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Starting Your First Novel

by Dawn Seewer

You wake up one morning with a wonderful idea for a book. You let the idea play in your head for several hours, several days, several weeks, several years. Finally you decide to get that story down onto paper. You switch on the computer, open up a new document, or grab a pen and blank sheet paper. You’re ready to write, but nothing happens. Frustrated, you sit back in your chair, wondering how in the world to begin writing a book.

Pat yourself on the back. You have already completed the first step in writing a novel. And you thought you were going nowhere. The time you’ve spent mulling over your idea was the first step, the gestation period. This period is a very important part of writing a novel. This is the time when you get to formulate the idea, mold it from a spark to a thriving plot line. You have to have a direction for your story to go before you begin writing it.

So now you’ve got the idea. On to the next step, which is not writing chapter one. First you should get your basic idea down on paper. Write down as much of the book as you know up to this point. Then take a few days and expand on this. It’s okay if you don’t use some of the things you write down. These notes are to be used for brainstorming not as character development or an outline, which we will get into later. Don’t look at this step as a road map for your novel. It’s more of a compass, giving your novel a basic direction.

Now it’s time to really get to know your characters. Write a biography for your main characters, their lives from birth to the beginning of your story. Include as much detail as you will need to effectively create this character in the beginning of your novel. The majority of the information will probably not end up in the finished novel. The purpose of this exercise is not for the reader but for you as the writer. It will give you a better understanding of who your characters are and what their goals, motivation and conflict are. Thus, in the end helping you to create more rounded characters. Also, don’t forget about secondary characters within your plot.

After character development you move on to mapping out your plot, usually in the form of an outline. Some writers use outlines, some don’t. A beginning writer should create an outline. Any preparation work you do is going to help you to create your novel. The purpose of the outline is to organize your ideas so that one event logically leads to another, thus further developing your plot. Play around with your outline for a while, adjusting things until you have a sequential chain of events. The amount of detail in your outline will be determined by how much information you need to develop your plot. There are many formats for outlining and you do not need to stick with the traditional forms. Some writers do short chapter outlines that briefly describe the events of each chapter. Some writers prefer to do a detailed scene-by-scene outline. Use a form of outlining that will work for you.

You’ve come up with an idea, expanded on it, created characters and outlined your book. Now it’s time to write that first line. There are several great ways to begin a book. You can use a line of dialogue such as ask a question or make a socking statement. Set the stage for the book by describing the setting for the first scene. Give insight into your main character by describing where s(he) comes from, who s(he) is. Draw the reader in by starting in the middle of an action scene. No matter what method you use to begin your book, start where it feels right. This tends to be the place where beginning writers stumble. They want their first line to be compelling, engaging, shocking. Here’s a bit of advice to keep in mind when you go to write that first line: it doesn’t matter what you write because you can always go back and change it later! At this point your goal should be getting the novel started. Remember that this is just a rough draft. If your having trouble getting past the first line just write down the first thing that pops into your head and don’t look back, keep writing.

Once you’ve started your book, the trick is to keep writing until the end. You will hit slumps, times when you just can’t seem to write. It’s perfectly natural and every writer goes through this. But don’t let it discourage you. You will make it through as long as you stay determined and focused. Remember this is only your first draft. Nothing is set in stone. Now go write that book!

© 2001 by Dawn Seewer

20 Responses to “Starting Your First Novel”

  1. solid advise. i really like the information about having your character bios setup as a reference. planning sure does pay off in novel writing!

  2. Tommy Adams says:

    I would like to say thank you to Dawn Seewer for posting this blog. For a few weeks now i have been having trouble trying to write my novel (which i will not name as of yet) and was searching for some help today as to help me continue doing so. Reading this blog made me excited to write it now, especially the part of the biography. I even printed off a copy to carry around. Now I know I can write my story.

    Thank you, Dawn! I’ll make sure to include your name in the acknowelegements!

    Tommy Adams

  3. Dorene says:

    Wow this blog is exactly what I needed. I woke up this morning to an incrediable experience and thougt to myself this would be a wonderful way to begin a novel… Well, needless to say from that point until I discovered your advice, I had no ideals on what would be the next steps. Well, now I do! I am so excited. Thank you!

  4. Aisha says:

    Thank you Mike. Last year this time I was asked to write a 5year time line to explain credit situations. This lead me to journal of my shortcomings in a humorous, tear jerking realistic way. I search online in popular search engines and in public libraries for how to articles. None that gave clear practical steps from initiation to writers’ block and executable tools to prevent it. However your article assist a number of writers that have merge to frustration course. Thank You, you have assist in revive my author energy.
    A.Wal~

  5. Dawn Seewer says:

    I am so thrilled so many people found this article helpful. I wish you all many wonderful wonderful years of creative expression and a spot on the best-sellers list!

  6. Al says:

    thanks for the advice and encouragement i’m writing the outline right now

  7. Amit says:

    Thank u very much i was very confused for writing my first novel but after reading this this seems very easy thanks once again

  8. Ash says:

    Thank you so much for helping me. I am still young but I have already decided what my story is going to be about. I was thinking to write a preface to describe my character (yes or no, what do you think?) I hope to finish my first chapters soon. Again, thank you so much.

  9. Renee says:

    I loved this advice. For the past few months I have been tossing around an idea for a book series. I finally had the idea solidified, but couldn’t even begin to write anything. I was stuck and somewhat confused to as how authors were able to bring events in their stories together. This explained it all, and I am grateful to have come across this blog.

  10. Paul Kelly says:

    I have written THIRTY NOVELS and only now have had one published and that was the first I ever wrote, twenty years ago.
    I think only celebrities, film stars and politicians are the only people who get published. The rest of us get into the slush pile without even a look.
    I could have had one of my novels published in America if I had added a few rude incidents to the story. I said NO and lost a lot of money

    Paul Kelly

  11. Rick Kontur says:

    The best advice I received (from a State Poet Laureate no less) was highly compressed as you would expect from a poet.Three words.”JUST FINISH IT.”

  12. Noemi says:

    Wow this would have helped me at the beginning, but i have never had issues with writing the idea. I have made good progress in the story, but I still think it’s nice to know about drawing a line for the plot, and doing the info on characters, and secondary characters first, i’ll do that when I get home, thanks for this info.

  13. Damilola says:

    this has been a wonderful inspiration for me!as a child,i wrote a lot of short stories and i’ve always wanted to write a novel but each time i start,i have no idea how to continue!and sometimes i just lose focus altogether.but with this,i am ready to fire my engine and get to work!my book is gonna be out soon!i’m only 19 but it’s just a number.i hope you get to read it!thanks.

  14. Josh says:

    First of all, this is was a lot of help, thank you for writing it.
    Second, in response to the comment from Paul Kelly, that is not true at all. JK Rowling, for example, was just a regular woman, not famous at all. She had to go through quite a few publishers, but eventually someone took her books, and now we have Harry Potter, the amazing series that we all know and love.
    She didn’t need to add any “rude incidents” and she wasn’t a celebrity or film star. If you write a good novel, you can get it published, and comments like that will just discourage people’s creativity.

    That’s just my two cents,

    Josh

  15. Josh says:

    First of all, this is was a lot of help, thank you for writing it.
    Second, in response to the comment from Paul Kelly, that is not true at all. JK Rowling, for example, was just a regular woman, not famous at all. She had to go through quite a few publishers, but eventually someone took her books, and now we have Harry Potter, the amazing series that we all know and love.
    She didn’t need to add any “rude incidents” and she wasn’t a celebrity or film star. If you write a good novel, you can get it published, and comments like that will just discourage people’s creativity.

    That’s just my two cents,

    Josh

  16. noura says:

    thank’s so much for posting this article. i’ve been struggling with how to start working on my novel, and whenever i ask anyone they laugh at the idea of a 13 year old girl writing a novel (that’s a shocker 😀 )but really this was so helpful it got me on the right track

  17. James says:

    Wow, 13. Really?? That’s awesome.

    Good luck with writing your novel. Would love it if you kept us updated.

  18. Em says:

    I have started multiple novels and always seem to hit dead-ends or lose the focus of my novel altogether. This has saved me! I’m ready to start one that will last. I have a good idea to go with it too. Thank you!

  19. Paul Kelly says:

    My books are all now published. 35 of them mostly in E book fashion but I am now having four novels published in soft covered books and they are selling well. I never take a penny of my royalties. Every penny goes to the Multiple Sclerosis Society as my son suffers from MS. My soft covered books are ‘LOVE IS MY DESTINY’ ‘WILLIE BLAIR’ ‘SPAWN OF SATAN’ and ‘TERROR IN TREBLINKA’. . . . All by work can be read on Amazon Kindle.

  20. I like the suggestion to just keep writing once you start. I have found that one of the most debilitating parts of writing is over analyzing what you are writing as you are writing. If you keep writing and don’t look back you will get your thoughts out with the ability to go back and edit later.
    I wrote an article on medium.com that explains how I motivated myself to start writing through a bet with my wife.
    “Motivating Yourself with a Bet”

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