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How to Start a Book: Writing Your First Novel

Updated on September 28, 2012
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Rebecca Graf is a seasoned writer with nearly a decade of experience and degrees in accounting, history, and creative writing.


You want to write. You dream of writing a book and seeing it on the store shelves. But how do you start? Is there a secret? What do you do?

Well, first realize that anyone can write. It takes someone dedicated, humble, and willing to learn who will actually be successful in writing that first novel. From there it can all vary based on you and your writing style. But I can't leave you floundering there. I'll give you a little more to help you out.

The following are more tips that can help you get started.

Have an Idea

You could just down and write to see what comes up. That might have worked for someone at some time, but generally this is not how you go about finding that novel hidden deep inside you. You need to have an idea of what you want to write about.

What pulls you the most: romance or mystery? Maybe both do. A lot of the ideas come from the type of books you like to read. That is more than likely the kinds of books you'll like to write. For this example, let's say you love mysteries. Writing a mystery appeals to you.

Okay, it's a mystery. What kind of mystery? Murder? Theft? Paranormal? You might find yourself stumped right here. That's okay. A lot of writers do. Now you have to let your muse take over.

Don't try to force an idea to take root. Good books don't come that way. You have to let the book find you. You want to write a mystery. You're torn on what kind of mystery. That's alright. Now, spend the entire day thinking of mysteries with everything you encounter.

  • You're at the coffee shop for your morning coffee. A woman dumps her purse as she is paying. What if that was a diversion? What could turn up missing? Who could be murdered? It could be the man behind that bends down to help her. It could be a muffin on the counter with a hidden message inside the woman knows about.
  • At a meeting at work, you notice a colleague texting secretly under the conference table. Maybe they are telling someone on the outside what is being said. What if they are having an affair?
  • On the way home, you take the bus. Look at the different people on the bus. What if the hobo looking guy was actually a private investigator tailing the woman dressed as a nun? What if she is not a real nun? What if she is a he?

See where I'm heading with this? There are potential mystery stories all around you.

Develop the Idea

You have the ideas coming to you. Once you get started, you almost can't stop. For that get a notebook and jot down these ideas. I call it my idea book. Most won't become books, but you at least you have some place to store them for future use.

Now, you want to develop an idea. This will be the seed for your novel. Look over your ideas. Which one appeals to you the most? If one doesn't narrow it down to a few or look for more ideas to add to your book.

When you have an idea, read it and then put the book away. Let the idea sit in your brain for a few hours or a few days. As you do this, it will slowly develop. You could be taking a shower as ideas begin to hit you about your story. As soon as you can, write them down.

I sometimes let a story idea sit in my head for a month or two as it grows. During that time, the plot is developed and new twists and turns come to mind.

Who is It About?

Think of your characters. Do you want the main character to be a woman or a man? What age? Will it be a grandmother or a teenager? This will help drive a lot of the story.

Who will the other characters be? Who are the victims? will the main character have friends and/or enemies that will play into the storyline?

Now, you don't have to have all the characters in place before you write. I've had only two characters in mind at times and in the end have ten. You just need the main one for sure when you start.

What kind of person is the main character? Are they curious? If you're writing a mystery, I hope so. Are they funny or have no sense of humor? You need to develop who the story is about. That includes the victim(s) and all those that partake in the plot.

Who is the story about? Who drives the story?

More in depth character development will have to be addressed in a more detailed article.

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Those First Words

The hardest part of all is not the idea or developing the idea. The hardest part of all......

Writing those first words

Remember those school papers? The hardest part was sitting down and getting those first words on paper. The same applies to writing a novel. Starting it is the actual hardest part (aside from editing, of course).

If you let those first words intimidate you, you'll never get that book written. You have to take a keep breath and just sit down and write. Keep in mind that these first words don't have to be perfect. You can change them later. Just get started. Before you know it, you'll be typing away creating a murder mystery.

When I struggle with those opening words, I lie down and close my eyes. I might put on some soothing music. I then think of the story. If it was a movie, ow would it start. Before you know it, my mind has created the opening scene. Without stopping to think, I just begin writing trying to recreate the 'movie' in my mind. It works every time for me.


The Process

The process of writing is different for every single writer. If someone tells you there is only one process to writing a novel, run. It's not true. Now, if you take a writing class, that would be one process. If it works for you, great! Follow through on it. If it doesn't, look around for more.

Some writers sit down and hammer out a first draft in a month while others take a year. Some edit as they go while others wait and do multiple drafts. Some writers have to write until it is completely done. Others can write a paragraph here and there.

You have to find the right process for you. How? Trial and error.

Start off by taking a class, reading a book, or listening to what other writers say. Me? I just sat down and wrote. I didn't care how I was to do it. I just wrote. I worried about the rest later. It worked out.

How Long Should It Be?

Is there a particular length for a novel? Yes, to a degree there is.

The publishing industry generally looks at a novel being from 70,000 to 100,000 words. Now this can vary if you are writing for those in the Middle Grades. It would be 40,000-70,000 words in length. It doesn't have to be exact, but it is a guideline to help you.

The truth is, your story can be any length you want it to be. That might change after you go to your editor. Length is not as important as the content. You might be asked to add stuff to enhance the manuscript or asked to remove the stuff that weighs it down and doesn't add value to the story.

Let Yourself Go

If you really want to write a novel, don't let anything stand in your way. Let yourself go wild and just write. Don't expect Hemingway. Don't expect King. Don't expect Austen. Expect to find yourself.


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    • profile image

      Fun101 3 years ago

      Thank you so much! That was really helpful:)

    • profile image

      rhomy 5 years ago

      Wow! You made me want to write a novel lol (I've always wanted but didn't know how to start!)

    • melbelle profile image

      melbelle 5 years ago from Southern United States

      Thanks for the info. Voted up.

    • Diana Lee profile image

      Diana L Pierce 5 years ago from Potter County, Pa.

      This is very helpful information. I'm working on a book in progress. You are so right in saying every writer has their own way of doing things. I'm kind of a "run with it" writer. I just start with a few ideas and write what ever comes to mind. Voted up.

    • Missy Mac profile image

      Missy Mac 5 years ago from Illinois

      Great! I have been toying with the idea of writing children's books. This article encouraged me to just do it. Thanks again.

    • Seeker7 profile image

      Helen Murphy Howell 5 years ago from Fife, Scotland

      This was a very interesting and useful hub for anyone who wants to make their dream come true and get that novel written. Voted up + shared!