Writing a novel is not an easy task. The thought of doing so can be exhausting and overwhelming. Let’s face it: we’re not all Hemingway. However, that doesn’t mean you can’t tell a decent story—you just need to know where to start.
Why write a novel?
There are many reasons to write a novel. Some people have a burning desire to share their ideas with the world. Others want to tell a story playing in their head for years. The reasons are endless, but here are some of the most common benefits you can expect to gain when you start writing your first novel:
- Self-expression: A novel allows you to explore your creativity and express yourself on paper.
- Sense of fulfillment: Writing a novel is a significant accomplishment that provides long-lasting satisfaction and pride.
- Honing writing skills: The process of writing a novel will enhance your writing skills and help you gain confidence in your abilities.
- Learning and documenting experience: Writing a novel teaches you about life, people, and yourself. You can also take in ideas from personal experiences and craft them into powerful stories.
- Passive Income: Good novels published in print or online ebook retailers are opportunities for passive income. It can be a steady source of cash flow.
- Flexibility: Writing novels offer the flexibility of writing creatively that other forms of literature may not provide. It promotes more imaginative writing of bringing your story into words.
The benefits of writing a novel are numerous, but it’s still daunting to begin. It can be challenging to start writing a novel, the first sentence, the first paragraph.
Writing a novel is hard; there’s no doubt about that. But if you’ve got an idea for a story and would like to see it in print or on the screen (and generate revenue from it), then there’s no reason not to take a shot at it.
Can you earn money from writing novels?
The short answer is yes; you can make money publishing a novel. But the longer answer is that it takes perseverance, patience, and resilience. Success doesn’t come within a day, whether you go with print versions or self-publishing online.
However, the easiest route is self-publishing online. The most popular is Amazon Kindle Direct Publishing, allowing authors to upload their manuscripts and set the price. If potential reader wants your book, they can download it and pay you directly via Amazon Payments. This is great for people who have an existing audience or a knack for marketing their work.
With self-publishing on Amazon, an author retains the rights to their work and set their prices. Amazon pays the author 70% of the net sales price in royalties when a book is sold on the platform.
For example, let’s look at Amanda Hocking, the author who the publishing world considers as the catalyst of the digitalization of book publishing. Hocking started selling her ebooks in October 2010, and within two years, Hocking has sold 1.5 million books and made 2.5 million in revenue without a book agent, publishing house, marketing or PR team, and brick-and-mortar bookshop—she only published and sold on Amazon.
Another writer who found success in publishing online is LJ Ross, the DCI Ryan mystery series author. Dubbed as the “Queen of Kindle”, she has sold millions of copies of her books worldwide, and 18 of her novels have reached the number one spot on bestseller lists. Her estimated earnings from her book sales are 1 million dollars.
Thanks to self-publishing, poetry writer Rupi Kaur also gained fame and success. After various publishers rejected her milk and honey manuscript, she self-published in CreateSpace and has earned millions in revenue (and fans) worldwide with her short and impactful writing.
Writing a novel in 10 easy steps
Novels, like all writing, are a lot of work. But if you can manage the essential elements of a novel in 10 steps, you can get started right away. Here’s how to put together your first novel:
1. Come up with a story idea.
If you want to write a novel, start by coming up with an idea for the story that’s unique and engaging. To develop a story idea for novel writing, start by asking yourself what you love to read, who your favorite authors are, and what types of stories they tell.
A good story idea is an essential ingredient for writing a novel. Without one, you’ll be producing a book of mediocre quality. And if you’ve been sitting on the idea for a while, you might want to investigate whether it’s worth pursuing.
2. Research your genre.
The first step in writing a novel is deciding what genre you want to write. Write down your favorite books, movies, and TV shows if you have no idea. What genre do they fall under? What is it about that genre that attracts you?
If you’re still unsure, look up the bestseller lists for the past year. Which genres are selling the most books? Which ones seem to be staying on the list longer than others?
By reading works in your genre, you will understand character development and how to structure a story to reach its climax at the end. It’s also important to read because there are often unwritten rules in each genre that you will not be aware of unless you know what other writers have done, and you’ll come to understand what makes the readers reach for it.
3. Choose your point of view.
Three different points of view can be used in writing: first person, second person, and third person.
First-Person Point of View
First-person is where the “I,” “we,” or “us” pronouns are used. The first-person point of view is primarily used in fiction when a story is told from the perspective of one of the characters. Most often, this character is also the protagonist or main character. The first-person narrator cannot know what goes on in anyone else’s mind so only their own thoughts, feelings, and knowledge can be related to the reader.
Second-Person Point of View
The second person point of view uses the pronoun “you” to address the reader directly. This narrative mode is rarely used in fiction because it can be challenging to do well. When used, the second person refers to the audience as they are the participants in the story.
Third-Person Point of View
The third-person point of view uses pronouns such as he, she, and the names of people and places. It also uses proper grammar and requires that the writer avoid using first- or second-person points of view. This point of view is used to make the narrator’s observations or the storytelling sound objective.
4. Develop your setting and characters.
Now that you’ve got your rough plot outline, you need to flesh out the characters and develop the setting to match your world. You probably have a pretty good sense of your main character when creating your story idea and where it will occur. It’s time to develop the world and the characters to bring life to your story.
If you’re unsure where to start with your character, try using a character profile template. You can find plenty of these online, but essentially they are pages that ask you questions about the character and his or her background. The more detailed you can get here, the better the reader will understand your characters and their actions in the novel. Try answering these questions as you dive deeper:
- What’s your character’s name?
- What do they look like?
- Where is he/she from?
- What are his/her goals? Their fears?
- What is your character’s personality?
You should have an answer to every one of these questions to build your characters. You’re going to spend a lot of time with them, so it’s essential to get to know them as well as possible.
Next, creating the setting of the novel. The setting is the time and place in which a story occurs. It can be anything from a city street to a distant planet, from ancient times to 200 years in the future. A setting can even be just one room or an entire world.
No matter your setting, it needs to feel real and believable to the readers. It should be specific enough to picture it vividly in their minds but not so detailed that it bogs down the story. Your setting will affect everything, including your characters’ behavior, so it’s best to list them all out before writing your first draft.
5. Map out your plot
Whether writing fiction or non-fiction, mapping out your plot is essential. A plot is the sequence of events in a story. A plot is divided into five parts: exposition, rising action, climax, falling action, and resolution.
- Exposition: Introduces the setting, characters, and primary dramatic conflict that will be resolved in the story.
- Rising Action: Events become more suspenseful leading up to the climax.
- Climax: The turning point of the story or moment of highest tension.
- Falling Action: Builds suspense as the conflict is approached and resolved.
- Conclusion: Ties together loose ends and concludes the story.
Keep in mind that all this information should be presented to readers in a logical order in writing a novel. Most stories begin with an inciting incident or event that gets things moving, which leads to rising action as complications arise, a climax where everything comes together, falling action as everything falls apart, and a resolution where everything is resolved one way or another.
6. Choose how to structure your story
The structure of a story refers to how the plot and characters are arranged. If you want to give your readers a good experience, you should first make them understand what is happening by presenting the plot so that it doesn’t confuse them. In addition, your characters’ development should be tied to the central conflicts. Here are a few examples:
The Fichtean Curve
The Fichtean Curve is one of the most prevalent plot structures. It reflects the goal-oriented plot that Gardner talked about in his book The Art of Fiction. In this plot structure, the characters have a goal. They face three or more obstacles of increasing intensity to reach the climax.
A notable example of a story using the Fichtean Curve is Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. In the book, Alice finds herself inside the whimsical world of Wonderland. As she finds her way back home, she encounters different characters and situations, bringing out the various facets of her character. In the end, she did manage to get home and gain a new perspective on adventures and in life.
In Media Res
Translated from Latin, “in media res” means “into the middle of things.” This literary device is often used to open a story by introducing a dramatic incident and starting the exposition of the story from that point.
One example of a novel using this structure is Gone Girl. Moments into the book, we are introduced to Amy Dunne’s disappearance. She leaves behind a doting husband, Nick, and a series of clues and gifts for their fifth wedding anniversary. However, his grief over his missing wife causes the happy couple’s portrait and the police and media’s questions about their relationship to crumble. In the story’s climax, we learn that Amy Dunne is alive and planned the whole disappearance act as revenge because of Nick’s cheating. After finding out the truth, Nick wanted to go through with the divorce. However, the novel ended with the couple still living together and expecting their baby.
Seven-Point Story Structure
Seven-point story structure, or 7PSS, is a simplified variation on Joseph Campbell’s classic “hero’s journey” film or novel structure. It was created by the author Dan Wells. Start by figuring out the final scene, then build backward to the inciting incident, and then forward again to the climax. Here is a more detailed template for the seven-point story structure:
- The Hook: this is where you will introduce the characters and the story’s setting.
- Plot Turn 1: this incident will start the main character’s adventure
- Pinch 1: in this section, the stakes are higher, and the main conflict is introduced
- Midpoint: during the midpoint, the character will gain the strength, power, or push that they need to overcome the main conflict
- Pinch 2: this is the part where the main conflict takes a turn for the worse, and the situation looks bleak for the character
- Plot Turn 2: can be dubbed as the “plot twist” this is where the character discovers something that helps them resolve the main conflict
- Resolution: the main conflict is resolved, and the main character is victorious
7. Write your draft
Writing the first draft of your novel — or any book — is a process of discovery. It’s about creating something from nothing and finding out what your story is about. You’re not trying to write a masterpiece. You’re simply building the bones of your story. Think of it as an outline for a new building: just as no builder would start constructing the roof before they had finished putting up the walls and laying the foundations, no author should try to write the prettiest passages in their book while they’re still working on getting everything down on paper.
You should also think of your first draft as an opportunity to remove pressure from yourself. Writing the first draft is where you can let yourself go. It’s where you can be brave and bold and experimental, knowing that if you don’t like something later on, or if it doesn’t work, you can change it or take it out altogether.
8. Revise your story
Revising a story is one of the most important parts of writing a novel. Revising helps you ensure that every word in your story serves a purpose. It also enables you to make sure that you haven’t made any mistakes while writing your first draft.
Revising is more than just fixing mistakes. Revising is when you look at every aspect of your story—characters, setting, plot—and figure out what works and what doesn’t work. When revising, you might discover that one of your characters doesn’t seem like they belong in the story anymore. Or that a plot twist isn’t believable because it doesn’t make sense with everything else that has. It serves as a writing checkpoint before publication.
9. Get feedback.
Congratulations, you just finished writing a novel! Now what?
If you want to publish it, the first step is to make sure your book is as good as possible. That means getting feedback from readers — ideally, potential readers — so you can identify any problems before you send your manuscript out into the world.
But where do you find those readers?
The answer is: everywhere. Here are a few suggestions for getting feedback on your novel before its publication:
- Ask your friends and family to read it. This might seem like an obvious choice, but sometimes we don’t think about the people closest to us when we’re looking for help with our projects. If you don’t ask them, they might never know they had the opportunity to give their feedback. And most of us have some friends or family members who would be happy to help in this way.
- Find a writers’ group online that can offer feedback in exchange for yours. Facebook hosts various writing groups with members that are more than accommodating to read and provide feedback to your work
Once you receive your feedback, you can use this as a guideline for any revision you might need to adjust in your novel.
10. Hire an editor.
Getting a professional editor, especially for fiction writers, is the best investment you can make before publishing your novel.
Editors improve your writing. They know the ins and outs of storytelling. They’ll keep you from overusing adverbs and adjectives, tell you when your dialogue sounds stilted or unnatural, and point out when your characters are inconsistent or unconvincing. A good editor will help you with all these things, even if they aren’t specifically tasked.
Some editors charge $6 to $15 per page, while the average rate is $.06 per word or $12 per page.
Recommended courses for writing a novel
If you want a more thorough guide on writing a novel, here are a few of our writing courses that will help you:
- Novel Writing Masterclass
- Novel Writing: Master your Inner Writer
- Fiction Writing: Write and Publish your first novel
- Write a Great “How to” Book Fast: How to Write Books that Sell
Taking the first steps toward writing a novel is often the most challenging part. Once you start writing, though, you realize that all of your fears are for naught. You might have doubts about your ability to write a novel, but you can do it. Your first draft will likely be terrible—that’s okay. You’ll quickly get better as you rewrite and flesh out your plotline. The only way to do it is to just begin, so why not give it a try?