Let’s Talk About How to Write a Novel
Through my wide experience as a novel writing coach, I’ve developed a powerful process to support my clients as they’ve learned how to write a novel. Here are some steps you can take to help your novel take shape before your eyes.
Step 1: Prewrite your novel
For those of you new to the term, “prewriting” is the discovery phase of novel writing. It’s all that noodling and brainstorming and note-making you’ve done as you’ve considered your story.
You see, as a novelist, you are engaged in a supremely creative work of imagination. And it’s in the prewriting phase that you first start to see your imagined world emerge.
Here are a few things you may find helpful to explore in this step:
- Consider the broad shape or scope of your story: This is when you’ll develop a sense of where your novel begins and ends. Think of this as a rough sketch showing just the general shape of your book.
- Ask yourself whose story you’re telling: Which character is most impacted by the events of your book? Do you want to let have more than one character bring your story into focus for the reader? These are great questions to ponder here at the outset of your novel writing process.
- Preliminary Research: Now is the time to do some fact-finding to support your perspective or the details of the era or location in which you’ve based your novel. If you’re writing historical fiction, in researching your novel’s era, you might find fresh ideas to further develop your story.
Need help prewriting? I can help you brainstorm your plot or delve deeper into your characters’ roles. Get in touch with me.
Step 2: Forming an Outline for Your Novel
When you outline your novel, you’re developing an overview of your plot points. This will help you create a foundational organization for your book. Like countless authors, you will find your outline an invaluable tool as you begin writing your first draft.
- Determining your plot: Base your outline on the major “plot points” of your story. Plot points are the external events your main character (MC) undergoes on their story journey. I have an excellent resource for you called The Plot Clock.
- Be sure to include the most impactful plot points: As your plot unfolds, your well-constructed inciting incident, low point, and climax will each propel your story forward and keep your reader turning pages late into the night!
Is outlining a challenge? I specialize in plot and structure! Give me a shout if you’d like support outlining your novel.
Step 3: Write your novel’s first (rough) draft
Finally! You’ve thought through your story, developed compelling characters, worked out your plot, and created an outline to guide you. Now you’re ready to write!
Here’s my expert novel writing advice: Perfection isn’t the goal. You don’t have to get your book right the first time through. You just have to get to the other side. (Author Anne Lamott is famous for encouraging writers to produce “shitty first drafts” or SFDs. I even have a blog post about SFDs! Check it out!) So go ahead and write your heart out—and then proce!
When you’re getting down your first draft, it can really help to have an accountability partner. Contact me if you’d like support.
Step 4: Get a reader
Before your book goes out into that wide world, it’s helpful to get feedback on your first draft from a trusted few. Among a hundred other things, these good readers will help you pinpoint spots where your pacing lags, if an important character is fulfilling their potential, or how well the suspenseful aspects of your novel are engaging your reader.
A good reader is worth their weight in gold. Their comments will guide you when you’re ready to embark upon your revision.
Looking for an experienced reader? I’d be delighted to give you some solid advice about how to approach your revision with confidence. Let’s talk!
Step 5: Revise Your Novel
Revising your book gives you an opportunity to make it stronger and better! Here are some suggestions to help you do just that:
- “Revision” literally means to “look at again.” In that spirit, once you’ve allowed your draft to cool and you’ve digested the feedback you’ve received from your first reader(s), take the time to reread your entire draft, making notes as if you were your own beta reader.
- As you read, ask yourself these questions: Does your writing flow easily from plot point to plot point? Is the voice or tone of the writing appropriate to the subject and engaging to read? If you’re writing a novel, does your character make an arc?
- After you’ve evaluated your work yourself, revisit the feedback you got from your reader(s). Do their opinions agree with yours? If so, preserve the parts you both like and make changes to parts you both believe could be strengthened.
- Next, create a prioritized list of elements to address. Organize that list from larger issues to smaller issues. Now, work your way through the list, tackling just one issue at a time, so as to avoid overwhelm.
If you want someone to advise and encourage you as you develop the strengths of your book and create strategies to bring the weaker aspects up to speed, let me know. I’m ready to help!
Congratulations! If you’ve completed these steps, you’ve (almost) written a novel!
I CAN SHOW YOU HOW TO WRITE YOUR NOVEL.
How to Plot Your Novel
We may have read hundreds of novels, but when we settle in to write our own book, the artful way those other authors have constructed their plots may elude us. No wonder! Plotting a novel actually requires two different story-telling approaches.
Beneath the surface of the action of a novel lies both a carefully constructed “external narrative” (or “external arc”) and an emotionally compelling “internal narrative” (or “character arc”).
The external narrative is constructed of external events—the “what” of what happens in your story. These incidents drive your main character (MC) forward. As your MC meets each new obstacle, they then make choices that take them to the next set of challenges. (Sounds a lot like real life, right?)
The internal narrative, on the other hand, tracks your MC’s internal response to those external events. Your MC shows up needing to make a change, and your story’s external narrative is the path to that change.
These two intimately related but distinct elements wind around each other and create the DNA of your novel.
So, you might be asking, what events will force my MC to undergo the change they so desperately need? How can I construct stakes high enough to keep my MC engaged with their quest all the way to the end? And how do I weave these elements together in a way that will keep my readers riveted to the page?!
The good news? I co-wrote a book that describes a logical process and offers you a novel writing map that will guide you to the answers you need.
Plotting Your Novel with the Plot Clock
I’m passionate about plot. That’s why I co-wrote PLOTTING YOUR NOVEL WITH THE PLOT CLOCK.
The Plot Clock is one of my very best resources to help fiction writers create powerful, compelling plots. If you’re stalled at the start of your writing process (or stuck somewhere mid-draft), I’d recommend you consider using the Plot Clock to discover how your plot is fulfilling its obligations: to you, your characters, and your audience.
The Plot Clock is simple, clear, and flexible enough to be useful in any story enterprise. PLOTTING YOUR NOVEL WITH THE PLOT CLOCK is a must-read for any aspiring writer, period. —From the foreword, by Ryan G. Van Cleave, Head of Creative Writing at Ringling College of Art and Design
Whether you’re a pantser or a plotter, you’ll find surprisingly insightful strategies and solutions within this book’s slim seventy pages.
Looking for Additional Novel Writing Resources?
While I am a fan of the Plot Clock, there is a myriad of other excellent books on writing a novel available. I’ve assembled these particular titles to share with you because their authors have a passion—not just for writing, but for teaching. You will find the books on this list to be both inspirational and instructional.
SAVE THE CAT! WRITES A NOVEL: The Last Book on Novel Writing You’ll Ever Need Novelist Jessica Brody presents a comprehensive story-structure guide for novelists that applies the famed Save the Cat! screenwriting methodology to the world of novel writing.
THE COMPLETE HANDBOOK OF NOVEL WRITING: Everything You Need to Know to Create & Sell Your Work
The secret to writing a dynamite novel is to first write a dynamite scene. Because if you can write one terrific scene, you can write a hundred. And that’s a novel.
WRITING FICTION FOR DUMMIES
BLUEPRINT FOR A BOOK: Build Your Novel from the Inside Out
How to write a novel in the most efficient way by tackling the hardest part before you start to write, from top book coach Jennie Nash
A Few Words About Working with a Novel Writing Coach
Tom Wallace, editor, ghostwriter: Contrary to what many new writers believe, the craft of writing is less an inborn talent than a collection of skills to be learned. Great coaches help writers apply the skills needed to make their stories work. Hiring a writing coach can transform a writer’s creative journey and pay off for years to come.
Hanna Kjeldbjerg, creative director at Beaver’s Pond Press: Authors need writing coaches for accountability, organization, and an objective eye. But more than that, writers need a partner who understands their vision for their book, who feels like a friend. That makes a great writing coach.