Guest Post: The Secret to Getting Started on that Novel

Posted by on May 15, 2011 in Guest Posts | 11 comments

Writing a novel is hard. It takes time and a lot of commitment. The secret is preparation.

Before I start writing a novel, I write a one paragraph synopsis. This is meant to look like the back cover copy you would see on a finished book. Next, I write a full page synopsis. This summary outlines all of the major plot points and gives you a loose understanding of where you will go with your writing.

This, however, is just the beginning.

Create a list of characters. Provide physical descriptions and quirks (every character should have at least one quirk or distinguishing quality to set them apart). The next step is to make a web of connections among the characters. Character A may love Character B but hate Character C, and their dialogue will have to reflect that. But, Character B and Character C may be friends, so the dialogue between them will have to reflect that.

Something else to think about is how characters will act when certain characters are in the room. Character A and B may show their affection for each other when they are alone, but Character A may not be comfortable with that when Character C is in the room.

Once you’ve figured out the character dynamics, I would create a chapter breakdown. Figure out how long each chapter will be (give or take) and how long you would like to make your novel. Write a paragraph for each chapter describing the major plot points and what absolutely has to happen.

Finish that list, and you’ll be extra prepared to start writing your novel. However, don’t be surprised if you have to revise those chapter breakdowns. Often when writing, you’ll have a spark of brilliance and decide to take the story in another direction. It’s still important to have that framework, though, because it can help get you back on track after a tangent or remind you what you want to accomplish with the story.

A day or two of preparation will mean weeks saved in revision and writer’s block. Try it. Even if you decide to go another way in your writing, the experience will help you visualize a story and create interesting character dynamics in later writings.

Authors: What process do you use to start a new novel?


This guest post is from Trevor Schmidt.

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  • Kiersten Fay

    Thanks Trevor, that’s a really good process to follow. It helps to keep you on track if you veer too far off in the story line, not that I ever veer way off into the land of, oops, where was I headed? . . . Any hew, similar to you, I create an outline for each character, but what I also do is scour the internet for images that give me a feel for the attitude I’d like that character to have. That way if I need a reminder I can just quickly look at their picture.

    • rainy

      That’s a great visual tip, Kiersten. I have found pictures after the fact, mostly for amusement, but never in this way. Interesting.

  • Crystal Jigsaw

    I’ve recently started planning my next novel and appreciate the way you do it; this is great advice.

    CJ xx

    • rainy

      Thanks for the comment :) Keep us posted how the new novel shapes up!

  • Ana Hart

    While such careful and detailed planning might work for others in combating writer’s block, I have found that it has the exact opposite effect with me. Having outlines and pre-established plotlines staring me in the face at every single turn feels so . . . stifling. I feel confined, afraid to let my muse step outside the boundaries of that initial idea.

    When I write, I simply start with a blank page and a seed of an idea tickling at my mind. That’s not to say that I have no idea where I want the story to go – I simply never set it into stone. I let my imagination run wild and free and wherever it takes me, well, then, yee-haw.

    And, how pretentious would I have to be to try and lay out the very unique and specific nuances of my characters before I’ve even bothered to meet them for the first time? They’re surely come flying out of my computer screen to roundhouse kick me in the face if I even dared to try. As with my muse, I give my characters free rein and allow them to come to life on the page. Usually, I start with a name and let them grow from there.

    How do I deal with writer’s block? I stand up and pace around. I grab a soda. I take a hot shower and run over what has happened so far and think, “Okay, where are we going next?”

    I learned long ago that the quickest way to kill an idea of mine was to try to tame it in the beginning, to pen it in with what I perceived it should be, rather than letting us grow together. For me, it’s like telling your child that they’re going to be a doctor when they’re older. What if they don’t want to be a doctor?

    I applaud those who can write detailed outlines and who can then adhere to them. I applaud their ability to organize their thoughts and to focus them so clearly upon their end goal. I have never been that person and I strongly believe that everyone needs to experiment and see what works for them.

    • rainy

      Great comment, Ana :) I do think Trevor’s tips will be useful to some writers but, like you said, it’s about finding what works for you.

  • Israr

    Nice tips!! Thanks a lot 😀

    • rainy

      Thanks for commenting :)

  • Flora Loveday

    Great advice – it certainly makes the process easier when you look at the overall big picture first.

    • rainy

      That holds true for many things, not just writing books but everything else, from promoting online to making your escape from a stalker :)

  • Flora Loveday

    @Rainy, You have that right my friend!
    Although escaping a stalker can be often more difficult than writing a book about the whole experience! :) Cheers to that!