How to Write a Novel: 13 Steps Guide for Beginners!

How to write a novel

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Want to write a novel but don’t know how to?

Do you have a one-of-a-kind story but don’t know where to begin?

Well, then you’re in luck because knowing the right way to do something can always save you lots of trouble later and improve your performance marginally.

So how can a beginner with zero to little experience write his first novel?

Everyone who has tried writing a novel knows it’s not a child’s joke. But as I started digging deeper into what makes a book a bestseller, I was astonished to find that the things that mattered the most were not the complex ones but simple, easy and doable.

So it doesn’t matter if you are a beginner, a professional writer or somewhere in between, this step by step guide is something that will make your work a lot easier. It will help you get started now and set you in the right direction.

Know the simplest ways to write a novel with examples and illustrations to help you understand better.

So let’s begin from the beginning.

1. Get a diary.

Before you begin anything, get a diary to record everything.

Be it a physical diary or any app, it doesn’t matter. 

The whole point of having it is to write down any idea, thought or plan you have for your book. It will come really handy when you are just watching Netflix and you suddenly want to make your protagonist a mind-reader.

Inspiration comes from everywhere.

Also, this will keep you from forgetting things you have already planned, getting out of places you are stuck and in the long run, will prevent you from writer’s block.

(If you wanna know how to take organized notes, click here.)

My diary has pulled me out of misery many times and I can’t stress how important it is. 

Keep a diary and take it with you everywhere!

2. Come up with a prompt.

A prompt is an idea on which your book is based.

Before you even think about writing a book or a novel, you need an idea.

You need to know what your book would be about.

For example, Harry Potter by JK Rowling is about an orphan boy Harry who goes to a magical school Hogwarts.

Yes, that’s it.

You don’t need to know everything in the beginning. You don’t have to plan anything now. Just having the slightest idea what it would be about is enough.

Take a deep breath and think.

It could be anything, from the simplest thoughts like a talking rabbit and creepy cats [ALICE’S ADVENTURES IN THE WONDERLAND by Lewis Carroll] to about Indo-Pak Separation [A TRAIN TO PAKISTAN by  Khushwant Singh].

A prompt is usually one or two sentences long but if you have a paragraph, that’s better. That means you are unstoppable and you have started planning your world on a whim. This would make the next step easier but don’t fret if you can’t think of an idea.

You can take some time. It’s okay.

After you get an idea, write them down somewhere. A notebook, google docs, anywhere. (Or in the diary I talked about in step 1.)

I know many people who don’t write their ideas and end up forgetting them in 10 minutes. So don’t do that mistake and write your ideas.

Ready with your prompt? 

Now let’s move on to the next point.

3. Select a genre.

A genre is a category under which your book falls.

Science Fiction, Mystery, Romance and Horror are examples of different genres.

Knowing your genre would help you in creating the rules and basic outlines of your story. Knowing it before actually planning the outline helps a lot in the next phase and makes the work easier.

For example, Harry Potter Series is Fantasy Fiction. So the people in it use wands and flying brooms instead of guns and planes.

Also, in books like The Fault in Our Stars, you can’t magically cure people like you did in Harry Potter Series.

By selecting a genre beforehand, you minimise the chances to get astray while giving yourself ample time and opportunities to explore the selected genre better. 

This also helps in creating a world that readers can relate to better and feel home at.

How many things there are about famous books that keep you wondering?

  • The story of the Wardrobe in Narnia
  • The platform 9 ¾ in Harry Potter
  • Dauntless’ train in Divergent  

These are just a few to name but do you know how the authors were able to create them? Because they knew what kind of inspiration they wanted from others.

So now if you are writing a Fantasy and you see a dog, you would think about a talking dog of another realm, not a cyborg dog with intelligence chips and laser eyes. 

So know your genre right after your prompt is ready.

4. Find out the theme.

The theme is the message the writer wants to convey through his story.

When I was writing my first novel on Wattpad, Gravity Falls [that later became #1 science thriller], my theme was stressing the importance of Gravity in human life.

It was my main theme but as I started writing, I included other themes such as sibling love, the thirst for survival and more.

So, before you begin a book, you must know one central theme around which the story revolves. As the story progress, other themes are included as well.

For example,

According to LitCharts, the main theme of the Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s stone are-

  • Magic, Difference, and Belonging.
  • Love, Family, and Friendship. 
  • Power, Greed, and Desire.
  • Humility and Self-Sacrifice.
  • Rules and Rebellion.

Finding the theme of your book requires you to emotionally connect with your idea. This builds the foundation to the world you are about to create and give your story a direction.

Harry Potter was about Love, Family and Friendship, hence JK Rowling showed us the moments that strengthen the trio’s bond and how Harry’s parents’ death was crucial for him to find more about “He-who-shall-not-be-named”. 

So what is the message you wanna convey to the world through your characters?

5. Know your style.

Some people plan everything before beginning a book [outliners] while others write as they go without a proper plan [pansters].

But even the pansters need a prompt, to begin with, a genre to work under and a theme to work for.

So now that we have already covered them, it is time to find out your writing style. 

Outliners are the writers that love to plan everything beforehand. They know where the story is going and what to do to get there. They have the summary of their book planned before they even write the first sentence of the first chapter.

If you are someone who has their story planned or wants to plan their story before beginning their book, you are an outliner.

Pansters are the writers who write as they go. They know where the characters are right now and let their imagination run wild as the story progresses.

So if you are someone who loves to write stories as the chapter progresses without knowing yourself what would happen next, you are a panster.

I am a panster myself and sometimes even I am amazed by how the story turns out when the chapter finishes.

But the outliners are more disciplined and have relatively less to edit later while for pansters editing becomes a tough nut to crack.

Both have their pros and cons. Don’t worry about being one or the other. Don’t force yourself and take advantage of your writing style.

6. Build relatable characters.

Characters are the most important part of the book. They make the book relatable and emotionally connect the readers to the fictional world.

You know who I am talking about when I say Harry Potter, Voldemort, Geralt Of Rivia or Lara Jean Covey.

For you, they are as alive as the real humans roaming on the earth and not some fictitious creation.

You could feel the pain when Sirius died.

Why?

Because you loved the character of Sirius Black that JK Rowling created.

Creating a relatable character is the most complex part of writing a book.

The characters you create are humans (mostly) and have feelings that make them sophisticated. Severus Snape is a character people still debate was evil or good even after 20 years of the first book’s publishing.

That’s the magic of flawed and real characters, readers relate to them.

You have to give your character flaws and do what they would as a human.

If JK Rowling made Harry sit on any of the mysteries, Harry Potter Series would be a disaster. It just wasn’t in his character.

You can’t make a mischievous kid obedient when the red flags are everywhere.

One of the most important things to take care of is to remain consistent about a character’s physical appearance.

You can’t say Ryan (let’s say your protagonist) has blue eyes in the first chapter and green eyes in the third.

This is where the diary comes in handy. I told you to write everything in that, remember?

So whenever you introduce a character, write their details in the diary and keep referring to it frequently.

7. Build character arcs.

With your characters ready in hand, you need to figure out their arcs.

Character arc is the development of a character throughout the story.

For example, in the beginning, your character is an anti-love person who thinks love is crap but as the story progresses and the character experiences the power of love, they start appreciating it.

Or it could be about a person who values superficial beauty in the beginning but by the end of the story, accept that beauty is what is inside not outside.

Character arcs are important to convey the theme of the story and give the character’s journey meaning.

8. Outline your story.

You are ready with your idea, genre, theme and characters. 

You even know your writing style now that whether you are an Outliner or a Panster.

But even Pansters can’t escape this step.

While Outliners plan their story in great detail and have a detailed outline of the story, Pansters at least know where their current storyline would lead them and the basic track of the story.

Outlining your story means having a rough idea of how things would go in your book. It is like a rough plan of a building where the architect decides how many rooms and floors it would consist of.

In Romeo and Juliet by William Shakespeare, Shakespeare knew the two characters would fall in love, defy their families and die in the end.

But how do they fall in love? How do they defy their families? How do they die?

These are the questions Outliners already know the answer to while the Pansters decide as they go.

For example, let’s say my idea is I met a talking dog, my genre is Fantasy and my theme is to show animals deserve to be treated better.

So now my outline could be-

I met a talking dog outside my home- He took me to his realm where humans are dogs’ pets- my pet dog is their world’s king – I am punished for treating my dog badly – I help good dogs fight the evil ones- I ask for forgiveness and start animal rights campaign on Earth.

This is very vague but I know how to begin and where to go as the story progresses and that is the idea behind preparing the story outline.

It keeps the story structured because sometimes when you branch out, you forget about the main story arc.

In the beginning, it’s easy to keep track of things but as the story goes on, it is the outline that shows you the right path.

9. Research.

With your outline ready, you know what are the things you need to know about before you begin writing. Research on them. Get to know more about them as much as possible.

Research is the part that helps you add details to your world and adds magic to the art of storytelling.

For example, let’s say your main character is a mechanic. Then you should research a mechanic’s wage, clothes, daily routine, work culture and such to make your story more interesting and real.

If I write about a mechanic who’s bored in his office and dreams about the Maldives, who would buy my book? No one! People would call me nuts and ask if I even knew what a mechanic is.

So research everything you write about.

Your character loves cars, find out about cars. 

Your antagonist is diabetic, find out about diabetes.

Do not, I said, do not skip this step.

10. Choose the point of view.

Before you begin the story, you need to figure out the voice of your story.

Will it be third person(he/she), second (you/your) or the first person(I/ me)?

It is important to know it beforehand as it depicts the way the story would be written.

It is like knowing the form of your art. 

Will you be using watercolours or crayons to draw a tree? 

Both would hit differently and portray the same tree in different ways.

11. Choose the tense.

You need to select the tense of your story.

Will it be past tense or present tense?

He slipped on the banana skin.

Or

He slips on the banana skin. 

It is important to choose a tense beforehand because inconsistent tense shows a sign of immaturity.

The story loses its touch if the tenses stop making sense.

12. Show, don’t tell.

The advice of Show, don’t tell is one of the most important steps of writing a book.

This is what separates the bestsellers from all the other books on the shelf.

This step is so important that your book would be ruined, even if you followed all the other steps and forgot this one.

So what is show, don’t tell?

It is the art of storytelling that shows readers what is happening instead of telling them it happened.

For example,

He was found dead.

And

He was lying on the ground in a pool of blood with open eyes and a wound in his stomach when the police arrived.

Which one sounds better?

The second one?

When you show the reader what is happening instead of telling them what happened, you make them a part of your world.

Everything starts feeling real to them. The troubles in your story feel like their own troubles and they could empathize with what the characters are feeling.

And this is what keeps them hooked, compels them to turn the pages.

13. Read books in that genre.

Last but not the least, read books similar to your idea or in your genre.

Learn from the people who have already mastered that genre.

A good writer is also a good reader so even when you start writing your book, keep consistently reading others’ books.

You will get many ideas. You would learn how to introduce similar elements and how to portray the world.

You would know what your readers expect from you.

Also, you will know what are overdone topics and what elements have never been done before.

Besides, who doesn’t love reading?

Are you ready?

If you want to write a novel, don’t be overwhelmed by the process.

Try to take one step at a time.

Trust yourself, you can do it.

And to make things easier here is a novel checklist to track your progress.

Never forget to celebrate your small victories.

Novel Checklist

So what are you waiting for?

Go grab your laptop and start typing away!

And if you know someone who wants to write a novel but isn’t able to do it till now, share this post with her and turn her into your writing buddy!

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