How to write a kick-ass novel in 2021
They say that everyone has a story to tell. Writing your own novel can be a challenging but rewarding experience. And who knows? You could be next summer’s best-selling author
Writing a novel is something that a lot of people want to achieve, but never actually get around to starting, never mind completing.
Sitting in front of a blank screen can make ideas evaporate so if you’re wanting to get started, get yourself a notebook or journal and start getting some ideas down. They don’t have to be organised to begin with – what you’re looking to do is get down some basic themes, storylines and characters.
Committing to your novel is the best way of making it a reality.
Theoretically, it is possible to write a novel ‘on the fly’, but you’re more likely to progress more effectively if you can establish some kind of routine.
Writing every day, even if it’s for 15 or 30 minutes, will help move your principal ideas along. Creating a dedicated writing space can help in that it will get you in the flow when you sit down to write.
Consider what kind of novel your story will be – does it fit into a specific genre or does it cross over into a few?
Getting a basic storyline down before you start writing your actual book will help you chart out plot lines, twists and other things that you can drop in along the way. Some writers decide not to do this but having a sense of where the story is going can help as a motivator too. Aim to finish your first draft inside a year.
Before you get stuck into writing, think about what style you are going to write in too. Is it first person or third person? Decide on the editorial styles you are going to use and stick to them eg. will you be using double speech marks or single? Deciding on these things now can save a lot of time when you go back to edit and find that you’re using a mixture of different styles.
Writing a blurb, similar to the ones you’d find on the back of a book can help keep you focused and enthusiastic when times get tough. Remember that there will be times when you won’t feel like writing so don’t be too hard on yourself.
In some cases, writers plot their stories from back to front so that they can easily construct scenes.
Setting up a blog can also help, both as a journal, and as a way of building an audience while your novel takes shape.
Getting it down
Don’t spend too long describing the place where your story is set. Most readers these days want to get stuck straight into the story. In fact, you may want to consider jumping straight into the action before even writing a word about the bigger scenario. A thrilling first chapter will get the reader hooked from the start.
The Instigating Incident
Nearly all novels include a key scene on which the rest of the story hangs eg. in a crime novel, it could be the moment that a body is discovered. Don’t get too obsessed with the fine detail of it when you start but do bear in mind that its impact will resonate throughout the rest of the book.
You may also have some ideas for key moments that you’d like in your novel. Make sure though that they propel the story forward, and aren’t just there because you like them. If you’ve planned your novel from back to front, these key moments can all fit together as part of the bigger jigsaw. These will form the stepping stones upon which your novel will progress.
If this is your first novel, don’t overload it with too many characters. It may end up complicating both you and the reader. Keeping it simple is the best way to forge ahead on your first attempt. You will need a few key characters that develop as the novel progresses. Consider their principles – are these challenged when faced with conflict?
Conflict is what drives many novels forward and it usually involves the main character, often against a protagonist or a situation. If your novel involves settings that you’re not familiar with, make sure you do your research first. Some writers write about what they know about best because this gives them an intimate background of the world they’re writing about.
The aim of your novel is for your main character to overcome this conflict in one way or another.
The things that your characters say to each other should be there to develop your character or story. Don’t have your characters talking for long periods of time about nothing in particular. Your reader will get bored. Dialogue can also move your story forward. For example, one character has information that they accidentally pass onto another character.
How to keep the reader reading
A good storyline often includes intrigue and mystery. The reader will want to find answers to questions and if your story is good enough, the reader will want to read on to find those answers.
There is also a technique that you can employ at the end of each chapter that will entice your reader to move onto the next chapter. The way to do it is to have a cliff-hanger moment at the end of each chapter. Set up a situation that’s full of suspense that will get your reader thinking ‘What happens next?’
The ending to your book should resolve the main conflict of your story. There’s no need to have a ‘Hollywood’ ending but you should have tied up all your loose ends unless you are wanting to produce a sequel.
You can leave the reader with a cliff-hanger but this runs the risk of not providing the satisfactory outcome that your reader was probably hoping for.
Getting it polished
Once you have written your first draft, you’ll need to edit it. Your novel could go through many redrafts, as you tidy and reshape many of your chapters.
Once you’ve done what you consider a ‘final version’, put it away and don’t look at it for a few weeks, possibly even months. Then re-read it as if you were someone reading it for the first time. Does the storyline make sense? Are the characters fleshed out enough? Do they develop throughout the book? If you find that you are skipping chunks of your work, it’s a good rule of thumb that your readers will be doing the same.
If you are editing the book yourself, don’t be shy about cutting anything that seems surplus to the plot. Once you are happy with your revisions, it’s a good idea to start showing a few people your story.
Feedback is important, both good and bad – and don’t take criticism too personally. Keep a note of all the remarks and be sure to ask for a second opinion if you’re not entirely convinced of its merit.
If you are then looking to publish your novel, you can either look to find a publisher who will take on your novel, or you can publish it yourself. If this is your first novel, it’s always best to have a completed manuscript to offer publishers before approaching them.
If you’d rather go down the self-publishing route, you can do so in print or ebook form with several platforms. Amazon has its own self-publishing service called KDP (where you can also sell your books and ebooks) but there are other options such as Lulu and Blurb, who can produce a print run for you.
There are also companies who can take your book and self-publish it for you, although they can take a cut of your royalties.
If writing a novel seems overwhelming, you may want to try your hand at short stories. You can pick up our free in-depth guide to writing short stories here.
This post was written by award-winning author Patric Morgan