But then reality kicks in. They realize that writing a novel is darn hard work. What’s wrong? They don’t know how to write a novel.
Here, 5 steps you need to write a great novel:
1. Start With Character
To create a flesh-and-blood character, you need to do some legwork before you even start writing. I’ve seen authors come up with a number of interesting traits for their characters, but the traits may seem more like ticks the author thought would be interesting, rather than ones that arise out of a deeply embedded worldview. The author knows the character only as well as he would know someone he had just met at a cocktail party.
What the novelist needs is a complete understanding of a character’s worldview. This requires a backstory. Backstories shape everything, especially how your character sees the world — his or her point of view [POV].
You may not use everything you invent about a character’s past. Even so, to know how your character will change throughout your story (and indeed he or she must!), you need to really know your character. Simple.
Do this kind of in-depth work for every single important character in your book.
2. Create Key Moments
Now that you have rich, real characters, it’s time to put them through the ringer. Remember: Plots cannot exist without conflict. Key moments create conflict, continuously upping the stakes.
Think of a placid pond as the current reality that you introduce readers to at the beginning of your novel. Now picture what happens when a stone is cast into that pond. The water is disturbed and ripples form –the plot is in motion. Think of each key moment as another stone tossed into that pond. How do your characters react to it? Does it make them change? If so – how?
Why is it so important to know your key moments before writing? Once you know these points, every scene you write is either leading up to the key moment or leading away from it. This helps you build tension as you approach the moment, and then release it outward in ever widening ripples of impact.
3. Write Sparingly & Quickly
Now you have your characters and your plot. But of course, your story world can’t leap off of any pages until you’ve written them.
So, time to start, scene by scene. Write quickly, and don’t worry about filling in all the finer details. Editing will come later. For now: get the big, important moments in each scene.
As you write, avoid the temptation to go back and re-read or even to make corrections as you go along. The goal is to push through to the end of your draft, using the key moments you already charted as a guide.
4. Analyze, Revise & Fill In
We’ve all heard the phrase: “Writing is rewriting.” The key to revision: Let your draft get cold. That’s the only way to approach an honest edit with fresh eyes.
Once you’re ready, know that this is the time to fix all the hairline cracks, the structural problems, and the scenes that don’t really move the story forward.
Determine the biggest issues. Often, writers get caught up in doing the little edits first – like fiddling with grammar – but what you must do first is see if huge things – like structural issues, character arcs or themes – simply aren’t working.
5. Make a Final Pass
After you feel you have a complete draft, go in and fix up all the mechanical errors. Also, look for places where your attention flags. If you find yourself thinking about your grocery list, chances are that’s an indication that the pacing is off or a scene is falling flat.
There it is – now you know how to write a novel. It might sound like I’m only skimming the surface – and I am. There are infinite ways to grow as a writer, and to better understand this process. For one, take a class. Direct feedback with a publishing professional is a great way to improve your writing skills.