Getting Started

How To Start Writing A Novel: What You Need To Know

How to start writing a novel: What you need to know

Starting to write a novel can be overwhelming, whether you’re just starting out or you’re a lifetime pantser (writing by the seat of your pants) but feel the need to change.

It is entirely possible to just sit and write without any planning. Many writers can do this successfully.

I used to do this!
I used to just sit down and write, with no real plan. The thing is, I never finished any of my stories. Mainly because I just didn’t know where they were going, so I lost the enthusiasm, I got bored and I stopped.

So, here is an answer to that problem!
What can you do to pre-plan your fiction, to ensure that you don’t lose momentum while writing?
In no particular order, here are some stages you might want to try when it comes to preparing to write your novel.

  • Spend months/years letting your idea grow, take shape and develop.

    I keep seeing courses about ‘writing your novel in 60 days’ or whatever. It never seems to mention that you’ll need an idea first or that the idea takes time.
    You might have a fantastic idea! But if it’s only just come to you, it’s going to need some time.
    First of all, WRITE IT DOWN!
    Maybe choose a notebook (because, you know, stationery) and dedicate it to that particular idea. Any further ideas you have that connect to it, any brilliant conflict pieces, scenes, characters, songs that remind you of it, films that make you think of it, write them all down.Don’t trust your brain to remember it all.In-between writing down all of these fantastic ideas that start to join up and are all very exciting, just get on with your life. Go to the shops, go to work, spend time with your family and friends, watch movies, eat food, surf the net, go for long walks, people watch while sipping a latte, have showers. Those are the times when your mind will toss and turn the ideas and then suddenly, without warning, throw a new one at you.It could take months, or even years, for your idea to be ready to write. I’ve been sitting on some ideas for over a decade because something just isn’t quite right. I don’t know the whole story yet or I can’t decide if it’s a thriller or a fantasy…or both.I’m afraid there’s no real quick fix to this, other than some brainstorming sessions. So go with it. Daydream, live and let your mind do the work in the background.

  • Write down your ideas.

    Yes, I’ve said this twice. It’s important.
    Especially if you’re young and think you don’t need to. I was that young writer once, and then suddenly I couldn’t remember any of the good ideas my brain offered me.

  • Get to know your characters.

    You can do this however you like. Interview them, chat with them, daydream about them, put them into different situations and see how they react. If you have a scene from the story already in your head (and I’m sure you do), write it out. See what lovely new things you learn about your characters each time.You can create character summaries if you like. Note down their appearance (especially helpful so you’re not re-reading old stories later on down the line to figure out what colour a character’s eyes are), their background, their relationships and every else that might be important.

    You can grab a in-depth character sheet printable right here from the WITW Etsy shop.

  • Here it is. Permission to get lost down the internet rabbit hole.

    This could mean researching names for your characters, settings, what it was like growing up in London in the 1920s, how a gun works (I’ve had to do this because, hello, I’m British), the history of ancient Roman politicians, how a steam engine works (also had to do this, for the love of steampunk), or even just get inspired by Googling images or using Google Earth to explore.

  • You can write a test piece to choose a point of view or even the structure of your story.

    The point of view you choose to write from is important. Imagine writing 50,000 words in first person and then realising that actually it would be a better story in third person omniscient. ARGH!
    If you’re not sure which point of view would work best, try writing out a scene in different points of view and see which one feels more natural and works for the characters and story.
    Playing around in this way can also help you figure out how you want to structure your story. Roughly how long you might want your chapters to be, whose point of view each one should be from, and any patterns in the structure that you might want to introduce (will there be a prologue? Diary entries? Letters? Time hopping?).

  • Write a short synopsis.

    Okay, this is part of the planning. Once you have your ideas and you have a rough idea of the story, write a short synopsis. It can be a sentence long, or five. It can be a whole paragraph. Whatever it takes to make sure you know the basis of the story.

  • Schedule your writing.

    This is something that’s easily forgotten. You’ve got the story, you’re ready to get outlining and writing, but when?!
    Decide how you will measure your writing (by word count, time spent on it or something else?), and then make time in your busy schedule to get that work done. You might want to carve out an hour a day, or full evenings, or getting up early each morning, or maybe just catching fifteen minutes here and there.
    Whatever works for you.

Then, you can start outlining. That’s a whole other post.

This one, in fact: Why And How To Outline Your Story 

I would just like to point out that, as I always say, every writer is different.

There is no right or wrong way to plan a novel or short story.
Find out what others do, sure, but make sure you do what works for you. Don’t try and force yourself to do something different if it’s a struggle and you’re not enjoying it.

If you don’t like using an outline, don’t use one!
If you like to plan every detail, then go to town on it (but make sure you actually get the writing part too!).

Writing is supposed to be fun (as well as gruelling, hard work and tear-inducing), so however you choose to create your stories, have fun with it.