How to Write a Novel: Create a Bestseller Easily!
Writing a novel is a very big deal, especially for beginners in a literary world. If you are physically and emotionally ready to accomplish this challenge, we are glad to offer you a helping hand. Our guide on how to write a novel will be your map in the writing jungle. We’ll tell you about the main principles and elements of a good plot, different novel types, writing techniques, and other aspects of the creative process. Don’t forget to check out the list of useful tips for beginners! First of all, let’s define the term “novel.”
What Is a Novel?
A novel is a complex, polysemic term. Actually, it doesn’t have an exact definition. We can’t say anything definite about a novel’s length, form, or content. Let’s go over all these points in order to compose an overall impression from this literary genre.
Some definitions claim the novel’s length as a considerable amount, but what does this mean? When do texts cross the line of shortness and become considerable? Let’s face it: this characteristic is too vague. However, we can confirm that a novel is longer than a typical short story, and the length of this genre is a whole different story.
A majority of novels are written in prose form. However, there are always exceptions: for example, a well-known novel in verse, called “Eugene Onegin,” by Alexander Pushkin. The creativity of talented authors is not limited to poetry. Serbian writer Milorad Pavić wrote the novel “Dictionary of the Khazars; A Lexicon Novel” as three cross-referenced encyclopedias united by a common theme. Chinese modern author and artist Xu Bing has created a novel without a single letter. “Book From the Ground” consist exclusively of symbols: emojis, icons, and logos. We believe that you can impress your audience with the novelty of your novel!
You have a full right to include any literary mode in the body of your novel: poetry, dramatic dialogue, elegy, pastoral, and many others. Some writers use pictures and schemes, different fonts and coloring, and unusual printing materials in order to create a unique piece of art. The only thing we can affirm is that any novel should either stimulate brain activity or awaken strong feelings. When you stare at the pages of a new book with zero thoughts or emotions, you can be sure of its low quality.
As you see, it’s rather hard to define the term “novel.” If you’re a perfectionist and adore exact definitions, we can provide you with the definition from Merriam-Webster.com: The novel is “an invented prose narrative that is usually long and complex and deals especially with human experience through a usually connected sequence of events.” Happy now? Great, so now we can move forward.
You probably wonder: how long does it take to write a novel? That’s a debatable question. Let’s consider several examples. The creation of the final draft of “Faust” by Goethe took about 60 years. The epic fantasy novel “The Lord of the Rings” by J. R. R. Tolkien was finished in 12 years. In contrast to these authors, Stephen King doesn’t waste much time: he has already written about 75 novels and more than 200 short stories! See the difference?
We can’t tell you exactly how long you’ll take to write your masterpiece. However, it will take more than a few days.
Although some critics say that a novel has a finite repertoire of forms and motifs, we disagree. It’s true that we can classify existing novels, but we can’t restrict the imagination of modern authors with particular boundaries. So let your muse and creativity be with you!
10 Types of Novels
Before you start thinking on how to write a novel, we recommend you to learn more about novel types. Maybe, you’ll find a perfect option for your writing style or create a totally new genre. All types mentioned below have appeared in different epochs. Although some of them are not very popular nowadays, the renovation of old traditions is trendy now. Don’t hesitate to pick the best option for you!
Historical novels are usually based on facts about real historical personalities and events. Sometimes, all characters represented in a historical novel are fictional, but they are placed in a certain epoch. Such novels don’t have to be accurate or informative. The main purpose of the author is usually to use a historical background as decoration for his or her plot.
2. Fantasy and science fiction
Magic worlds, technologies of the future, time travel, alien invasion – all these concepts can become a part of your fantasy or science fiction novel. You may create a brand new world inhabited by incredible creatures, brave knights, and beautiful princesses. The other option is to imagine a better (or worse) tomorrow for our planet.
3. Detective fiction
Do you enjoy stories about Sherlock Holmes, Hercule Poirot, and Miss Marple? Then, detective fiction is a perfect option for you. Look for pieces of evidence, track the footsteps of dangerous criminals, and bring justice! Maybe you’ll become the new Arthur Conan Doyle.
4. The bestseller
If you want to see your name in Forbes, write a bestseller. There are three crucial ingredients: an acute and painful theme, a good marketing strategy, and an attractive cover. Perhaps, your name won’t be perpetuated by future generations. Anyway, you’ll be well paid.
5. Love story
L’amour… What can be better than an exciting story about two hearts filled with love and passion? Probably, lots of things are better. Still, the general public enjoys love stories. The formula is simple: man, woman, obstacles, and endless happiness of mutual love at the end.
If you don’t want your readers to get bored, adventure fiction is a perfect genre for you. Danger, adrenaline, and dynamics make the hearts of readers beat faster. Adventure novels add bright colors to our daily routine and allow us to feel emotions that are not available in real life.
There are many more novel types, but they’re not that popular today. However, you may try your hand at proletarian, Gothic, epistolary, pastoral, or any other genre if you want to. Think outside the box and give birth to a new trend!
How to Start Writing a Novel From Scratch
You may wonder how to finish a novel if you don’t really know how to start a novel’s first sentence. Don’t worry! We understand your feelings, as starting a task from scratch is hard for all of us. Below, we’ll offer you a few tips that will help you to cope with the fear of the first sentence and failure. Anyway, writing a novel is not a matter of life or death. If your first attempt is not successful, you shouldn’t give up – keep trying! Remember that only your own evaluation matters when it comes to creative writing.
- Don’t be afraid.
The fear of trying something new is normal, but you can easily cope with it. Build an imaginary wall between you with your art and the rest of the world. Express your thoughts and feelings in written form the way you want, and readers will hear your personal voice behind the letters.
- Start from a short story.
If you are not ready to create a novel of considerable length, you may start from something much shorter. Fit your plot into a few pages and only then start adding more details. Many famous novels were created in such manner. Why wouldn’t you follow the example of great writers?
- Imagine the full picture.
This technique is quite difficult, especially for beginners. However, you should try it if your imagination is well trained. Try to watch your novel like a movie in your mind, playing it and rewinding it until the moment you get a full picture.
- Live through it.
Some writers use this unusual but efficient technique to develop a good plot. They don’t think over the ending of their novels in advance. The author creates a conflict and then lives through it along with the characters, following their intuition and narrative logic.
Now you know how to start a novel. This is the right moment to bring some of your awesome ideas to life!
How to Get Ideas for a Novel?
If you’ve decided to write a novel, you already have an excellent and original idea, right? No? This will be more difficult than we thought. Still, we are not going to leave you alone in your idea hunt! We offer you a list of ordinary and extraordinary ways to get ideas for a novel.
1. Broaden your intellectual horizons!
As a rule, every new idea is a successful combination of two old ideas. Your brain should be like a sponge and easily gather vast volumes of various information in order to proceed subconsciously and formulate brand new ideas. Good ideas are rare to come to mind for the unobservant. Learn more about the world around you, and your efforts will be rewarded!
2. Read books.
That’s a banal, yet truly efficient, method to get ideas. Moreover, if you read many books, you will learn about other authors’ legacies. In such manner, you learn from the greatest talents of the literary world for free! Moreover, you’ll know whether your ideas are unique or if you simply copied someone else’s thoughts.
3. Look for real-life stories.
Real life can be even more exciting and unexpected than the imaginary world. Learn more about your family history, your favorite historical personalities, and current events, as our reality is a great source of good ideas even if you are going to write about elves and dragons. People around you can become a basis for your novel’s characters, and your own experience can evolve into a great plot line.
4. Make notes about your dreams.
Scientists argue that dreams are a synthesis of your memories of the day and your subconscious thoughts. That sounds unexciting, but who cares? You have to admit that dreams can be sometimes even more amazing than superhero movies. Don’t waste the chance to use the fruits of your brain’s labor.
5. Get new experiences.
You can’t get new thoughts in your mind if nothing worthy of attention happens in your life. Add some diversity! Visit new places, meet interesting people, or go for a walk at least. Maybe, your inspiration is hiding somewhere in a new city park or in the eyes of a beautiful stranger.
6. Set free you strong feelings.
Emotions are a great source of inspiration and ideas. Unfortunately, they are not always good. However, don’t hide your feelings inside. Let them come out and appear on the pages of your novel!
We hope that you’ve found a perfect idea for your novel. Let’s move on to the planning process!
How to Outline a Novel: Crucial Elements
A novel is a genre which breaks all existing rules. Consequently, it is impossible to compose a one-size-fits-all outline. You should by no means restrict your ideas and creativity with certain boundaries. However, there is a range of elements necessary for any good novel. Don’t forget to include them in your novel plan!
When you don’t provide readers with detailed portraits of your characters, they can’t imagine them the way you do. It’s simply impossible. Before writing the whole text of your novel, make notes about your characters in order not to get confused later.
Write down their age, approximate height and weight, eye color, hair color, face shape, stature, etc. Check your notes when you write the chapters with these characters. Inexperienced authors often make a stupid mistake: for example, at the beginning of their novel, a protagonist has blue eyes, and in the last chapter, they suddenly change the color to green or brown.
One more thing: include some characters’ depictions in the first or second chapter of your book, so your readers would be able to imagine them in the right way from the very beginning.
Settings act as the background for your plot: apartments, houses, forests, castles, ships, cities, etc. They may be metaphors, symbols, or simply a beautiful addition to the plot line. However, think about all settings you’ll have in your novel. Imagine them in detail. You may also try to draw them if you’re skilled enough. Your notes or drawings will be as helpful as characters’ descriptions.
If you create your novel’s world according to the laws of nature that exist in our reality, you shouldn’t forget about the flow of time. You will also choose what type of narrative will be in your novel: linear or nonlinear. A linear narrative is presented in chronological order, while a nonlinear narrative includes different patterns of featured events: parallel plot lines, flashbacks, dream immersions, etc.
There is a list of banal time confusions you should avoid:
- The protagonists spend different amounts of time for the same action (for example, a road trip).
- The protagonists don’t grow older (“The Curious Case of Benjamin Button” is an exception).
- The protagonist gets healed too quickly.
- The protagonists are at two places at the same time (or almost the same time, like Flash).
- Reread your novel and make sure that there are no such time mistakes in your plot!
Several plot lines
When you create several plot lines in your novel, they have to co-exist in a logical way. Pay attention to the chapters where two lines overlap! If the protagonists’ actions and motivations are not well considered, that may create dissonance in the minds of attentive readers. Such confusions frequently happen to comic book writers. They get tired of rereading all previous comics and simply ignore them and their plot lines. They call it “rebooting a universe.” However, you want to write a novel, not a comic book. So be careful with plot lines!
If your goal is to write a novel about two or more generations of one family, drawing a genealogical tree won’t hurt. In such manner, you’ll memorize family connections between your characters more easily and won’t make numerous mistakes. In the novel “One Hundred Years of Solitude,” Gabriel García Márquez depicted the story of seven generations! Taking into account that half of the protagonists have similar names, even reading without a genealogical tree is challenging.
If you want to create a novel with unexpected plot twists, we highly recommend you to draw a detailed scheme of all featured events. That’s especially necessary for detective novels. Remember that you have to reveal a murderer in the last chapter. What if you get confused and are unable to do it?
All these elements are crucial for the novel’s outline. Now, let’s talk more about the proper structure of a decent novel.
How to Plan a Novel: 6 Main Parts
As we’ve mentioned above, there is no one-size-fits-all novel outline. However, the majority of stories follow a similar logic. That doesn’t only refer to novels: movies, short stories, and even cartoons have similar principles of plot development. If you are planning to write a gigantic, complex novel with several plot lines, each of them might have its own development and a common resolution. Let’s take a closer look at all parts of a normal plot:
Exposition is a starting point for your piece of writing. Here, your readers meet your characters and learn more about the settings. When you create a fantasy novel, this part becomes even more significant, as you have to acquaint readers with a brand new world with its own history, creatures, and culture. Sure, you don’t have to provide all of the details in the first chapter. At least give your readers a few hints, though.
A conflict is a driving force of a story. We can classify conflicts in two ways: by their importance and by their type. There is always one main conflict, for example, between the protagonist and antagonist, and minor conflicts. In the series of “Harry Potter” novels, the confrontation between Harry and Lord Voldemort is the main conflict. In addition, there are family issues, political confrontations, and moral dilemmas that can be considered as minor conflicts.
3. Rising action
A rising action builds tension throughout the longest part of the novel. If you are a truly talented writer, the rising action of your book won’t let your readers fall asleep and be distracted even for one minute.
This is the tensest, most dramatic, and most emotional moment of your novel. A fight with a dragon, a declaration of love, a duel – any of these scenes can be a typical novel climax.
5. Falling action (optional)
This part is not necessary for a plot, and sometimes it’s absent. Nothing new is happening, and all cards are on the table. Tension is going down.
The conflict is resolved, and everything makes sense now. The resolution gives readers a feeling of completeness. Sometimes, there can be no resolution in the story. Such plots are open-ended. This means that your readers have a great opportunity to use their creativity to imagine the further fate of the characters by themselves.
Now, you know how to write a novel step by step. Are you still not confident about plot writing? Below, we’ve prepared a few great hints on this topic!
How to Write a Novel Plot: 7 Common Types
How many plots do you know? A thousand, maybe more? Don’t be so confident about that! What if we share a secret with you? There are only SEVEN universal plots behind gazillions of stories that you’ve ever read or watched. Not even ten, can you imagine? Sure, all these plots are decorated by various settings, extraordinary characters, and parallel worlds. Still, you can easily determine which universal plots a writer or a scriptwriter has used to create a story.
There are always exceptions, but it is really hard to think of a book or film that wouldn’t fit in the list placed below. However, you can try!
1. Defeating a Villain
An eternal war between good and evil is a great plot for a wide range of books and movies. A villain is not necessarily one person with a bad behavior pattern. The main hero might fight against supernatural forces, a dragon, Darth Vader, or a cruel step-mother; it doesn’t actually matter. The main thing is to overcome a “bad guy” and survive (preferably).
Examples of the “Defeating a Villain” plot: “League of Justice,” “The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe,” and “Harry Potter.”
2. Great Journey and Return
The main character usually arrives at an unknown place, planet, or city and tries to return home. He or she faces different obstacles, meets new friends or enemies, and gains new knowledge and experiences.
Examples of the “Great Journey and Return” plot: “Jumanji,” “The Odyssey,” and “Journey to the Center of the Earth.”
There are two main dissimilarities between the “Journey and Return” plot and the “Quest” plot. Firstly, the hero or heroes do not try to get back home. Secondly, they have a certain goal: discover unknown land, find a treasure, or throw a magic ring into the volcano. As a rule, there is one main character accompanied by a group of companions who help him or her in achieving the great purpose.
Examples of the “Quest” plot: “Librarian,” “Indiana Jones” movies, and “Treasure Island.”
4. Fun Story
Any comedy movie that comes to your mind is a typical fun story. At a particular moment of their life, the protagonists discover that something has gone wrong. They try to fix everything throughout the whole story and achieve their goal at last. Fun stories are simple and understandable, as their only goal is to make you laugh and smile.
Examples of the “Fun Story” plot: “Bridget Jones’s Diary,” “Some Like It Hot,” and “The Importance of Being Earnest.”
5. Tragic Story
Everybody dies. Or almost everybody dies. That’s the main feature of tragic stories. Usually, everything begins in a positive manner and then becomes darker and darker throughout the story. The main characters can’t overcome the evil, no matter if it’s external or internal. They fall to temptation, fall in love with the wrong person, or fall into a trap. Anyway, we wish you to stay away from such stories in real life.
Examples of the “Tragic Story” plot: check out some Shakespearean plays.
At the beginning of the story, the main character is not the most pleasant person. He or she has lots of negative personal qualities. The goal or “rebirth” is to show how this hero deals with his or her personal problems and becomes a different person. There is usually a particular event, force, or another character which helps the main hero to change.
Examples of the “Rebirth” plot: “How the Grinch Stole Christmas,” “American History X,” and “Schindler’s List.”
7. Unexpected Success
The main character gets an opportunity that totally changes his or her life. They can’t cope with such success and nearly lose everything. However, they find the way out, manage their fears and weaknesses, and everything is fine in the end.
Examples of the “Unexpected Success” plot: “Limitless,” “The Princess Diaries,” and “Catch Me If You Can.”
All these plot types have been tested by time and millions of readers and viewers. We don’t force you to pick one from this list, but we’ve given you an exhaustive answer to the question on how to develop a plot for a novel.
How to Start Writing Novels for Beginners: Useful Tips
The final section of our exhaustive guide is worth your special attention! We present a list of tips that will help you to create a real masterpiece. They refer both to the preparatory works and the writing process itself.
- Regular practice
Writing skills and style are like muscles. They need regular training in order to become better. Stephen King once said: “What separates the talented individual from the successful one is a lot of hard work.”
- Read specialized literature
You can’t even imagine how many talented and popular authors freely share the secrets of professional writing with a wide audience. Try to pick guidelines written by truly respected authors, and not some charlatan. In addition, when you’ve already chosen a certain theme for your novel, gather as much information on it as possible. It would be a real shame to be a talented writer and make numerous factual mistakes in the novel.
- Do research
This tip is tightly connected to the one above. Still, research works deserve a separated paragraph, as they are not limited to books. Archives, libraries, interviews, old newspapers, field studies – all these sources are valuable for a good story, especially when it comes to a historical novel.
- Take your time
Writing a novel is not a one-day task. Sometimes, it takes a few months just to pick a decent title! An author may also face a creative crisis that will stop the writing process for an uncertain amount of time. Moreover, you can’t leave everything and dedicate all your spare time to the writing. Of course, you can, but it will have a bad impact on your social life, health, and work.
- Start from smaller genres
A novel is a big deal, as it has a considerable length and complex structure. At least, it should. We recommend starting your writing career from something less demanding. Try your hand at flash fiction and short stories, or even poems. Please, don’t think that we don’t believe in your talent. We just want to offer you a simpler way to polish your style.
- Polish your draft
The first draft won’t be perfect. There are always mistakes, defects, and poor wording which need to be fixed. When you write your novel on a wave of inspiration, you don’t really care about proper spelling or logical reasoning. Reread your novel as many times as possible to bring it to perfection.
- Get feedback
Unfortunately, not all of us are surrounded by professional literary critics. However, everybody knows at least one person who is keen on reading and can give you a few tips.
- Find a professional editor
No matter how good at grammar you are, there are always people who are better. They are professionals. They notice the tiniest mistake miles away and don’t give it any chance. They are professional editors. Find such a person and be confident about the quality of your writing.
- Get published
There is no use for your manuscripts when they lie quietly on the bookshelf. Find the way to get published. It’s not about fame or money: when the world will see your novel, you’ll understand whether your creation is good enough to interest a wide audience. If your close friends evaluate your novel, they can’t be objective. When it comes to strangers, there are no personal feelings that would compromise their perception.
- Don’t expect instant success
Please, don’t think that we want to discourage you. On the contrary, we want you to keep trying even if your first attempt isn’t successful. Walt Disney was denied for a loan by 300 banks when he wanted to fund Disneyland. Now, it’s hard to find a person who has never heard of this great animator. You should never give up if you have a dream!
One of the reasons that makes novels so popular is that they allow the portrayal of stories about real people and common life. In contrast to ancient epics or legends that were focused on a life of great heroes and gods, novels share the stories about regular people with regular problems. Of course, not all characters in novels are ordinary, but we can easily put ourselves in their shoes and share their feelings. Everything we need is a good imagination and a bit of spare time.
How to Write a Novel: Sample Analyzed
A good example is the best instruction. Our writers have prepared a novel sample especially for our readers. In this novel outline template chapter by chapter there are also a few comments that will clarify all the details.
Click the images to see their full size.
Mistakes to Avoid While Novel Writing
- Starting way before the main action
it’s true that you have a lot of space for describing places, thoughts and feelings if you are writing a novel. However, don’t forget that you have to stay interesting, and people are mostly interested in action (or at least some emotional tension building up gradually). When you talk to your friends, you start with the main occurrence right away: “And that guy looked at me and said…” And when your friend frowns and asks, “Wait, what guy?” you begin describing him, telling the back story and so on. Apply the same rule to your novel: start nearly at the center of an action, then give flashbacks, descriptions and explanations.
- No action included
While trying to avoid the cliché of “everything happens at once” novels, many authors hit the opposite extreme: they manage to create novels where nothing actually happens. Yes, a beautiful, strong and smart hero that saves the world several times on his or her way to high school is boring, but a gloomy hero who doesn’t take any action is also boring. Our everyday lives are full of drama: a girl hesitating to invite a boy she likes to a date, a businessman deciding to start singing at a jazz band, and so on.
- Too much drama
Have you ever watched those 500-episode series, when a character falls in love, but then loses his or her memory, and then it turns out that they are somehow related with the lover, and after some dramatic confession of their parents, both of the characters find out that they are not related to each other… Try not to be an author that creates such plots, and readers will appreciate your ability to stop at the right point more than anything else. Even simple life events like going to college or moving to another city can be very dramatic, emotion-packed, and engaging.
- Plastic people
This mistake is both the most common and the hardest to avoid. Everybody has dreamed about being perfect, beautiful, adored, and very often we put this desire in our writing. There’s nothing wrong with it if you leave it as a desire of one of your characters. But it’s not a good idea to turn him or her into an almighty Mary Sue/Marty Stu.
How to Choose Novel Titles
We hope that now you have a glimpse of how to write a good novel, but what should it be about? Maybe you have a charismatic and appealing character, but you don’t know where to put him or her or even what the plot will be.
1) Decide on the genre. Do you want a drama with elements of a thriller? Or maybe you are up to creating something light, funny and inspiring? Defining the genre and the mood of your future novel will help you to pick the novel topics.
2) Think of the main narrative. This actually will be your topic—the story you want to tell. The snowflake method is very useful here: you start with a very general topic, like a novel about supernatural creatures. Then you go narrower and narrower: it becomes a story about unicorns, and how they have appeared on the Earth and why no one can see them. If you google “the snowflake method,” you will finds sets of questions that will help to shape your topic.
3) Do a little research on the topic. For instance, you want to write about vampires. There are already a lot of novels out there written about vampires. You don’t need to read all of them, just capture the main idea—how these creatures are depicted, what world they live in, are there any other magical creatures, and so on. This will help you to choose your own preferences in the story and, hopefully, to avoid numerous clichés.
4) Be open to changes. Maybe, in the process of searching for a topic, you will understand that you don’t like your setting and/or character anymore. It is totally okay for a creative person to change their mind twenty times a day. Actually, you can even make an advantage of it—note down why you are not drawn to your character anymore, what is bad and boring about him or her, and then use it in your novel to make the person look and feel real, not a two-dimensional ideal.
We hope that our article has inspired you for writing a great novel and has given you the right direction! Don’t hesitate to make your first step on the path to a successful career!
Give us more useful tips and steps to writing a novel in the comment section below.