How to get started on your first novel

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Tuesday, October 24, 2017

5:02 PM

How to get started on your first novel

‘I’d love to write a novel but I just don’t know how to start’. A friend said that to me recently and it got me thinking – how can I set out some advice that will get aspiring writers over that very first hurdle? Past the dreaded blank page.

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Creative commons licence

On your marks, get set…

Well, here goes – but please remember there is NO ONE RIGHT WAY. Everyone has to find what works for them. And this approach is what works for me.

Let’s get started.

As you go through the stages below, fill in the ‘blanks’ at the end.

Go!

Think of a main character through whose eyes you will tell the story. Now write a brief bio about that character. Name, age, gender, job, strengths, weaknesses – basic stuff first, you can flesh out the details later.

What’s their problem? Have they been hit by a major crisis? Family, friend, job, natural disaster, accident, etc. Or is the problem getting something they desperately want – or need – there is a difference. Is it ambition, love, money, revenge, food to survive…

What’s stopping them achieving their goal? An enemy, their own shortcomings or fears? Lack of expertise or knowledge? What’s at stake if they fail – make it high. Write that obstacle and the consequences of failure in a sentence. 

What options do they have to achieve their goals. Are they high, medium or low risk? Look again at your main character – what choice would they make. (If this isn’t in their nature, or the way you want your story to go think again and revise your main character profile).

Next, write about your main character’s antagonist (enemy).

Name, age, gender, job, strengths, weaknesses – basic stuff first, you can flesh out the details later.

What are the antagonist’s goals, needs or wants – the obstacles to them achieving their goals.

Now you should have the bare bones of your novel.

What about setting. Decide where your story will play out. The city, a rural location, in your world or someplace exotic. Consider how much research you might have to do to make the ‘place’ credible.

As your main character (aka protagonist, hero, ) deals with achieving their goal, overcoming obstacles, they will meet opposition, setbacks, hurdles. Think of their first hurdle – now set them up to fail! Yes, you need to make your main character’s journey as tough and challenging as possible. That’s the essence of conflict – and without conflict you story is dead in the water. The conflict can be external or in your character’s head.

However, the main character need not go into the dragon’s den without help. Throw in an  ally (a sidekick). This character may also be a love interest – or you may prefer a separate character in that role. Through these major characters, you can show your main character coping – or not – with adversity, pressure, the ‘dark hours of the soul’.

And finally, after a tough journey and plenty of kickings along the way they come out the other end – with what result?. Goals achieved, needs or wants satisfied – or still in trouble?

Get an idea now about the cataclysmic moment – the climax or big, big scene when the final battle is fought and won – or lost. Having this in mind at the outset, gives you as the writer a goal – an end in sight that will resolve your main character’s journey.

Now – copy and save this section and fill in the blanks! Use the characters you’ve created.

  • [MAIN CHARACTER’S NAME – WRITE HERE]

faces a big problem which is…

  • [MAIN CHARACTER’S DILEMMA, PROBLEM, OBSTACLE TO GOAL, NEED OR WANT – WRITE HERE].

MC’s attempts to beat the first obstacle by…

  • [DOING WHAT- WRITE HERE].

This doesn’t work and in a further setback…

  • [WHICH IS – WRITE HERE] ends up in an even bigger mess.

This series of…

  • [CHALLENGES AND MIXED SUCCESS AND FAILURE – BRAIN STORM A FEW – YOU CAN CHANGE THEM LATER – WRITE HERE] leads to a final…
  • [CLIMAX AND CONFRONTATION – WRITE HERE ].

The MC comes through this…

  • [DEAD OR ALIVE, HAPPY OR IN DESPAIR, GROWN AS A PERSON, BEATEN – HOW DO WANT YOUR STORY TO END?  WRITE HERE].

By now you should have an outline of your novel – so let the hard work begin. Turn that into a full-length novel.

You’re off!

As you write your novel you may like to look at some of my previous blogs about writing that will give further tips and suggestions. Good Luck.

 

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