For a long time, maybe for years, you might have been considering how you’d write your first novel. The good news is that, using the tried-and-true guidelines in this article, you can gain the confidence to start writing your first novel today!
How to Write Your Novel
There is no right way or wrong way to write your novel. The approaches are almost infinite. What’s important is what works best for you. Here are a few practical methods for writing your novel that you can copy or adapt that can work for you:
I. The “Snowflake” Method
The name of this method refers to an organized, structured approach to developing a novel, just as a snowflake has a definite structure that gives it shape and keeps it together.
Also, a snowflake begins as a single droplet of water. This method builds upon itself, similar to how other ice crystals connect with the original droplet of frozen water.
The beauty of this writing method is its structure. Your story becomes crystal clear; with exactness, it builds upon itself.
6 Steps to the Snowflake Novel Writing Method:
- Summarize your novel in one sentence.
- Expand your sentence into a summary paragraph.
- Describe each major character, each with a one-page summary.
- Expound on your novel summary with more paragraphs.
- Further develop your character descriptions, including how they will relate or interact with one another.
- Rinse and repeat: keep working through each of these parts of your novel and expand on them, over and over again.
Begin by summarizing your novel in one sentence. Think of this as the center of your snowflake. Then you expand it to a summary paragraph, with the central plot, major conflicts, and a preview of how it all comes together. Each character then gets a one-page summary. You then develop each summary paragraph, without trying to write the whole novel at this point. Similarly, you return to the character synopses and develop those. From this point, you pretty much rinse and repeat the process until you have a completed first draft.
II. The “No-Outline” Method
In contrast to the Snowflake Method, the No-Outline approach allows for a creative free-flow of ideas at any given point in the writing process. Many authors prefer this method because they feel constrained by structures like outlines and summaries.
III. The Three-Act Structure
Not as strict as the “Snowflake” and not as freewheeling as the “No-Outline,” the three-act structure is an approach you’re probably familiar with, especially if you’ve read or seen any dramas. In fact, most stories can be described in terms of their “three acts.”
As an approach to writing a novel, however, the method requires certain attributes—namely the inclusion and placement of “disasters” within the acts. The first occurs at the end of act one. The second happens at the midpoint of act two, and the third at the end of act two. The story is set up in a prologue of some sort or another, and the plot points and character arcs (journey of development) are wrapped up in an epilogue, more or less.
Again, as there is no finite method to writing a novel. You might want to create your own approach utilizing particular points from two of all of the above methods. That’s your writer’s license, so go for it!
Write Your Novel in a Month
Maybe it’s not surprising that, in this fast-paced world, so many budding authors want to know how quickly they can complete a novel (this is NOT the best approach.)
However, with certain marketers who know of this desire to write a book practically overnight, you are certain to see online articles and gurus who pretend to be knowledgeable book writers who boast that you can write 2,000 to 3,000 words per day for 30 days and so on and so forth.
They list tips and tricks like turning off your spellcheck and carrying a notebook to jot down ideas when they strike. And, hey, those are good ideas in general. Stephen King reportedly writes 2,000 words every day. Having a words-per-day goal and writing down notes from moment of inspiration are great habits for an author. But…
What they DON’T emphasize is the sneaky language that promotes ideas like “a novel in a month.”
They might say, “Have an outline prepared in advance.” Well, “in advance” is already telling you that it will take MORE than a month. Similarly, they note, “What you’ll end up with might be a good first draft.” Okay, but a first draft is NOT a novel! Fans of Ernest Hemingway might recall his opinion of what first drafts are, but I can’t include the word here in a polite article.
Much worse is the attention being focused on speed instead of quality. And what about the enjoyment of the journey? I mean, really! Writing a book is on most everyone’s bucket list. So why would anyone ever want to miss out on the unique experience that only writing a book can offer?
But again, what is most important is the quality of your writing—nothing else. I’m not talking about grammar here. I’m talking about moving your audience, making your reader’s heart pound out in their chest; allow them to laugh or cry or contemplate …. When readers can see and hear and feel … you’ve got yourself a novel worthy of publication. Something the world needs more of.
So, in my view, the “write your novel in a month” idea is equivalent to fad diets for weight loss. It sounds attractive, but you might be disappointed with the results. Proceed with caution in these schemes, if you proceed with them at all.
There are as many approaches to writing a novel as there are novelists. You might prefer a detailed outline to which you adhere strictly. Or, you might prefer to write without an outline, allowing a free flow of ideas, or any approach in between that helps your writing soar.
Write Your Novel in a Year
Most authors take one to two years to write a novel. Why so long to write your novel? As you’ll see in the next section, there are many pieces to the novel puzzle.
Some involve activities and non-activities like reading works by published authors for inspiration and simply taking a week or two away from your own writing so you’re able to see it with “fresh eyes” when you return to it.
The Power of Procrastination
Not writing is an important part of the novel writing process. Did you actually describe something to the level you envisioned? A lot of the time, the mind can play tricks on us. We’re typing away, thinking This is GREAT! And then you come back to it a few days later and, boy, what a revelation.
So you have to get your mind off of something you’ve written in order to qualify whether you’ve actually succeeded at telling your information to the degree you envision.
If you are a novelist who is just starting out, giving yourself plenty of time relieves you of the stress that can come with first-time jitters. If you’re of a certain disposition common among authors (perfectionist, self-doubting), you’ll find plenty of other sources of stress. I say that jokingly, but it’s true that adding an unnecessary deadline to the process can make it less enjoyable.
So that’s another good reason to step away from your novel from time-to-time. Don’t be in a race to finish your novel. The truth is, anyone who brags about how fast they wrote their novel only tells others that they focused on the wrong importance for their book.
The value in mulling over things is truly underestimated. Think of yourself on par with published authors—those who take weeks away from their newest work in order to gain new life experiences, new perspectives, and fresh inspiration. You’re able to reflect and even come up with better ideas and concepts. When it comes to novel writing, when you run “the marathon” and not “the sprint,” the satisfaction of work well done is even greater, and your end product will be even better.
Write Your Novel Step by Step—6 Rules to Follow
- Know your subject, and know why you’re writing.
- Immerse yourself in creativity.
- Write a story, not just words and sentences.
- Start with one protagonist if you’re new to writing novels.
- Ask yourself about the “why” and “where” of the plot.
- Novels aren’t just words and sentences, but your first draft could be.
There are no cookie-cutter ways to writing a novel, but being aware of these 6 rules will help you write your first novel like a pro. Here are the 6 rules explained:
Write Your Novel Step by Step—6 Rules
1. Know your subject, and know why you’re writing.
Ever notice that most successful novels are set in a place where the author lives or has lived? It’s intentional. By doing so, the author starts from a place, literally, they deeply know. Readers are smart, and they know real experience when they read it. They like authenticity. That’s why, at every opportunity, write about what you know.
Similarly, a writer’s motivations are apparent in their writing. Readers reward authors who write passionately. It would seem to be a given, but many (most?) writers don’t stop to ask themselves WHY they are writing, or preparing to write, a novel. Of course, there are as many motivations as there are manuscripts in the world, and who’s to really say which is more valid than the next?
In considering these questions, I like to consider words like: inspiration, motivation, passion and purpose. Ask yourself, “Why should this book exist?” and “What will it do for my readers?” If you think along these lines, you’ll do fine in having a meaningful novel.
2. Immerse yourself in creativity.
Regarding the goal of writing from a place of inspiration, many authors and editors recommend steeping yourself in creativity. What does that even mean? Well, if you picture all that the word “creativity” implies, these are the things by which you want to be influenced.
Yes, the writing process itself is a creative endeavor, but the idea is to enhance your mindset as an artist—after all, writing is an art—by experiencing other art. Such immersion can include works that are topical to your writing, but not necessarily so.
Surround yourself with things that inspire you—things that make you feel a certain way. That might include works of art like paintings, sculptures, plants or beautiful flowers. You might like playing Mozart. It might mean walking on the beach at sunrise. It might even be keywords that strike you a certain way. Hang them up, put them in frames … whatever inspires you, put it all around.
3. Write a story, not just words and sentences.
As you read in the earlier section on approaches to writing your novel, there’s an emphasis on story. It’s another point that might seem obvious, but editors at the highest levels of the publishing world often bemoan the “piles of words and sentences” they receive in manuscripts that lack any real storytelling.
Though it’s true that most of the rules of writing are “made to be broken” to a certain extent, telling a story is one rule that is broken at the writer’s own peril.
That’s because storytelling is so ingrained in every culture of the world. As children, when we saw an adult approach us with a book, what did we understand? It’s STORY time! Suffice it to say that the person who picks up your manuscript or published novel wants a story.
4. Start with one protagonist if you’re new to writing novels.
Earlier, I also touched on characterization. If you take the “Snowflake Method,” for example, notice the emphasis on writing and rewriting characters for your novel. Now, imagine the details of the protagonist (the hero readers will root for) and their character arc (their journey of growth and improvement).
For a beginner, writing multiple protagonists risks making a mess of the story. This doesn’t mean your first novel has to be overly simple. Follow your inspiration. At the same time, consider the great novels in history where the author employed only one protagonist. You might want to write the next complex Game of Thrones, but trust that not doing so on your first outing might not be as limiting as you think.
5. Ask yourself about the “why” and “where” of the plot.
A few minutes ago, I asked you to consider immersing yourself in creativity. This is the section that cautions you that merely wildly “creating” is not the be-all end-all of writing good fiction. Asking yet more questions, like “Why?” and “Where?” especially when it comes to elements of your plot, can be a bulwark against immature writing styles.
These are the equivalent of the young painter who finally gets a set of paints and immediately wants to throw them all onto the canvas. This inexperienced artist is “telling a story” of interest only to themselves.
Forgetting that communication is a two-way street is a mistake that audiences rarely let go unpunished. That may sound harsh, but put yourself in the shoes of the reader who just paid twenty dollars for your novel only to find out you wrote it strictly for your own enjoyment. Writing (and all art) is a form of sharing. The selfish author is a lonely and poor author.
Never write to reach a page count. There needs to be a reason for everything you put into your novel. If it doesn’t give the imagery to your reader you want them to see or feel, it needs to have some other purpose. Does it set something up for later in the story? Will it act like a smoke screen, tricking your reader into thinking something about a character that is actually false so you can shock them later?
When you’re writing something, ask yourself, Does this do anything for my story? If it doesn’t, leave it out.
So, ask yourself the tough questions about your plot. “Why would this happen instead of that?” It’s really a form of self-editing that is so worthwhile because it gives your novel a valuable asset you and your readers will come to love: a story with backbone and meaning.
6. Novels aren’t just words and sentences, but your first draft could be.
Now, I realize that all of this might seem daunting. Don’t fret. Once you get pencil to paper (or fingers to keyboard), you’ll see that these helpful tips flow together. They are quite the opposite of obstacles or roadblocks. They help ensure that your valuable time as an author isn’t wasted.
In fact, this is a perfect moment to let you in on a secret that might relieve any trepidation you feel as you read about how you might write your first novel. Though I emphasized before that a finished novel must be a story and not just a collection of words and sentences, your first draft certainly CAN be just that. We know from masters like Hemingway and King that first drafts are meant to be rewritten and then thrown away.
I hope this will motivate you to START WRITING today. You can always begin to incorporate all these tips and tricks into your process at your own pace. When you begin your second draft, then you’ll really know what your novel is about.
Rewrite Your Story
That brings us to the crucial point of combining your first draft with everything you’ve learned here and elsewhere, and writing your second draft! What goes into your second draft, while not written in stone, matters.
You now know what your novel is really about, why you’re writing it, where it takes place, and why the plot and its action develop as they do. Your story is focused on one protagonist (if you’re a beginner), and it has backbone because you’re not just “throwing paint at the canvas.” You are asking yourself lots of questions about what you and your characters do and why you and your characters do what they do, and answering those questions for yourself and your audience.
Enter the world of the novelist. No matter what style fires your imagination, being an author gives you infinite possibilities. Begin your journey of passion without delay. Become a novelist today!
Write Your Novel Now
Why not write your novel now? By following your passion and informing yourself, you’re already on your way! I have some good news for you too: Writer Services is here to help you in every step of the process!
Being an author can be a highly rewarding endeavor. Not just financially but in myriad of other ways. Imagine the great karma from inspiring your readers. You might inspire some to become authors themselves but also to become all kinds of creatives: visual artists, actors, musicians … there’s no limit to the good you can do in the world through your novels. So … write your novel now! The world needs your input.