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Top 10 Tips on How to Write a Novel

Updated on November 22, 2016
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Since completing university, Paul has worked as a bookseller; librarian; and freelance writer. Born in the UK, he now lives in Florida.

How to write a novel: Top 10 tips on how to meet the challenges of creating a long piece of fiction.
How to write a novel: Top 10 tips on how to meet the challenges of creating a long piece of fiction. | Source

Beginning a massive project, such as writing a book, can seem very intimidating.

Either you don't know how to get get going, or you begin to write and then quickly lose your way and become disillusioned.

Don't worry, you're not alone.

The important thing is to think it through a little before you take the leap.

You will need to consider a few of the basic elements first, such as planning an outline of the plot and sketching out your main characters.

Plus you will need to think through whatever else needs to be in place in order to make your book work.

There is a lot to think about when it comes to how to write a novel and there many books on the subject, but there are a number of main challenges that it is worthwhile considering.

Here are my top 10 tips for things to consider before and during your creative journey.

1. Writing a novel is hard work and time-consuming

You're are probably going to need a bare minimum of 12 - 15 hours a week over a period of around two years to write a novel.

You need to clear yourself some time, decide on your work regime and then stick to it. You might have to rewrite your novel several times before it begins to take shape.

Writing a book takes time and effort, unless you're prepared to put in the necessary hard graft, it might not be worth starting.

The turning point was when I hit my 30th birthday. I thought, if really want to write, it's time to start. I picked up the book How to Write a Novel in 90 Days. The author said to just write three pages a day, and I figured, I can do this. I never got past Page 3 of that book.

— James Rollins

2. Plan your novel before you start

The vast majority, though not all, professional writers have a plan before they start writing a book.

They sketch out the key events of the novel and chronology, as well as basic biographies of the key characters.

James N. Frey, author of How to Write a Damn Good Novel, swears by the idea of using a “premise” to underpin the novel and keep it on track, by which he means a formulating a single sentence that expresses what happens to the main characters as a result of the struggles that they endure.

As well as ensuring that the core plot line has clarity, it also helps to make sure that the main characters develop as the story progresses.

Hand writing.  Although most writers nowadays type, there are still some who prefer the old technique of writing with a pen or pencil.  It is a matter of personal choice at the end of the day.
Hand writing. Although most writers nowadays type, there are still some who prefer the old technique of writing with a pen or pencil. It is a matter of personal choice at the end of the day. | Source

3. Have a strong beginning.

You need to get the readers’ attention straight away, especially if you’re a first time novelist. Imagine somebody picking up your book and browsing the first page – would they feel compelled to read on? If not, there’s a good chance they won’t buy your book.

There are many techniques to consider, but one common method of getting the readers’ attention is to set up some sort of question or mystery at the start of the book that will drive the reader to read on in an effort to find an answer or resolution.

You might also consider trying to drum up some early sympathy for your main character, if you want your reader to root for them.

4. Create conflict

Fictional drama is all about creating conflict. This supplies the energy of novel and keeps the reader interested.

You might put your main character in a struggle against other characters, him or herself, or against a force of nature, but there must be some sort of battle going on.

Another way of generating conflict is through the use of contrast. Often you will find that characters in novels are pitted against others who have opposite traits to their own.

Contrast is also a very good technique generally for creating drama. If you want to write a novel that keeps a reader interested, make sure that conflict(s) is at the heart of it.

Well, you know, in any novel you would hope that the hero has someone to push back against, and villains - I find the most interesting villains those who do the right things for the wrong reasons, or the wrong things for the right reasons. Either one is interesting. I love the gray area between right and wrong.

— Dan Brown

5. Your characters must have spark, drive and originality

Ideally they should also be memorable.

Fictional characters are larger than life, they don’t live dull, ambivalent lives like us mortals, they have exceptional traits and skills, they have major flaws, and they often want something really badly - maybe it’s revenge for a murdered loved one, or to win over a love interest, or a desperate desire to be U.S. president.

Whatever it is they want, they must be prepared to fight for it in a struggle.

Write a biography of each of your main characters, fleshing out who they are and how they got that way then set them up against a worthy opponent before you begin writing your book.

Books on a bookshelf.  Creating a new book can be an intimidating experience.
Books on a bookshelf. Creating a new book can be an intimidating experience. | Source

6. Give your dialogue some punch.

Dialogue is a great opportunity for creating drama. Make sure that you don’t squander the opportunity by allowing your dialogue to be limp or flat!

No matter how good at speaking we may think we are in real life, we all stumble, repeat things, make off-topic remarks. Fictional dialogue is always tight and meaningful, with regard to the characters and story drama.

Dialogue can also give the reader an insight into the characters. Think about all the clues that you pick up in every day life about a person just from hearing them speak.

You can often guess things such as their state of mind, where they’re from, how intelligent or educated they are, whether they’re being honest, or operating with a hidden agenda, the list is almost endless.

The key thing is that, as mentioned before, there should always some sort of conflict going on. Even if it is under the surface, it should still be going on.

7. Don’t give up!

Okay, so you’ve been slaving away at your computer for six months and apart from that document on your hard drive showing a word count of 40,000, you’ve got very little to show for it.

You were going okay for a while, but now your confidence has dipped, you’ve reached a problem and you've begun to doubt that you've got what it takes to write a novel.

The temptation is to let the whole thing slide, take a few days off, relax, and worry about writing your book later.

Don’t do it!

If you’re stuck with one section of the story, jump ahead a few pages, you can always come back to the difficult part later.

The important thing is to stick to working regularly and not lose momentum. Remember that perseverance is more important than raw talent when it comes to writing a book.

A great novel is concerned primarily with the interior lives of its characters as they respond to the inconvenient narratives that fate imposes on them. Movie adaptations of these monumental fictions often fail because they become mere exercises in interior decoration.

— Richard Schickel

8. Build up to a climax

Keep your core conflict going right through to the very end. It should gradually intensify with maybe a few twists and turns on the way.

Don’t ever be tempted to let your main conflict be resolved, or even worse, fizzle out, before you reach the finish line.

Once you’re sure that you’ve reached the end and you’re certain that you’ve tied up all the loose ends, then you can spend the final pages after the resolution with some sort of “new beginning”.

For example, the main character marries his love interest after rescuing her from the terrorists, or maybe your protagonist is sworn in as the new U.S. president after he has defeated all his rivals.

Ernest Hemingway.  Writing a novel can be a huge challenge.  Hemingway's writing tips are worth checking out.
Ernest Hemingway. Writing a novel can be a huge challenge. Hemingway's writing tips are worth checking out. | Source

9. Get unbiased feedback

Family and friends can be great for providing support, but they are often the last people that you should go to for feedback on your novel.

Why? Because they care about you and they want to encourage you and they would rather bite their tongue than risk upsetting you by telling you that they lost interest in chapter 4, or that your ending really doesn’t work.

If you’re serious about your writing, what you need is constructive and specific criticism.

The best place to find this is often at your local writers’ circle or college, where your work can be critiqued by fellow writers.

Not only will you hopefully get an honest opinion, but the criticism will be specific, useful, and pertinent.

When you're writing a novel, you spend four years sitting in your basement and a year waiting for the book to come out and then you get the feedback. When you do work online, the moment you're finished making it, people start responding to it which is really fun and allows for a kind of community development you just can't have in novels.

— John Green

10. Be prepared to rewrite

Okay, I know how it feels, you’ve just spent six months creating your perfect baby, then you went to the writers’ workshop and people were suggesting all sorts of revisions that you could make to improve it.

More hard graft, just when you thought you could breathe a sigh of relief. My advice would be to listen to the feedback carefully and if you get areas of criticism that crop up over and over, then take it on board and go back to your novel.

Rewrite the whole thing, if necessary. Professional authors will redraft their work multiple times to get it how they want it (or to satisfy and agent or publisher!) It’s a major reason why novels take so long to write!

Have you attempted to write a novel?

See results

© 2014 Paul Goodman

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    • FatBoyThin profile image

      Colin Garrow 2 years ago from Kinneff, Scotland

      I've finished three novels (for children) and I'd have to say that I didn't plan, I didn't write bios of my characters and I (usually) didn't take time off from the writing. Of course, we all have different ways of approaching such a mammoth project, but as you say, the most important thing is conflict. Without that, you have nothing. Great Hub, voted up.

    • Venkatachari M profile image

      Venkatachari M 2 years ago from Hyderabad, India

      Very useful tips. And a great encouragement to newbies. I hope I can restart my novel with these tips.

    • Sushma Webber profile image

      Sushma Webber 2 years ago from New Zealand

      Well done!! An inspiring yet practical article. Am planning on signing up for NaNoWriMo 2014 and your article was very helpful in egging me on.

    • Pamela99 profile image

      Pamela Oglesby 2 years ago from United States

      I think you gave us a lot of very useful advice. Thanks.

    • profile image

      Mia Capretta 2 years ago

      You have inspired me...

    • infoweekly profile image

      infoweekly 2 years ago from South Africa

      Very informative, thanks

    • Vinaya Ghimire profile image

      Vinaya Ghimire 2 years ago from Nepal

      After reading your article, I am seriously considering to work with the novel that I began three years ago. My novel plans are always inside head, but now I will considering about jotting down.

    • Cheeky Kid profile image

      Cheeky Kid 2 years ago from Milky Way

      I don't really plan on making a novel but well, the future is a mystery. If I get inspiration then maybe I will.

    • chateaudumer profile image

      David B Katague 2 years ago from Northern California and the Philippines

      Very informative hub. I have the outline of a novel with a list of characters, several years ago, but has no energy to continue. On the other hand my son had already published his first novel as an outside activity since he is still working full-time as a prosecuting attorney. He is working on his second novel and plans to finish it after his retirement in another 5 years. For me, I just be happy keeping up with my blogs and writing hubs for HP. I realize there is too much work writing a novel and at the stage of my life, I give up on my dreams of writing a novel.

    • agaglia profile image

      agaglia 2 years ago

      yes. I am writing an adult novel, and a non-fiction young adult novel, and another fantasy novel. So, I've got several projects started, but need to get in the habit of writing on the same project every day - or at least more than once a week. life is just too busy for all my interests. so, until I get really serious about writing, I will just do the short stuff - articles, hub pages, etc. It's like dieting. You have to really make up your mind to do it, stick to it and keep being persistent.

    • pocoyojk1822 profile image

      Carol Anne Cruz 2 years ago from Philippines

      One day, I will be able to write my own novel. I just need more time and inspiration on what topic I must pursue. I keep on changing my mind about the topic. Need to focus and start writing... soon.

      Thanks for all your tips.

      Will keep this Hub for my future reference.

    • Leptirela profile image

      Leptirela 2 years ago from I don't know half the time

      Love it .

      I am currently planning my Novel and ideas are all over place only not on paper as I keep making excuses to justify to - myself why I'm not writing every day at same time God knows I need to.

      I am at present a little stuck on the 'setting' as I want this place where the story takes place to be a minor character because its important to be included because of its traditions and history behind it and a whole lot of drama.

      I also think that You have a way with words and you know your subject and I believe a lot of us hubbers would love another hub by you but all about 'Setting' :D hehehe

      Excellent Hub, Great writer (Fellow from Leicester)

      :)

      Thumbs up

    • Availiasvision profile image

      Jennifer Arnett 2 years ago from California

      I'm on number 7 or your list. I don't think I did enough planning and now I'm hopelessly stuck. It just takes so much energy to get unstuck. I've done it before, but it takes tons of mental energy and time to fix structural problems. I guess you learn how to write a better novel, by writing more novels. Right now, I'm about 10,000 words away from the climax, but only at 25,000 words. I plan to publish on kindle, so word count isn't super important. Even if only my mother reads it, I want the satisfaction of finishing.

      I hear it takes 4 or 5 novels to really know what you're doing, so novel number one is like hacking your way through a jungle with a machete, you have no idea where you're going.

      Any other advice for those of us stuck in the middle?

    • JayeWisdom profile image

      Jaye Denman 2 years ago from Deep South, USA

      I read Frey's book and found it helpful. I'm one of those writers who needs a certain level of advance prep and organization before writing the first word. If I simply jump into the article or story without this advance work and start writing off the top of my head, I tend to go off on tangents and wander away from my intended article or story.

      Even for articles and short fiction, I work better from an informal outline and character 'back story' to fuel my imagination. This is especially helpful for character development. I like to really 'know' my characters before they stroll onstage in my fiction.

      I have several books and one play in various stages of completion (well, the play needs to be almost completely rewritten), and if I live long enough, I plan to get them all published. My goal is to self-publish a collection of my short stories, followed by a novella, after which I'll tackle the unfinished novels and rewrite the play. I suppose you might call these various projects my 'bucket list.'

      Voted Up++ and shared

      Jaye

    • B. Leekley profile image

      Brian Leekley 2 years ago from Kalamazoo, Michigan, USA

      What Frey calls the premise is commonly known as the logline. Whatever one calls it, it's a good idea to start with that sentence that tells who must best whom to achieve or attain what. The logline will show if an idea can be developed into a story or is the seed of merely an anecdote.

    • Snakesmum profile image

      Jean DAndrea 2 years ago from Victoria, Australia

      Some good ideas here - it almost makes me want to dig out the ancient novel and try again. :-) Somehow I have to get and keep that motivation going.

    • Silva Hayes profile image

      Silva Hayes 2 years ago from Spicewood, Texas

      Really really good advice and I am bookmarking this article. Voted Up, Useful, and Interesting. Thanks.

    • Ashley Ryan P profile image

      Ash Ryan 2 years ago from Red Dirt Country

      I started my first novel when I was 16. I never finished it. A few years later I started another only to give up about 100 pages in. The next novel I started only lasted until around page 10 before I became bored.

      My theory is if you can't even finish writing your own story, no way someone else will want to finish reading it, haha. Definitely a lifetime goal, though, and surely bookmarking this hub for future reference. Great read!!

    • K - Michelle profile image

      K. Michelle 2 years ago

      Very informative article. I have loved writing my entire life. I hope one day to complete a novel of my own. I enjoyed the read.

    • Marie Gail profile image

      Marie Gail Stratford 2 years ago from Olathe, KS

      A few interesting points. Did you follow all of them in writing your novel? What is your novel, and where is it published?

    • profile image

      EnthusiasmMadame 2 years ago

      Thank you for the informative hub with great tips. I love participating in NaNo every November (National Novel Writing Month) and have actually finished a couple of books through their technique. If any one is interested in joining me this year in it, you can find me here: http://nanowrimo.org/participants/renda

    • John Dyhouse profile image

      John Dyhouse 2 years ago from UK

      I read the hub with interest. At the end, I answered the poll with yes but lost interest. Well not that simple really, I had a major operation and simply got out of the habit of writing. I fully intend to start over again but of course the road to success is paved with good intentions ....

      I think my problem is that whenever I read a decent novel it seems to be so much more detailed than the planning I have done seems to allow in mine.

      I want to get on with the action, but realise that detail is what brings out the character and sub-plots. I need to refocus and plan to allow myself the time to really get to grips with the novel.