Have you always felt like you had a book in you? Maybe it’s a storyline percolating or a cool character you can’t let go. Is it time to finally write that novel?
If you’re ready to take the plunge, know there are two overall approaches to it: writing by the seat of your pants or planning in advance. Staring at a blank computer screen is a great way to feel an overwhelming urge to do laundry or check Facebook (read: procrastinate). If you want to actually finish a novel, you should develop your story idea first.
Take the time to think about who your characters are and what will happen to them. This will make writing the next four hundred pages much more manageable. Here are five steps to help you get to “the end.”
Decide on characters
Maybe you already know who your protagonist is going to be, but now delve deep by answering these questions:
- How did your character get into this situation?
- What are they like? Who are they?
- How can I make a trope unique?
- Where is your character? What role will the setting play in the story?
- Who holds the character back from achieving their goal?
- If you have a theme in mind, how does the character play into it?
Define the goals, motivations, background of your characters
Now that you’ve gotten to know your main characters, it’s time to figure out how their personality, background, baggage, and desires will influence your plot. After all, these characters have goals. Why can they not get what they want? What will they have to do to achieve their aims? When you think about how your protagonist’s background will help or hinder them from getting what they want, you’re also building plot points.
Map your major plot points
Many people resist plotting because they don’t want to “write the novel before I write the novel” – that’s something I, and many novices like me, have said. In reality, it helps to have a basic idea of where you’re going with the story. Knowing a few major plot points will help you drop hints and create tension and suspense, important elements of any novel, not just mysteries, earlier in the story. You won’t waste time finding your plot, and it also inures you from blinking cursor disease.
Here are a few major plot points to figure out in advance:
- Hook/inciting incident: What happens to your protagonist to set them off on their journey?
- First plot point: Once off on their journey, what happens to change the protagonist’s circumstances? How do they react to it?
- The Midpoint: What major conflict will your protagonist and antagonist fight over? This should again change the circumstances of the journey.
- The Climatic Sequence: This will be the most intense confrontation between your protagonist and whatever or whoever is holding them back from achieving their goal.
- Resolution: This will show the consequences of the journey for the characters.
Keep in mind that this basic structure holds whether you are writing an adventure or a romance, or anything in between. These “fights” or “conflicts” don’t have to be life or death—they just have to be important to the main characters.
Plot in-between major moments
If you’re feeling motivated, fill out the events that happen between the major plot points. Remember: any plotting you do in advance can be changed. If you start writing, and you feel your characters are moving in another direction, you can change the plot! This isn’t in stone, and you might find that different conflicts or characters work better. Still, forcing yourself to work out how character and plot intersect before you have to deal with issues like voice, dialogue, etc, will help.
Make writing a priority
Writing a novel is a monster undertaking. You are the puppeteer, and everything in the world of your manuscript is under your control. The responsibility can be overwhelming. It’s also a long process, and you almost certainly aren’t being paid, at least at first, for your work. It’s very easy to let everything else in life become more important than writing. If writing a book is something you want to do, make it a priority. Clear your schedule. Find the time. And when you’re stuck, look back at the plan you’ve created, and keep going!