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How do I Start Writing a Novel?

Dan Cavallari
By Dan Cavallari
Updated Feb 17, 2024
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Many writers never venture into the world of novel writing because of the daunting proposition of taking that incredibly difficult first step, and therefore their great idea remains just that: an idea. But writing a novel does not have to be as difficult as it seems, and many people find once they start the novel, the rest comes out a little easier with a combination of creativity and determination. Certainly, writing a novel is a difficult process, but it becomes much easier once a writer takes that extremely crucial first step.

There are two general schools of thought concerning writing a novel: many authors will meticulously plan and outline the novel, while others will simply write the beginning and take a "see what happens" approach. One process or the other will work for you, but if you're having difficulty choosing, try this: write the ending of your novel first. That way, you know where you need to end up once you start writing the beginning. This process of writing a novel is akin to getting directions to a new restaurant before you leave the house. You know where you need to end up -- it's just a matter of getting there now.

Another method to getting started when writing a novel is to develop a main character that you care about. Don't worry about the plot right off the bat; concern yourself with writing a character who you want to follow around for three or four hundred pages, someone you wouldn't mind palling around with in real life. That way, you will be consistently interested in what happens to them throughout the course of your novel. Where do they live? What do they look like? What struggles are they dealing with in their everyday life? If you care about your main character when writing a novel, the plot will begin to develop itself.

Once you have gotten started writing a novel and you have a character you care about, it's time to throw in a complication. The easiest way to achieve this is to think of your book as a series of "What Ifs." What if this character met that character? What if my truck driver main character has an accident? What if my main characters get a divorce? Many of the best novels out there were begun on this premise, and if you're having trouble getting started, this might be a good approach for you.

When writing a novel, be sure of two things: first, be sure you care about your main character. This will make it easier for you to write what happens to them. Second, be sure to add a complication, or "What If" scenario. Keep asking questions and your characters will keep answering them.

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Discussion Comments

By lluviaporos — On Apr 26, 2014

@KoiwiGal - It's good to have a metaphor, as long as you don't try to apply it to everyone's writing. I find that a lot of advice seems to be given out as though it is irrefutable truth, but the truth is there is no right way to write a book. I'd say one of the best tips on writing a novel is that if your approach doesn't work, try another one.

By KoiwiGal — On Apr 25, 2014

@bythewell - The metaphor that I really like when it comes to writing the first draft of a novel, is one of a dark room. You get plunked down in the middle of this room and you have to work your way around to the edge in order to find the light switch.

I like this, because it suits the way I sometimes feel when writing, that I'm almost afraid to stick my hand out into the dark and encounter something scary, or disappointing.

But once the first draft is finished and I can see everything, I can start rearranging the furniture and making the room livable.

By bythewell — On Apr 25, 2014

For a long time, I thought of writing a first draft as something that had to be done slowly, with much rereading and editing in order to get it right so that the whole story would come together properly. I tended to get bogged down and started a lot of projects but rarely finished them.

But I read a few books on how to write a novel recently and most of them recommended that you get through the first draft as quickly as possible and then work on getting the details right in the second draft. That really works for me. I have to kind of force myself not to keep going back and changing stuff while I'm writing, but I get through the whole thing fast and it's actually fun, because some of what happens is totally unexpected and unplanned, even though it suits the story.

I like the idea that you're basically shoveling together raw material in the first draft and shaping it into a sculpture in the next ones.

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