How to get started on your first novel


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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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.


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.


faces a big problem which is…


MC’s attempts to beat the first obstacle by…


This doesn’t work and in a further setback…

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

This series of…


The MC comes through this…


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.



Get your book written

‘Get that Book Written’

Time To Manage Time

Getting your writing done is some challenge. There is so much else to do – email, social media, (Twitter, Facebook, Blogging, Reviewing, etc.), reading, television, sports, concerts, exercise, hobbies, community work, volunteering, films to see, etc, etc – oh, and then there’s that small thing called LIFE! You know, your Special One, family, friends, holidays, travel, and of course WORK. I’m in the fortunate situation now where my WRITING is my WORK but for many years I held down a full-time, demanding job and managed to write. I know it’s tough. Now this blog isn’t about writing per se, i.e. what or how to write; you can get loads of stuff on that. This is about how we best get our writing done?

I’ve always been an advocate of time management. It’s the one resource that’s finite. We all get the same twenty four hours per day; how we use the time we have determines how productive we are. Not everyone will have the same priorities or time available for writing but I’ve distilled my approach into three basic, daily cyclical tasks that I think apply to most of us.

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  1. Plan

Long and medium term plans are important. Do have specific writing goals that are timed and achievable – know what you want to write; by when and how (will you need money, support, facilities, tools?). Remember that the most important plan is what you are going to do today. Always have a written Daily Plan and be sure it’s doable – stretching, yes but doable so you don’t set yourself up to fail each day! Your Daily Plan is the foundation to achieving long term goals.

  1. Schedule

Decide what you are going to do today and when and for how long. This is more than a ‘To Do’ wish list – it’s a thought through commitment. There are plenty of tools to help here. A simple pocket diary at a minimum, better still an electronic diary/planner on your pc, tablet or phone. (Search the internet for planners, project managers, diaries or similar – you’ll find loads of apps). The important trick is to look ahead, enter recurring items and when to do them, how often (daily, weekly) and for how long. Then add today’s most important one-off jobs from your To-Do list. Put them in your schedule. Try to allocate a specific  recurring period, ideally every weekday, for ‘Writing’. Similarly for Marketing – although I call that ‘Grow my Book Sales’, my bottom line. Any time on the Internet should have this goal . Anything else that leads to that end also gets done in this time slot (Giving talks, conferences, book reviews, etc.). I also have my ‘Admin’ time – half an hour a day for emails, desk housekeeping, planning and reviewing. As a writer I believe these three are critical – you may want to add others.

  1. Review

Right, you have a daily plan; you’ve scheduled your tasks, so…How’ve you done today? Checking (or as we in the UK say ‘ticking’) a ‘Done’ box feels good; are all tasks ticked (checked)? Yes? Then grab a coffee, smile and stare into space for a minute or so. Time Tracking apps are a great help as well, (I swear by them for reviewing; they don’t lie – as long as you don’t!). You can see how much time you’ve actually spent on your projects or tasks to compare with your scheduled time. Some have pie charts that are great for picturing the actual amount and percentage of your time spent on different activities to compare with your plan. Saves yet more time on a lot of arithmetic (math!).  Learn from your reviews; make adjustments, reschedule if necessary, get more disciplined to adhering to ‘bum on seat’ targets. Now get out your ‘To Do’ list, prioritise and set tomorrow’s plan – today.

So that’s my brief take on writing productivity. ‘Get that book written’.

I plan to write a ‘how to’ giveaway book soon elaborating on these basic steps of Plan, Schedule and Review. Look in on my website/blog for more information.

And Good Luck on your writing journey

Now here’s what I call Time Management!