How Do You Write a Novel
It's one of the questions that you get asked when you tell someone that you are a writer and that you write books, a lot more often than you might think. The conversation goes something like this:
PERSON: So, what do you do?
ME: Oh, I'm a writer.
PERSON: Oh, what do you write?
ME: Well, I write for a company. Website content and blog, but I also write books.
PERSON (really interested now): Really? What kind of books?
ME: All kinds. Horror, suspense, thrillers, mystery and detective stuff. I also write non-fiction. True crime and historical stuff.
PERSON: Wow. I've always wanted to write. I used to write poetry in college. How do you write a novel?
Well, there's no easy answer to that question. The fact is - you just have to do it. I mean, you have to just sit down and start writing the story that's in your head. Stop worrying about the commercial demand for it, what you're going to do with it when you're done, how the grammar is and how you're going to format it for Kindle.
None of that matters until you write it all down.
You have to do what's right for you. Do you think you'll need an outline? Write it out. Character bible? Yes, do it. Want to write that great ending first and work your way backwards? Go for it.
For me, I don't use outlines. I do not plot out the story. I do write down characters, particularly for the multi-book series I write, but I don't have a specific idea of where the novel is going. I fly by the seat of my pants - at least in fiction. For non-fiction, I take greater care to plot it out.
But, if you want to write out an outline as a safety net - then do it. You can hand write it first in Moleskine notebooks if you want. Or you can do what I do and open up a Google Doc and just start putting the words down.
I think that the first draft needs to be a total story dump. Just get it all down. Don't worry about grammar, sentence structure or sentence fragments. Just get the story out. Once it's done, comes the fine-tuning, editing, rewrites and sending it off to Beta readers and editors. The first step is really to just get it all out of you. It's what the recommend for National Novel Writing Month. If you don't do that, you can get lost in the tinkering as you try to write and never finish the story.
As for how you come up with a plot and create the characters? Sorry. I can't help you there. You can either just do that and use your imagination as a tool, or you've shut that part of you down. Perhaps you need to remember what it was like when you were a kid and your toys came to life in your mind. Remember? That GI Joe figure was a living thing in your mind, right? Out doing adventures and saving the world? That's something you need to write. You need that part of you that thought plastic was real and need to be willing to make saliva-spraying gun sounds to write that novel.
If you can do that, then however you do the rest of it is OK. As long as the rest of it isn't killing things and bathing in their blood, of course...
It's your mind. It's your imagination. Tell the story the way it needs to be told. But you have to do it.
That's my advice for you, kids.