How to Write a Novel in 15 Steps

Much like learning to ride a bike, the best way to learn how to write a novel is by just doing it. Unlike saddling up on a Schwinn for the first time, however, writing a novel can’t be accomplished in one hot summer’s day. It requires good doses of commitment and perseverance. As Octavia Butler put it: “You don’t start out writing good stuff. You start out writing crap and thinking it’s good stuff, and then gradually you get better at it. That’s why I say one of the most valuable traits is persistence.”

This post will break up the 15 major steps of writing a novel into bite-sized pieces, organized in three categories — before, during, and after you write your manuscript. Those steps are as follows:

How to Write a Novel:

  1. Nail down the story idea

    1. Read books in your genre

    2. Choose your novel’s point of view

    3. Establish the setting

    4. Develop your main characters

    5. Establish conflict and stakes

    6. Create an outline

    7. Choose your story structure

    8. Pick a writing software

    9. Write to market

    10. Establish a writing routine

    11. Consider literary devices and techniques

    12. Revise your story

    13. Work with beta readers

    14. Hire a professional editor

Are you ready for "writing a novel" to be the next plume in your cap? Let’s begin...

Before you start writing a novel

Here’s a good cliche: it’s a marathon, not a sprint. The more you can prepare yourself before you start writing a novel, the better your chances of seeing it through completion. The following steps will help you build your author's armor; they will help you ward off sudden attacks of writer's block and provide you with a solid story foundation. By the time you finish this first section, planning your novel, you should be able to write the following statement:

1. Nail down the story idea

An obvious step, but not an easy one to cross off. In fact, you might find yourself making up other first tasks to avoid nailing this one: such as finding the perfect writing spot, buying the perfect stationery set, and doing other, shorter forms of creative writing. While all of these things might help you on your way to writing a novel, without spending time really solidifying what you want to write about, this novel-to-be simply won’t come to fruition.

If you’re struggling with coming up with even the seed of an idea, don’t fret. There is literally an endless supply of novel topics out there, and you can start perusing hundreds of them in our list of 300+ writing prompts, our directory of 200+ short story ideas, or even our plot generator.

If you’ve been chewing over a story idea but are having trouble giving legs to it, try writing down one or two lines about the theme of your book. If you’re wondering how to write a novel, it’s likely because there’s some message you want to put out in the world. The message behind your book is its theme, and it will underscore the whole story. For instance, Nineteen Eighty-Four follows a man yearning for love in a world where individuality and original thought is not only a sin but a crime. But what the book is really about is the human right for freedom of privacy.

2. Read books in your genre

“I can’t write without a reader. It’s precisely like a kiss—you can’t do it alone,” wrote American author John Cheever. If you want your novel to be attractive to prospective readers, you need to first understand how to think like a reader. And the way to do that is to — let’s all say it together — READ!

There are many reasons why time spent reading is worthwhile for an aspiring author:

  • You will have an understanding of what’s already been done-to-death, and can focus on creating something new.

  • On the other hand, you will also understand what has proven popular in a given genre, and will know what kind of expectations readers have.

  • It’s fun. If you don’t like reading books, why would you want to write them?

3. Choose your book’s point of view

You know how when gossip moves through the grapevine, it tends to stray further and further from the truth as it passes from person to person? This is because any time a person tells a story, they inevitably add their own unique biases, thoughts, and perspectives. For this reason, choosing the point of view your novel will be told from is an extremely important step in starting your Urdu novels and will have a huge impact on the actual story itself.

Here are the different POVs you might want to consider:

  • First Person: the story is told from the perspective of the writer or fictional narrator. The main pronoun used is “I.” Learn more here.

  • Second Person: the reader is addressed directly, and asks them to put themselves in the shoes of a character. The main pronoun used is “you.” Learn more here.

  • Third Person Limited: the narrator only has insight into the thoughts and feelings of a single character at a time. The pronouns associated with this POV are: he, his, him, she, hers, her, they, theirs, and them. Learn more here.

  • Third Person Omniscient: the narrator is all-knowing and can reveal anything that is happening to any character at any point in the story. The pronouns used are the same as for third person limited. Learn more here.

4. Establish the setting

Consider this line from Pride and Prejudice:

“What are men to rocks and mountains?”

This line glides smoothly from the page when Elizabeth Bennett takes a trip to the Peak District in Georgian Era England. If, on the other hand, the book took place in modern-day Texas and a 20-year old Elizabeth Bennett spoke those words, it would stick out like a sore thumb.

The key here is context — and the context or setting of a story will dictate everything about it, from character to plot to conflict, and beyond.

If you are planning to write about a setting outside of your own immediate knowledge, make sure you do adequate research. Consider working with sensitivity readers if you are writing about a place or culture outside your own.

5. Develop your main characters

If you’ve ever eaten a multi-course dinner (or seen Pretty Woman), you will know to start with the knives and forks on the outside and work your way in.

This is not the case with developing your characters. While it is definitely important for an author to picture what their characters look like, starting from the inside and working your way out is a better approach. Here’s where you can begin:

  • The Goal: what does your character want? For example, Harry Potter’s goal is to defeat Lord Voldemort.

  • The Motivation: why does your character have this goal? Harry must defeat Lord Voldemort to ensure the wizarding world’s safety and to avenge his murdered parents. Learn more here.

  • Dynamic or static: will your character undergo fundamental changes throughout the course of the story, or will they remain largely the same? Learn more here.

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