Saturday, January 7, 2017

How To Start Your First Novel

The task of writing a first novel is very daunting for most writers. You've likely written short stories, or small ideas and blurbs, but to embark on a 50k+ word novel is unheard of. You know you have to have likable characters, captivating plot, interesting setting, believable dialogue, good pacing, a strong ending, excellent prose, blah blah blah blah blah.

Forget all of that, because you will be overwhelmed. You won't nail all of those things in your first novel. You could spend 10 years learning about all of them, but if you don't write, it's meaningless. Don't let yourself obsess over every little detail. Most people don't start their novel because they don't know where to start. I'm here to tell you that in my experience, it's way simpler than all of the above. I will tell you how to start writing your first novel in 5 easy steps.

1. Decide your genre

If you want to write a novel, you first need to know what genre it could fall in. Is it a thriller, with more focus on the action and plot? Is it a horror, where every sentence brings you closer to the next scare? Is it fantasy, where you can add whimsical and mystical elements? Now is when you decide on the genre, and even subgenre.

In fantasy, there are more subgenres than you could count. Epic fantasy, high fantasy, steampunk, cyberpunk, and way more. If you know that you want steam-powered mechs that enslave all the people in your book, you can know from the start that you are working with steampunk elements. This will allow you to throw in things that you weren't initially planning on adding, and still have your reader believe you.

Picking the subgenre is not necessary, though. You can also cross over the genres, experiment with it! That is what your first novel is for!

2. Establish your Setting

Where will it take place? When? And most importantly, why? These are important things to know, because characters are based on the setting they exist in. You won't normally have a computer engineer in the Roman era, or a commercial airline pilot in a world of elves. You need to know the place and time period of your novel before you get started.

Why should you ask why? Your setting needs to make sense to you. The setting should also have enough for a worthwhile plot. If the setting is the white-walled room of an insane asylum, there better be a good reason for it!

If you're making up your own world, be careful. J.R.R. Tolkien spent a huge portion of his life (I'm talking decades) building Middle Earth before he created a narrative from it. You are not Tolkien, I'm sorry to break it to you. If you spend years building your world, you will never get to the meat of your story, and you will end up dumping piles of info on the reader that they don't need. Build small parts, then fill more in as you need in the plot. Give the illusion that there is an entire world.

3. Pick your Characters

This can be the hardest part. If characters do not come to you naturally when you are creating the setting or thinking about what you want in your story, that is okay. What you can do is think of, or look up, typical character archetypes. You could even look up archetypes from your genre. Then, form these archetypes to your setting. The wise old wizard is a classic archetype, but if you change it slightly to a wise old wizard that is discovering a new branch of magic he has never seen, it can be compelling.

You should also add little quirks and traits that make them your own. Set them up to be real people, and then get in their mind when writing your story. It's amazing what happens when you establish your character, then let their choices flow from your fingertips.

4. Think of the Conflict

What is going to mess with your main protagonist the most? What would be the coolest thing to see in your setting, and how is your protagonist involved? Questions like these will help you feel out the conflict. Maybe you already know the protagonist and antagonist. Now, you just need to bring them together.

When you think of the conflict, the plot will come with it. You need to get into the actions, and get to the conflict, then resolve it. There are so many ways to do it, but first you need to start the story! Having the general idea of where you're going can help you discover where you're going.


This is the true step. This is how you learn your characters, feel out the setting, and get ready for the plot. You can always come back and delete or edit what your start with, the key is just to start. Get an idea of where you're going, get there, and come back and fix the start later.

Don't get stuck in an editing loop! Just write one chapter, then the next. Jump around if you want, just don't get stuck revising chapters. Finishing the draft is the biggest goal.

What helps me is setting goals. Some authors have goals to finish a chapter in a day, or finish a set amount of pages, or a set amount of words. I use word count goals. 1,000 words in a day is great, but I have been sticking to the lower end of word count goals. Writing anything is better than writing nothing.

In Summary:
Pick a genre, then a setting, then characters, then plot, and begin writing. A subgenre, deeper setting, more characters, and intricate plot/subplots will appear over time.

If you are more comfortable, you can also outline your novel before you begin. Just know that you can change the outline!

That is all for starting your first novel. If you have questions, send them either through email, or in the comments on this post! See you guys Wednesday!

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