So you want to write a novel. You have this great idea for a story. You’ve dreamed about the characters, and perhaps even the setting. You’ve read novels that have appealed to you, so you know the sort of story you want to write. But you don’t really know how to start. Perhaps you lack the confidence to try. “I don’t really think I could write a book.”

Each writer develops their own approach to a new book. You could rush headlong into sitting down at your computer, or grabbing a pencil and note pad, and starting to write your manuscript.

Based on what works for me, I’d recommend three steps to take before you actually start writing your story.

     Identify your genre. 

     First of all, you need to decide your genre. Is your story a romance, a mystery, historical, crime or fantasy? The full lists numbers a couple of dozen of them, with sub-genres under each heading. If you hope to sell your book you do need to be sure that you’ve correctly identified its genre. You’ll find a fairly complete list in Wikipedia that’s easy to find.

      Write a brief outline of the story you have in mind.

It doesn’t have be too detailed at this stage. Think of it as a road map that shows you the route your story will take. It you don’t know where your story is going, you could lose your way. There are various fancy ways of doing this – some writers use sticky notes, some use cards, some merely scribble the main plot points down on a sheet of paper, or on a the plot points briefly in chronological order.

Have you heard of Pantsters and Plotters? The plotter is an organized writer, who plots her story in detail before she starts. I’m more of a panster. We plot by the seat of our pants – the briefest outline works for us.

Which one are you? If you feel more comfortable having your story-line well thought-out and detailed before your start – there is where you do it. But don’t get so mired-up in plotting every fine detail that you never get around to writing your story. A word of warning. Be prepared to amend your outline, if is not working.

 As this is your first novel, I’d suggest the simple approach. You can try a more sophisticated, more detailed way later. Don’t try to run before you’ve learned to walk.

     Write a character sketch of your main rôle-players.

I find that if I define my main characters in as much detail as I can, before I write a word of my manuscript, they help me. I know how they speak, and how they will react to any situation I toss them into. They talk to me as I write. One minor character demanded that I give her a larger rôle, so I did. It pays to keep them happy.

You’ll find as many lists of what to include in character sketches, as there are Writing Bloggers. I’ve just checked on Google, and found everything from lists of 7 character traits to lists of 350 character traits. Have a look around, and find a simple list to start with. Basically, you’ll need to describe what the character looks like, where he lives, where she works, likes and dislikes, and what drives them.

You are now ready to start writing your first book. Sit down. Make yourself comfortable.

A blank page is in front of you. Write the heading; “Chapter 1”, and start writing your story. Concentrate on getting words on the page, without pausing. Well, only for a sip of coffee, or whatever oils your wheels.

Don’t worry if it’s not perfect. What you are writing at his stage is your first draft. It’s your raw material – the slab of marble for a sculptor; the ingredients for the chef. The time for making changes, correcting errors, and polishing up the wording comes later. Now you have something to work with. When you write “The End”, you’re entitled to pat yourself on the back – even give yourself a treat.

So what comes next?

This is where the real work starts. There’s a basket-full of details that need to be taken care before your manuscript is print-worthy. Here’s a brief look at the complete process of writing a novel. Once you’ve written your fist draft, you’ve already completed the first four steps.


  1. Inspiration strikes. A romance. Don’t ask me where inspiration comes from: I doubt there’s many novelists who could give you a simple answer to that.
  2. Get down a brief idea of a plot line. At this stage it’s hazy, and will probably change as you go on.
  3. Character Sketches.
  4. Write your story.
  5. Put your draft away for a week or two. Read it through, and then make a start with editing. Fix any typos, and grammar and spelling mistakes. Look out for inconsistencies (did you hero have grey eyes in Chapter one, which became brown eyes in Chapter 4? Did your heroine go to bed on Tuesday and wake up on Friday? How smoothly did the story read? Did it drag along too slowly in places?
  6. Happy with your story? Send it to a couple of Beta readers? What? Anybody you can persuade to read your Manuscript, and give you feedback. Did they enjoy your story? Was there anything that did not make sense to them? Anything that did not hang together. You’re not looking for a professional editor here, just what a potential reader thinks about it. 7.     This is also a good time to join a writing group. The members of the group will give you good advice. If you’re lucky, you may also find a mentor, who is willing to steer you along the rocky road to getting published. Hey, this is your goal, isn’t it?
  7. Now you’re ready to learn more about the craft of writing fiction – all the tricks of the trade. Learn all you can: there’s plenty of good advice on the internet; take a course. And read books in your chosen genre. Mine is contemporary romance.
  8. Edit your story again, in the light of what you have learned. Now you are ready to find a professional editor. You’re on the last lap towards publishing.
  9. After your last round of editing, do a final line-by-line read-through, to catch any typos which may have escaped the net.
  10. You’re ready to fly. The final countdown is to decide whether to self-publish or try to find a publisher – but this merits several whole articles of its own.

Go for it.  Write that novel, and enjoy it.


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