Having now written over a dozen full novels, I’ve come to the conclusion there isn’t one “right” way to write a novel; there are over a dozen. Each novel is unique, not only in its storyline, but in its development process.
For a new novel I’m planning to write during the month of November for the annual NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month), I’m using the Story Outline Method, and I love it. Please visit www.nanowrimo.org for more information.
What is the story outline method? Simple – it’s an outline of your novel – constructed before you write the first word. Here are some of the steps I’m using with this new novel.
- Before I even think about the name for the novel, I must think on a grand scale what the general setting of the story is, what I want it to show in the story, and what I want the main theme to depict. Once I have a general overview, I have EVERYTHING I need to start.
- I then decide what length I’d LIKE to have the story. Short Story (300 – 3,000 words), Novella (less than 40,000 words), Novel (50,000 – 100,000 words), or Epic (100,000 +). I also decide the genre (fantasy, urban, historical, romance, sci-fi, chick lit, literary fiction, etc., and writing style (first person, third person, omniscient, Active/Passive, Showing/Telling
- I also decide who will be my protagonists & antagonists and write up Character Dossiers for those main characters only. This is where I get the first clear glimpse of my characters. This is also a great tool to use to ensure your characters are not all cookie-cutters of the same character. There’s nothing more boring than reading a novel when ALL the characters in the story act, think and respond in exact or similar manners. Doing a character dossier will allow you to individualize your characters, as well as provide the writer with a resource to review when writing that character – so the character can develop but remain true to the writer’s initial intent. (Will post a blog later this week on Character Dossiers.)
- I then consider how many chapters, and then do a “Story Structure” (see blog post titled “A Story Structure”) to make sure my plot points hit at certain segments in the story. I then fill in the chapter summaries with ideas I’d like to see covered between those certain segments – ideas that move the plot of the story. (There’s nothing more irritating than reading a story and the plot changes, or the original plot morphed(or is forgotten) into something else, so a reader finishes a different story than they began.) Writing out chapter summaries, lets me see the story from a broader picture, and serves as a guide when I go to write that particular chapter. (Always: the story doesn’t have to be exact to the summary. The purpose of the summary is to provide the writer with a clear ‘direction’, but the genius and skill of writer will emerge as they put fingertips to keyboard during the actual writing process.
- Finally, I create a story board (a large dry-erase or peg board), complete with plot points, pictures, and notes essential for the story. This board is mostly used for inspiration during the planning and writing process; serving as a reminder of important things to be included in the novel.
Again, I want to stress that this is just ONE method of writing. I’ve used this method before and it worked great. I think the most important part of writing is to do what excites, inspires and energizes you. You MUST love what you’re doing, or it will just be a burden, not a true labor of love.
Good luck with your next novel and my greatest hope is that this little bit of writing advice has inspired you to get busy on your next great idea. Perhaps this could also be a help for someone who finds themselves ‘stalled’ in their current work. The Story Outline Method is a great process that can help identify problems or weak areas in a story.
Till next time,