How to write a novel – Part 4

How to write a novel – Part 4

So, at the end of the last part we ended up with a list of chapters along with a paragraph describing what should happen in each of them. We also created our novel encyclopaedia with our character outlines in it.

So we now have two main tasks ahead of us before we start writing:

–          Design the world the story will take place in;

–          Detail the major events in each chapter.

Designing the world

Since we have a list of all of the things that will happen in our novel, we need to design a world where these things can happen. You may already have a fairly good idea of where your story takes place. If so, write it down. If you don’t have any idea, you need to begin with a list of places in each chapter.

For each of the places you write, you should draw a picture of the exterior of the building in a paint program. It doesn’t need to be particularly artistic; it’s to give you a more concrete idea of where your characters will be. Be careful not to go too detailed here, as it’s easy to use too much time on world building.

Once you have your world, characters and story structure, you’re ready to detail your book a little more.

Major Events

Taking your chapter list, you now need to break it down into major events using the following table:

Setback/Reaction Event
Reaction John runs into the building.
Setback Mary is trapped under a burning beam.
Reaction John struggles to free Mary.
Setback The beam is too heavy.

As you can see from the table above, you need to alternate between reactions of your main characters and setbacks. This is in order to give your main characters enough challenges in the story. For readers to like a character, they should have to overcome some adversity. If something is too easy for your main character, then it’s boring for your reader.

Don’t be afraid to torture your characters. It’s that torture that’s interesting to read.

Using the Reaction/Setback table, you should write a new chapter list with a table for each chapter. Throw in as many challenges as you can for your characters.

Now rewrite the major event list. It’s easier to rewrite a list of events than an entire chapter, so do your rewriting now and avoid the extra work later.

Write your book

Okay, so after all of that detailing and planning, now it’s time to write your book. Writing a book has fairly simple rules:

  1. Keep writing, no matter how bad you think your writing is;
  2. Don’t show your book to anyone while you’re writing it;
  3. Write at the same time every day for the same amount of time/words. For example, write for an hour or write 1000 words a day, whatever is easier to keep track of;
  4. Make sure there aren’t any distractions. Don’t use the Internet other than for research. Checking Facebook can lead to 100 other things;
  5. Don’t be afraid to leave your plan, if your characters don’t want to follow it, but if you do so, you’ll need a new plan for the end of your book.


Finally, what is going to keep your going through writing your novel? There’s no simple answer to why you want to write a novel. Everyone wants to write for different reasons. Remember, though, a writer writes every day. They don’t give up and watch TV, play games or go outside. They write until they’re finished and then they do whatever they want to do.

Everyone has time in their day, if they make it. Don’t wait for the perfect situation to write, it will never happen. The perfect time to write is today, the perfect place is wherever it’s quiet.

If you have an idea for a novel, before you start planning, you need to do the following:

Write a date when you expect to be finished your novel.

This is your abandon date. No matter what the state of your novel is at this date, you can’t work on it any more. It’s not just a deadline. You can’t work after this date. After this date, you are going to write something else entirely and never work on this novel again (Other than if an editor/publisher asks you to).

Now divide up the time remaining until that date. 50% should be for writing and rewriting your novel. 25% is for planning. 25% is for polishing.

Make sure you have enough time. Setting an abandon date a month away is unrealistic. Setting an abandon date a year away is too much time.

If you’re happy with your time for each phase, write down your abandon dates for planning, writing and polishing on whatever calendar you see every day. Now stick to them. If you don’t make any of them, your novel is going to be abandoned. If the novel is important to you, it will now get written. If it isn’t important enough to meet your abandon dates, it wasn’t ever going to get written anyway.

In conclusion

I hope some of what I’ve detailed here is of some use to you in your writing. Remember that every bad writer can be a great author one day; it just takes a lot of practice and dedication.

I would recommend joining a criticism group to help you improve your writing. There are a lot on the net, but ones I like personally are:

Also, if you’d like to read further techniques on writing, I’d recommend the Writing Fiction for Dummies book:

Finally, for an interesting podcast on writing, I’d recommend the Writing Excuses podcast, that covers every possible subject around writing in depth:


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One thought on “How to write a novel – Part 4

  1. Pingback: How to write a novel – Part 3 | Simon Cantan

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