How to write a novel – Part 2

How to write a novel – Part 2

So, we now have three paragraphs, describing in very general terms what we are going to write about. What now?

Since we have a basic outline, we know the major characters that are going to be involved in our story. We may not know every character yet, but we know enough to write a short description of the most important ones, so let’s do that.

Book encyclopaedia

Since we’re going to have a lot of details about characters, places and things in our world, we need to have a place to put them. This can be a document, a wiki or any other way of organising information, but it should be easy for you to refer to afterwards. If, on page 125, you suddenly need to know a main character’s eye colour, this is the place you’ll find it.

I usually have a section for ideas I want to work into the story that I haven’t found a place for yet; A section for characters; A section for places; A dictionary of items specific to the novel; Any translations you need, if you have a fantasy/sci-fi language.

The encyclopaedia helps you stay consistent. Writing a novel takes a long time, but someone may read your novel over a weekend. You’ll forget small details over the weeks of writing a novel, they’ll notice those details over hours of reading it.

Characters in the encyclopaedia

In the character section of your encyclopaedia, start a new page for a new character, set a heading with their name and add the following table:

Characteristic Value

This table is only a starting point. You may have other characteristics that are important for your story, but these characteristics are important for all characters.

Next add a sub-heading with the word Background. This section is a description of the character, including their history and values. For the best conflict in your novel, you should choose values for your character that will contradict each other in certain situations.

The best characters tend to have the strongest conflicts. For instance, Walter White from Breaking Bad, one of the strongest characters of the last decade, has two values (At least in the later seasons). One of these has a sub-value:

–          My family is paramount. I do everything for my family;

–          I love to feel important. Self-worth is vital to me.

  • I demand respect from everyone, because I am important.

The writing in Breaking Bad excels because of the conflict between these values. The importance of each value varies for Walt. At times, he is doing everything for his family, right up until it comes into conflict with his self-image.

I think a lot of us would like to create a character as compelling as Walter White, so make your characters have conflicting values.

Go through each of your major characters and write an entry in your encyclopaedia.


In part 3, we’ll describe Dan Well’s 7 point story structure, which can take our story out of the summary stage.


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