how to wite a novel

How to Write a Novel – The Definitive Guide

Do you have loads of interesting stories to tell and a way with words? If so, you’ve already crossed two of the biggest hurdles on your road to becoming an author. If you’re passionate about self-publishing a book, don’t just jump the gun and start putting pen to paper. Take your time and educate yourself on how to write a novel. There are many elements that go into making a really good book; for starters we are going to focus on the biggest element of them all- the words. If you enjoy ideating, you may have already figured out what to write, but the challenge lies in how to write a novel. Writing, by itself, is an art form that requires constant practice, even if you have a flair for it. From creating a unique plot-line to penning a mind-boggling climax, there are many aspects involved in writing a fiction novel. Once you have learnt how to write a novel, other things like editing the final draft, designing the cover and promoting the book will become a challenge you will enjoy taking. Here are some tips that will help you start writing the novel.

Story

When you decide to start writing a novel, you obviously have a story in mind. A two-liner is enough to create a bestseller, provided you know how to build an interesting piece from the simple plot-line. Transform your two-line story into a four-liner by giving it a context.

For example, if your two-line story is “Seven people take a tour to Jim Corbett. One after another, they start disappearing.” Build on it like this-

“Seven people take a tour to Jim Corbett. Each of them hides something from the rest. One after another, they start to die. They start to suspect each other.”

Go on, and on until you reach a point, where you are clear on how the story is going to unfold. You can build your foundation and structure the story this way.

Structure and Genre

You have created the heart of your story and expanded it. Now it’s time to flesh it out. Lay the framework and see how you’re going to move to from point A to point B.

So these seven people have gone to Jim Corbett. How did they get there? How do they know each other? Who dies first? Is it one by one? How much focus is there going to be on the deaths? Is the more of a story on bonding or a good thriller?

This is where knowing the genre of your book comes in handy. Now, this is never going to be set in stone. You could start with a drama and launch into a thriller depending on where imagination takes you. But knowing the genre you’re aiming for helps guide you. It gives you something to aim for and stick to if you veer too far off track.

Your story could be about a murder, but you can still make it a funny novel. On the other hand, you can also write a horror movie with a romantic backdrop.

Also, do not choose a style just because it seems fancy or intriguing. One of the biggest mistakes many writers make is choosing the wrong genre. If you have written short stories in the past, you might by now, know which genre you are good at. Pick a genre that you’re comfortable with, especially if it’s your first novel.

Some authors have even won the Booker Prize for their debut novels. They made their novels a success by writing a genuinely intriguing and exciting story, especially in the genre they are good at.

Need a detailed study on writing specific novel genres? Read our guides on how to write a horror novel and how to write an adventure novel.

Characterisation

This is the most crucial but often ignored aspect of novel writing. Readers prefer to read novels that make them feel a connection with the story. Even if you are writing fiction or fantasy, people would love it if they could relate to your characters.

That being said, the characters shouldn’t feel confusing. Therefore, before even writing your first chapter, create a character map. Jot down the name and the primary characteristics of each and every important character in your novel. Note everything from their eye colour to their hobbies, how they act in a particular situation to their pet peeves. This way, you will be clear about each and every character. This list will be helpful in defining each and every character in your novel. Read our guide on how to create and understand your characters.

The point of view

Once you have decided on the characterization, story, and genre, you must decide how the story is going to be written. This is different from the structure as it is through whose eyes the reader will explore the book’s world. It controls how your structure is shaped.

There are six basic types of point of view:

First person:

This is when the story is written from the point of view of one of the protagonists of the story.

First person peripheral:

This is when the narrator of the story is a supporting character in the novel and not one the protagonists. This way, the narration still uses “I” but some scenes in the story will happen to the protagonist and the narrator will not have access to those events.

Second person:

The story will be told from the perspective of you. This is mostly used in non-fiction and self-help books.

Third person limited:

The story is told from a third-person’s point of view, but the narrator’s knowledge of events is limited to that of one of the characters. In simple terms, the narrator will tell the readers only what one of the characters knows. This kind of the point of view works well for thriller novels.

The third person multiple:

The story is told in a third-person point of view, but the narrator moves from one character to another. In short, the narrator tells us from the point of view of more than one character.

Third person omniscient:

The narrator knows and shares everything. It’s more like voice-overs in movies. The narrator says plenty of things about the characters that the character themselves won’t know. This kind of point of view works well with romantic novels.

Study, understand and choose your point of view before starting your novel. Don’t wait till editing to follow a proper point of view. A good novel is something that has clear narration. A recent trend is to write in first person multiple.

Tense

Before writing the novel, another thing that you must finalise on, is the tense in which the story is written. Most stories are written in either past or present tense. Very rarely is future tense used. No matter which tense you choose, it’s important to maintain the consistency in the tense used. Editing errors in tense can be a very daunting task.

Novel length

Have a rough word-count that you want to hit when you finish the novel. Most novels are somewhere around 70,000 words. If your story demands it, you can consider stretching it by another 30,000-35,000 words. Similarly, there are excellent novels that are short and crisp at maybe, 50,000 words. Depending on your genre and writing style, have an upper and lower limit set.

Writing the first chapter

After all the thinking, pondering over, re-thinking, and deciding, there comes the time where you have to write your first chapter. Remember that the first chapter is the one that your editor, publisher, or even a potential reader will read before deciding to pick the book.

The good old proverb; the first impression is the best impression, works perfectly well in this context. Start with a bang! However, do not be fake. While introducing characters in the first chapter is not a bad idea, it is better if you start by setting the mood of the story.

Some of the tips for writing a great first chapter are:

  • Keep it short and simple, somewhere between 300-500 words.
  • Mention all the important things in the time period, location, season, etc.
  • Reveal the core of your book – it can be a character, an event, or dialogue
  • You can set the pacing of your book based on the length of the chapter; long chapters result in slow pacing while short chapters will read faster. Divide your novel into chapters accordingly.
  • Write and re-write until you are happy.

Dialogues

Your book should neither look like the script of a stage play with too many dialogues nor like a monologue or press release without much dialogue.

Try to have a balance. Understand which scenes feel good when conveyed as dialogue and which will feel good as narration.

Read our blog on How to write scintillating dialogues.

Telling vs. Showing

More than once you would have come across people talking about telling vs. showing. If you are wondering what it’s all about, read on.

A common mistake that many debut writers make is to tell the reader the events of a story or how a character is feeling rather than showing it.

In report writing, article writing, and journalism, telling a story works. However, when it comes to writing a book, especially if it is fiction, creating the illusion of being there in the story is what people prefer. Seeing events happen is what many readers want from a book.

For example, when we read the Harry Potter series, we felt like we were right next to the boy wizard. That’s the magic of the book!

Words to cut from your novel

Okay, so you are finally at a great writing pace. At this juncture, you must pay attention to the words you write. There are a few things that you must avoid:

  • Adjectives like beautiful, amazing, etc. may have been used frequently. Try to replace those common terms with relevant synonyms.
  • Time-based adjectives are bound to make your prose weak. Avoiding them is wise.
  • Verbs that end with “-ing”, Similar to time-based adverbs, will also weaken your prose.
  • Use tools like Grammarly, Ginger, Copyscape, etc. to check the grammar, sentence flow, and authenticity of your work.

Here is a list of top writing tools for authors.

Punctuation and Grammar

Last but not the least, punctuation and grammar is quite important in any form of writing. While your editors will rectify grammar issues, you must make sure that your grammar and punctuation is good to the extent that both you and the editor are on the same page when it comes to knowing the meaning of a sentence.

If your work has none or minimal grammar errors, it gives the editor more time to re-read your book and improve the plot further.

Perfect your sentence structure skills with our editing tips for authors.

With all that you have learnt, it’s time to convert your first draft into a complete manuscript. With a finished manuscript in hand, you’ll have more confidence in approaching a reputed self-publishing agency to set your book up for marketing and promotion.

We hope you find this guide useful. What are some of the other things that you follow while writing a novel? Share it with us in the comments section below.

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Aishwarya Mukundarajan

Aishwarya is an MBA graduate from Symbiosis International University, Pune. When asked what her hobbies are she points to an overflowing bookcase.

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  • i agree to the thoughts stated here. Always, make every chapter about 600 words like we writ middle in an editorial page of any newspaper’. If you write an article it shall by about 3000 words, essays too can be that length. When i was writing interviews of people , i used to keep with in 3000 words limit else the reader gets bugged. you always need to include surprising elements in interviews, essays, or articles. Any way, i only recently thought of getting my essays to get in a book form containing 50 essays, i realize more than 20 or 25 essays collection in a book is indeed daunting task . So my future books of essays will be 20 essays or about. My book now to be by notion is ‘How we misinterpret our energy?’ this talks about the power of one’s energy, that is like a light, say some enlightenment one needs to get himself, i read a couple of Tamil books on Kadal related, one lady rightly uses spoken style of Tamil mix English, that is easy to understand for quite many, for we daily handle things that way, i like her attempt some retired B Gazetted officer from TN. i read a crime book by one CID officer, who rightly talks on crimes – good, as a lawyer myself like his method of stating;i do not expect some in him some Perry Mason approach of Earl Stanley Gardner; yea good indeed; and i read others first few pages; i think every author can read other authors, may write small reviews, that also encourage one; see yesterday when I was reading Economic Times, i came across, Javedkar as HRD minister tries to appoint teachers/professors on the basis of reservation – i felt, education is a treasure, so children need to be taught rightly in their formative years, so Montessori appoints highly qualified ad merited teachers to groom the children when so professors ought to be competent ones, not just be based on reservation ideals, their own children might lose the bus, if one is not reasonably merited. Therefore, I quoted from Gita Upanishad, chVIII,18,18 read with CXIII,20 – ‘Knowledge , the object of knowledge and knowing the subject, are the three fold incitement to action; the instrument (teachers), the action and the agent of action are the three fold composite of action. Hence, we need to be very careful when teaching children – as it is said in Tamil – ‘pasumarathil adiththa aanopol’ that way the same effect works both ways on the child, any way thank you all.