Easier said than done, right? Well, to be honest, writing a novel sounds harder than it actually is. In my opinion, it should be the easiest part of this journey because it’s fun, exciting, and you know the story you want to tell.
However, when you’re looking at a blank screen, it can seem like an impossible task. This is self-doubt and it stems from the books you have read in the past.
Think of all those great thrillers (or your preferred genre) that blew your mind. When the twist revealed itself, you were probably wowed by the fact that you “didn’t see that coming.”
But there’s a reason for that. You didn’t see it because you were following a narrative that was specifically written to keep your eyes looking elsewhere.
The author wrote it with this intention. That story was designed to do this.
However, if you prepared to read the story with a white board, marker pens and a notepad, you’d have probably figured it all out way before the last page. But that’s not why we read books.
We read for the thrill of the author telling us their story.
It’s a clever dance between reader and writer; one wants to be thrilled, and the other is happy to oblige.
Whatever your reasons are to write a book, there are three fundamental principles you need to nail down before you begin to write.
- Pantsing or Planning
- Character vs Plot
- Point of View
Pantsing or Planning
Some writers will tell you they write by the seat of their pants and never know where the story is going. This is known as ‘pantsing.’
There are two types of writer that use the pantsing method.
The first is the experienced novelist who has a library of books out there. They likely have a series of books under their belts, and have written narratives for their characters many times. Because of this, they already have an idea of where the new story is going.
Experience goes a long way in this game.
The second type of writer that uses the pantsing method is someone who often says, “I’ve been working on a book.” However, due to a lack of experience, they get lost in a maze of storylines and never actually finish their first draft.
As a new writer, it’s not a good idea to follow the words down the rabbit hole on your first manuscript. You are still getting to know your writing style, your characters, their traits, histories, skills etc. And you are unpractised in drafting a full story arc.
Planning is a good tool for a new author.
Get a notepad, sticky notes, or a white board, and lay out your story in five bullet points.
- Introduction/ Inciting incident
- Build-up/ Rising action
- Post action
This is known as Freytag’s pyramid and will give you a simple overview of your story.
This is a very basic writing plan. There are more complex models available that can take you deeper into each element. But this is a good start for a new writer.
I still use bullet points to plan my stories. Then, I expand on them.
By the time I sit to write the first draft, I know the outline well enough that the story flows without much effort.
For your first manuscript, I encourage you to spend time in the planning phase. Plan your story from start to finish.
But if you want to know more, take a look at The Basic Points of a Story Arc
Character vs plot
For writers, the age-old question of the chicken and the egg translates to character vs plot.
Which comes first? Only you can answer this for your story, I’m afraid.
Some writers have an idea of a great character and write a story to allow the character to take the stage. But in order to keep the reader hooked, the character needs a backstory to create a deeper connection with the reader.
These histories don’t have to be set in stone, nor do they have to be told in detail. But they need to exist for you to write a fully rounded character.
Think of Dracula for a moment. He drinks the blood of his victims and is immortal.
In order for his character to work, there needs to be a reason for drinking blood and something to explain his lifespan. There needs to be an origin, a driver that keeps him going, and a history that led to his unique situation.
When the author simply alludes to these elements, it creates a desire to know more. And if done well, you pique the interest of your audience that keeps them thinking about your character.
And if done extremely well, you could find yourself as the subject of a YouTube video where fans speculate and theorise possibilities.
Some writers think of a plot and sculpt their characters to suit it. They think of a situation and ramp it up to be shocking or interesting, and worthy of their reader’s attention. Then, they turn up the heat and add sub-plots.
This inevitably leads to creating a character who is up to the task of resolving the problem.
A good example would be in the John Milton series by Mark Dawson.
However, just like character driven stories, a plot also needs a history or a reason for being.
Again, you don’t need to spell it out explicitly. You can allude to it throughout you story. Then, your readers will try to piece it all together and come to their own conclusions.
Ultimately, writing for a character or a plot is up to you.
But ask yourself this question: when you decided that you wanted to write a book, what was the reason?
Was it to tell the world a story? Was it to show the world a character you’ve been thinking about? Or was it because all authors are rich and famous and you thought “why not”?
Writing from different Points of View
What point of view will you write from?
This is a key point that is very important in telling every story. However, I struggled to find literature on this topic despite trawling the internet for days.
Below are different POVs that I have found when reading.
“I fell down the stairs.”
This is the character narrating the story from within the story.
“You fell down the stairs,”
This is a narrator guiding you as a character through a story. Quite a rare POV. And to be honest, one that I’ve never enjoyed. I always equate this to the dungeon master from Dungeons and Dragons.
Third person limited?
“She fell down the stairs,”
This is a narrator telling the reader about the lady falling down the stairs.
Here, the narrator knows what the lady can see, hear and feel. However, the narrator doesn’t have access to what an onlooker is thinking.
This is the most common POV, and one that I prefer to read and write.
In this POV, the story is told through multiple characters, but this is normally done chapter by chapter, or scene by scene.
George R.R. Martin’s A song of Ice and Fire is a great example of this.
Third person omnipotent?
“Tracey fell down the stairs and felt her bones breaking. Tom watched with pleasure as she landed with her neck twisted at an angle. “Her life insurance is all mine,” he thought.”
In this POV, the narrator is omnipotent and has access to every character’s thoughts, feelings, emotions, etc.
This is quite common, but it’s easy to get wrong.
By jumping between multiple him/her and he/she, the writer and reader can lose track. Also, in an attempt to avoid he/she etc, the writer will name everyone constantly. And that wears thin quickly.
Choosing your POV.
An easy way to think of this is to think about how you would tell someone what happens in a scene from your story. You will notice the tense and POV happen naturally.
However, sometimes a POV is also used as a tool or for effect.
You might want to tell the story one way, but in order for a ‘big reveal’ to work properly, you might need it to be written in a certain POV.
That being said, you must remain consistent in your point of view. Changing it will disorientate your reader.
Start writing now
Now it’s time to put this into practice and write your book.
My advice is this:
- Plan your novel using the Freytag’s pyramid.
- Identify and understand what is driving your story. Character or plot.
- Give some thought to the point of view you will write from.
Then, read Write Your First Draft for five points to keep you on the right track.
Also, get onto social media platforms now.
Follow #INDIEAUTHOR, #WRITINGCOMMUNITY, and any other hashtags for writers. This will put you in touch with people who are on the same path as you.
By making connections now, you will learn so much and create some excellent connections within the writing community.