Before you start writing a novel, I recommend that you do at least a few preparations.
You need an idea, your main characters, and the world and time your story will take place in. After that, you could start writing, but I find it a lot easier to have more planned. You have to figure out what works best for you, though.
How to Start Writing a Novel
Do you start with the idea or the characters?
Most of the time, I start with the idea and then I find the people who will become the major players in my story. But from time to time, I start with a character. Like I did with Amber, my curvy and clumsy guardian angel.
The problem with finding the idea is that many writers think the idea has to be brilliant and unique. That's a mistake, and if you suffer from that belief as well, it will block you from writing as much as you could.
I know it did to me. There were several years between my first published short story and my second, and I only wrote one in between the two. And then even more years passed between my second published short story and my first novella (14 years, from memory).
That's because I believed in the myth of the brilliant and unique idea.
Your idea doesn't need to be unique. Just take a look at all the movies and books that all share the same idea of “boy meets girl” or “poor orphan goes through a lot of struggle before he finally succeeds.”
The idea has some importance, of course, but your characters are more important.
Still, if you're like me, you'll have problems coming up with characters, figuring out their goals and flaws and quirks, if you don't know what they're about to go through. So how do you find your idea?
How to Brainstorm Fiction Ideas
I highly recommend that you go through Jessica Brody's course about finding blockbuster ideas. It's super-inspiring and helpful. You'll learn the ingredients that must go into your idea and how to come up with ideas. I keep going back to her guide every time I start a new book.
Otherwise, how do you brainstorm fiction ideas?
The best way is to keep your eyes and mind open. Ideas are everywhere. They are in news headlines, in your family relations, on Facebook, in the park and at the bus station.
When you find something that catches your interest, then ask “what if” questions.
You've just read Cinderella. What if she was the girl next door? What if she lived on Mars and the year was 4557? What if she'd fallen down those stairs and shattered her glass shoes? What if she was 40 and the prince 24?
When you're brainstorming you should never judge your ideas. Just keep asking questions, and keep writing down your answers.
Creating Your Characters
Once you have at least the gist of an idea, you should start working on your main characters. I usually start with my heroine, and then I go on to either the villain or the hero.
I write down things about them that are of less importance (like eye color, hair, etc.) simply to make sure that she's not lost in his clear blue eyes on page 47 and drowns in his big brown eyes on page 118.
Otherwise, I focus on my characters goals, their flaws, and the things that are unique about them. The last thing was something I learned from Jessica Brody and Joanne Rendell. They started with stereotypes and then found five things that would be very unlikely for that type. Like a surgeon who was afraid of blood. This has helped me make unique characters that come to live in my mind and hopefully my readers' as well.
I got the advice from this course that contains a lot of other goodies: https://writerbychoice.com/fictionmastery
How to Organize a Novel Outline
Some people simply starts with three points: what happens at the beginning, in the middle, and at the end. Some start with even less, but then we're no longer talking about an outline.
There are several outline structures you can use and which helps you get your outline down on paper.
The Hero's Journey is a classic. I've used it myself for several novels. Eventually, I got tired of it because I find it somewhat old-fashioned.
I've also used Dan Wells' Seven Point Structure. You can watch a walk-through of it here:
It will give you the overall ideas about how to write a novel outline.
Then I discovered Dan Harmon's Story Circle, which changed my view on the midpoint and taught me a way to understand the difference between the main character's goal and his need.
But before I started to use that structure, I discovered Jessica Brody's course about coming up with the idea and that let to discovering her Save the Cat! Writes a Novel. That's the structure I use now.
I highly recommend both her book and her course about the 15 steps to a best-selling novel. It will help you writing a novel outline in no time.
Writing a Novel Is Like Driving a Car at Night
E.L. Doctorow once said that “Writing a novel is like driving a car at night. You can only see as far as the headlights but you can make the whole trip that way.”
If you outline your novel first, you'll know a lot more about the route ahead of you and it will save you from moving in wrong directions, taking the wrong turn and ending up in the middle of nowhere.
Can Writing a Novel Make You Rich?
I know a lot of writers, and I know a lot of writers who make a lot of money with their novels.
The ones who make a lot of money have one thing in common: they've ALL, without exception, published their novels.
None of the people who wrote a novel without publishing it became rich by doing it. They might have made a few hundred dollars by selling it as ghostwritten fiction, but they didn't get rich.
Is Writing a Novel Worth It
Absolutely. The satisfaction you get and the joy by doing it is worth it. And if you publish your novel, and keep writing and publishing more… And if you keep learning about the craft, then, money-wise, it will become worth it as well.
How Hard Is Writing Fiction?
I find it hard. I haven't spoken to a single writer who doesn't find it hard. I know they exist, though.
That said, it's also very giving and, strangely, when I start the day by writing fiction, I have more energy the rest of the day.
I recommend having a routine that means “now I'm writing.” I start each (perfect) day by detail outlining the scenes I plan to write that day. Then I start Brain.fm with classical focus music and a second later I start the pomodoro timer. It will run for 30 minutes and the moment it starts, I start writing the scene. I do this as the first thing in the morning. I don't allow myself to start Skype or fetch emails or anything before I've written at least 2 x 30 minutes.
Writing a Novel with ADHD?
Then you'll love my method, the one I just mentioned. You might have to start with a shorter period of time. I did. I think I started with 10 minutes and gradually incresed the time. For a while I wrote in 52-minute streaks, but at the moment, the 30-minute sprints work best for me.
How to Write a Novel Without Getting Bored
That method also works if you're strugling with boredom. Short springs, almost instant satisfaction. But it's not the only thing.
If you find yourself getting bored while writing your novel, you should stop and rethink the scene or chapter. If you're bored while writing, your reader will be bored while reading.
Make sure your novel is chock full of relevant conflicts and there is tension among the characters and in the dialogue.
Finished – and Then What?
Phew! Did you finish writing that first draft? It's okay if it isn't as good as you thought while you wrote it. Or perhaps you hated it while writing, but you struggled through and kept writing.
First you should put your manuscript away for a while so you'll be able to look at it with fresh eyes.
Then you should edit it. No, I don't mean finding spelling errors and typos. I mean editing for story and emotion.
I've read several books about that topic, because I couldn't figure out how to do it, and none of the books helped me. It wasn't until I met my friend and fellow writer, Bonnie Johnston, that I finally got a grasp of it.
She has made a Manuscript Magic clinic that guides you through, step by step, from finished draft to finished novel.
If you want to know how to write a good novel, you start with an idea, then the characters, then the first draft and finally by editing and rewriting.