How to write a novel

I’ve no idea whether I’m similar to most prospective writers but the desire to write a novel has never until this point been followed by the question; how do you go about writing one?

For me this is really two questions, “what will I write about?” and secondly, “what methodology should I use to plan and structure a novel?”

While I don’t want to go into too much detail regarding plot ideas, the “what will I write about?” part was relatively easy. I first sat down and and thought about what type of things I’m interested in. I like politics and I’m very concerned at the direction politics in Western countries seems to be heading. I’m also interested in technology and our ability to overcome illness and disease. If I set the novel in the future, this would give me plenty of opportunity to give my perspective of where we could be heading. I then thought about the type of stories I liked to read. I love thrillers, plots with a lot of energy, twists and turns so you had no idea at the beginning of the book where it would end up. This was the start point for my overarching plot.

It’s at this point though that I thought I’d do a little research on how to plan and structure a novel. I might be a little naive but whenever I envisaged myself writing a novel, I just thought I’d come up with a rough idea and off I go. Stephen King often said that when he started a book he often had no idea how it would end. A couple if minutes on Google soon persuaded me that this wasn’t necessarily a good idea with your first book.

There are a number of authors who are happy to start with a rough idea and then keep writing but this is rare. Most have some form of methodology and nearly everyone agrees that you should have a well structured methodology before starting your first novel.

The good news is, there is an awful lot of information on how to structure a novel. The bad news is that there is a lot of disagreement on how to do this effectively and a lot of contradictory information. Most of the online information is there to give you a a flavour of a methodology before you then fork out for a book or online course.

As this is my first novel I decided to use a methodology called the Snowflake method (the website looks a bit suspect but the theory is good), because it was similar to the work I had been doing. In simple terms it is basic project management (how do you eat an elephant, a small piece at a time) which is something I’m very familiar with.

In the Snowflake Method you start with a broad plot, starting with a one liner as such as “A man is denied his birthright so goes into hiding and takes his revenge by stealing from the rich and giving to the poor”. From this point you gradually go into more detail, planning out your story “How did he lose his birthright?, Where does he hide? Was he on his own?” until you identify a set of characters. With the characters you start to build up their background and their motivations (“The lead character was a nobleman’s son”, “he came back from the war and saw the land was ruled by a despot”) and plotting out the story line of each character, how it develops and how it changes them during the story. As you go on, you take your time expanding each initial line or each step so that by the time you are ready to do the actual writing, you have a detailed plan of exactly what happens and when.

So this is where I am at the moment. I’ve got an overarching plot based around 4 main characters and a host of others. I’ve developed a bio for each of the main characters and a number of the minor characters and I’m in the process of polishing off the main plot and sub plots in the story and structured it into 3 acts. I’m not happy with all details of the plot so far but plan to iron these wrinkles out over the next few days.


3 thoughts on “How to write a novel

    1. dylanhearn Post author

      Thanks Jo, I’ve had a quick look and it looks really good. I don’t want to break my momentum right now but once I get to a natural breakpoint (or once I get stuck) I’ll go through it properly.
      My problem is that I’m itching to write and while I know it will help a lot in the future, every new thing feels like another diversion from actually writing.


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