone outlines. I do. This was a hard lesson to learn from too many stories that gained their own legs and became disgusting bloated messes that never seemed to go well or (perish the thought) never get finished. If you choose not to outline, go for it. But if you do, decide your best way you do it. Are you pretty hardcore into following your own rules? Or do you let yourself have wiggle room (my favourite)? Can you lay your story out into chunks or chapters? Just simple structure or do you need things that are more detailed? Let’s say you want to keep the structure simple…how will you keep yourself on track? Get a notebook and start telling yourself the story in a synopsis form. Short notes and sentences work best. Don’t go into big big detail. Just tell the story the way you might if someone was in the car with you and you just need to explain your idea to them.
- What don’t you know? Is there something about your story that you don’t know? A history, how things used to be, a sensitivity issue that needs to be addressed? You should look into how you are going to learn these things. Nothing is worse than having a stereotype in your story, the wrong type of car, or even the wrong type of materials used to make something. There’s stories of authors getting reviews that pinpoint a detail that others might see as insignificant but is actually a big deal to other writers. Do your research.
I’m going to try to cover the more detailed process of what goes on into writing a book but these are great starting off points. These are what I use each time that I write a book to help myself. I start a new notebook (or just fill up my previous one), in order to give myself a sense of where I am going with something. Sometimes that idea needs to be filtered through these benchmarks and then made into a broader idea in order to find the story you need.
This is also why I have so many notebooks floating around packed with ideas. My favourite to this date is a big old Ideas Notebook from Grey matter that is thick papered and has 240 pages. Perfect for a story that’s buzzing in your brain. You can use post its to tell yourself where things are, make it colourful, and just note take to your heart’s content
Eventually you have to write the story. These are just stepping stones. You need to sit there and write it out. So let’s get started on how to write a story, its beginnings, in my next blog post!