Don't Miss These Crucial Steps Before Writing Your Novel
It takes a great deal of imagination and craftsmanship to write a novel, but what if you’re just getting started?
Before you can dive right into the creative process of crafting the perfect story, there are a few important steps you'll need to take. Knowing what these steps are and how to go about them can help you stay organised and make the writing process easier.
Here are the crucial steps you need to know before you start writing a novel.
Start With An Idea
I think this is obvious, so technically I'm not counting this as a true 'step', but before you can even begin writing, you'll need an idea to work with. This could be a concept you've been dreaming up for years, or it could be completely brand new. Whatever the case may be, it's essential to have a story idea to work with.
If you're struggling to come up with an idea, I suggest you check out my blog post or podcast about coming up with great ideas using Morphological Analysis.
Decide The Genre
Decide the genre of your book, and be as specific as possible. Is it fantasy? Historical fiction? Horror?
Knowing the genre will help you determine your target audience and what you'll need to include in order to satisfy their expectations. I don't care what Disney Plus says, the movie Alien is horror, not sci-fi. It's horror in a sci-fi setting and there's a difference between genre and setting.
If you're struggling to identify your book's genre, look on Amazon for books like yours, then look at the genres and categories that book is listed under. The genre should resonate with you. If not, keep looking.
Research The Genre Expectations
If you're writing a romance, there's no point having a tragic ending. That's not a romance. Do your homework and make sure the right story beats are there in your scene planning. I'll be blogging about genre story beats in the future, but for now Google is your friend.
Check Out The Competition
Looks for comparable books and read the ones you haven't but that speak to you. Who are the bestselling authors in your genre? Pick one book and briefly explain how your book will appeal to the readers of that book and also how it will offer something new.
Define Your Ideal Reader
Of course, we want to write a book that appeals to as many people as possible, but as a starting point, we need to define the group we are writing for.
Who is your book for? What will your audience expect from this book—that's why understanding genre expectations matter.
Is your reader Michael who's obsessed with Game of Thrones, plays Dungeons & Dragons with his friends once a week, and collects Star Wars LEGO?
Is it Karen, who hides from her children in the airing cupboard so she can eat an ice cream in peace and who secretly breathes a sigh of relief every time her dull-as-ditchwater husband goes out to play golf?
Is it Betty, whose legs aren't what they used to be, but who still watches Strictly Come Dancing while she wears her diamante dance shoes and wishes that the beautiful blonde boy who was her dancing partner in the sixties hadn't turned out to be gay?
PRO TIP: You're defining who will buy your book, not who might buy your book.
Establish Why You're The Best Writer For This Book
This is one of the most important steps and the one that freaks my clients out nearly every single time.
If you're a writer, you're probably facing self-doubt day in day out, and this is normal. Recognise this and try to overcome it by establishing what it is you bring to the story.
No one can write this story the way you can.
Pin down why.
Establish Your Point
What's the raison d'être of your book? What does it add to the conversation? What's it bringing to the table?
For example, if you're writing a romance novel, essentially they all come down to 'love conquers it all'. Characters may go through many trials to reach their happy ending, but no matter how bleak things look for them and their beloved, love perseveres. Love is a powerful force that cannot be defeated.
Your point might be 'crime doesn't pay' or 'good always defeats evil'. If you feel you have more than one point to make, pick the one that stands head and shoulders above the others.
Develop The Main Character, The Conflict, And The Arc Of Change
Who is the lead in your story? What do they desire before their adventure begins and what's getting in their way?
Name the forces working against them from both the inside and the outside—all the forces that stand between your characters and their goals.
Because when their story ends, it stays with them, a painful memory in the middle of a dark night or a beacon of hope in the midst of despair. No matter how it turns out, whether you bless them or kick them in the teeth, what they went through remains with them, forever changing who they are.
Establish The Story Timeline
How much time passes in your story?
The passage of time will be different depending on the type of story you're telling. A story that features a romance might span several months or even years. You may want to show the evolution of a character's personality over a period of weeks or even months. For example, a coming-of-age story about a teen might be a single summer. A collection of short stories could span weeks, days, hours, or even minutes.
Make sure you know how much time your story covers.
Establish The Plot
What happens in your story?
When I wrote my first screenplay, my mentor made me summarise the entire plot in five sentences, then five paragraphs, then five pages.
Better still, create an Inside Outline. It's one of the most powerful tools I've come across and I'm certified to use it with writers developing their stories. A strong Inside Outline will help you figure out the major plot points of your novel, stay organised and focused as you write, and make the self process much easier once each draft is complete.
Develop The Setting
The setting of your novel is just as important as the characters and plot.
Think about the world you want to create and the atmosphere you want to evoke. Do some research into the setting you are writing about and explore all the details, from geography to local customs.
And if you need to, create your own world.
These minor details will help flesh out your world and give it a sense of realism.
Choose A Working Title
Have a nose through Amazon, check out the titles of books in your genre, and see what titles those books use.
Using romance as an example—and category romance at that—I can tell you that Beauty and the Billionaire, A Billionaire Affair, and Dirty Billionaire are just some of the steamy gems I came across (pardon the pun).
Belinda Brown Gets Her Baps Out doesn't read like a suitable thriller title, so pick a title that fits your genre.
Design A Book Cover
I think it's a great idea for any writer to mock up a book cover. Whether you choose to do it using a paper or pencil or a website like canva.com, visualising your book can keep you motivated.
When I work with my clients, I use an additional 5 steps, but I think these are the minimum that a writer needs to know before they start writing a novel. With a solid idea, well-developed characters, and a strong outline, you'll be well on your way to writing a great novel.
So take some time to do the basics and see how much easier it can be!