How to Write a Novel

Being a practical sort of person, and not really having any idea of how to write a novel, I decided to do the obvious thing and google it.

Wow. That’s overwhelming. It turns out that there is no shortage of information and tips about how to write a novel. How am I possibly able to sort through all this (undoubtedly useful) information and find the right approach for me?

Well, fortunately, it doesn’t seem to be that difficult, because behind all the fancy titles and complex spreadsheets, almost all these ideas are EXACTLY THE SAME.

That’s right. In fact there isn’t even a substantial difference between the method expounded on the Wikihow page for writing novels (I find Wikihow pages to be eminently practical and reliable for other matters, such as DIY or making craft, so I’m inclined to trust it) and, say the “Snowflake” method for writing novels. That method is summarised thus:

1. Make a one sentence summary of your novel.

2. Make a short summary of characters.

3. Go back and forth between plot and characters, expanding each as you go, until you have the whole thing planned out.

That’s it, in a nutshell, and it makes sense, I suppose. If you try to develop your plot, and then come up with characters later, you are going to have machines, not people, populating your novel. Their sole reason for existence will be to follow the diktats of your carefully laid plot. They won’t seem real, in fact. Perhaps you have come across a novel or two like this. What springs to mind for me are a few of those technothrillers you read on holiday sometimes. The plot is full of twists and turns, but the characters are basically interchangeable, because the plot didn’t develop out of characters.

If you develop your characters alongside your plot, however, then you can ask yourself the logical question: what would this kind of person do in this kind of situation? If you don’t know, then your character still needs some developing. But if you do know, then that really helps to push your plot forward.

A short digression here: I’ve come across an artificial divide between people who call themselves ‘pantsers’, as in ‘seat of pants’, and those who plan a novel from the beginning to end. Hm. I sometimes get the feeling I’m reading a novel by someone who is making it up as they go along. I’m not knocking the idea of writing a novel spontaneously without planning – hell, I wish I could do it. But as a beginner, I’m discounting that approach, because the last thing i want to do is find myself halfway through a book without the confidence or the inspiration to finish it.

So I’m adopting the 1,2,3 method above. Starting with a one sentence summary of my plot, and then going to characters, and then back to plot etc. Let’s see how this works out.


5 thoughts on “How to Write a Novel

  1. My focus is on writing memoirs, but I think your step 3 is invaluable to memoirist: “Go back and forth between plot and characters, expanding each as you go, until you have the whole thing planned out,” except I would add, until your memoir is done. Thank you for sharing this.


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