How do you write a book or novel?

Well, I used to have lots of pieces of advice for writers, and these days, I've whittled them down to two pieces of advice. Which are, (1) if you're going to be a writer, you have to write. (2) You have to finish things. Beyond that, I suspect all is detail, but I would add to that, that having written it and finished it, you should send it off to somewhere that might publish it, and not get discouraged if it comes back.

Neil Gaiman

Sometimes getting started is the hardest part. Hopefully, you already have your story idea(s) - here are some tips to help you develop these ideas.

  • Before you begin, research the market and find out how to type up a manuscript correctly - publishers will not pay attention to sloppy or poorly-typed work. Follow any guidelines given by the publisher, or in any how-to books you read.
  • Write an outline giving the details of your plot - include character names and backgrounds, major events and subplots, and important ideas
  • Decide which point of view to use - which character's voice will tell your story the best?
  • Set a goal - decide how many pages, or how many words, you want to write each day - set aside time every day to work on this
  • Brainstorm - the best way to write without getting distracted is to avoid editing it until you are finished - write whatever comes out of your mind. You will correct your mistakes later.
  • Once you have finished the story, set it aside for at least a month! This is important to let the ideas "percolate" and give you a fresher viewpoint. If you try to edit as soon as you write it, you will become so used to the material that you will miss things. Work on something else during this time - start a new book, or edit an old one, or write something different. Then, once enough time has gone by, take out your book and start editing it.
Writing is the hardest way of earning a living ... with the possible exception of wrestling alligators.

- Olin Miller

Another Opinion

You must decide whether this story will be "character-driven" or "Plot-driven" - where will the emphasis be placed, on what happens, or on the character's growth - emotional, physical, spiritual, etc.?

Type your idea into your word processing program, with all the details you have now. When you reach your writing goal for the day, stop, but do the same thing the next day, and the next, every time something occurs to you. Keep going this way until you seem to have come to an end, or the main problem is resolved. (There must be a problem, of course, or there's no story).

Explore this idea fully to make sure it is good enough to inspire and sustain you through 90-100,000 words. There's a lot of work to writing a book!

Write, write, write! Set aside a block of time that fits your schedule, and stick to it faithfully .... It's easy to find excuses not to write - successful authors don't give in to such excuses.

- Bill Pronzoni

Here are more opinions and answers from other contributors:

  • If you are a writer then you are no stranger to reading and research. Search the Internet for writing sites: groups, forums, workshops, whatever fits your individual needs. Read articles, periodicals or books about writing. I like Writer's Digest. (see Related Links), but there are numerous other magazines on the market. Research the process. Brush up on your spelling, grammar, all that good stuff you hated in school. Take a creative writing class. You can also find writing exercises in print or on the 'net. Study your favorite authors. You do have favorite authors, right? I firmly believe that a writer, especially a 'wannabe' writer' should be a voracious and omnivorous reader. A good way to start writing is keeping a journal. I have a journal for things like character sketches and profiles, bits of dialogue, names, and this sort of thing. I also have several journals full of research notes, plot ideas, 'stream-of-consciousness' rambling, writing exercises, and I even keep dream journals. Oh, something else... I've always heard a writer should write what he knows. Sometimes that just isn't feasible. Take Sci-fi, Horror, Fantasy, for a few examples. I think it's more important to 'know what you write.' Do your research, know what you are talking about. A reader is only willing to suspend his disbelief so far. In other words, if you've never been to Tokyo, you are probably better off not setting your story there -- unless you do some darn good background work.
  • "Write What You Know" does not mean you should only write about things you have personally done - it means you should write about things you have researched, emotions you have felt, situations you are familiar with - you don't have to go into space to write what you know about personal interaction among a team of people stuck in a tiny ship with a long voyage ahead of them, or about how it feels to be lost in a strange place surrounded by danger.
  • Here are some further thoughts. 1) You need to build up from writing shorter pieces. Keep everything manageable. 2) You need to sharpen your observation of the world around you. Observe ... Have a booklet in which you jot down observations, thoughts and comments. 3) Plenty of reading. Occasionally, try to stand back and work out the 'nuts and bolts' of the narrative. 4) You may find a course in creative writing useful. I don't mean a degree course; there are many shorter and less expensive courses available. A postscript: Readers tend to get very worked up about factual inaccuracies - for example landmarks and other buildings being placed on the wrong side of the road. You really MUST do a lot of research into local color and the like. Bear in mind that buildings and metro lines and so on may have changed.
There is no substitute for hard work - i.e. sitting down at the computer and writing no matter what you feel like doing instead.

- Carly Phillips

  • Wow. That is a huge question. I guess the answer is... write. Planning things out helps, but all of the planning in the world doesn't get the book written. There is a lot of research involved for any novel... even an autobiography. Then, the trick is stop thinking about it and write. If you get stuck, there are so many books about writing out there, pick one up. They can help you with characterization, plot development, or whatever it is that you are stuck on. If it is just blank-mind writer's block, then start writing anything ... copy a page from the dictionary, or start typing something from the newspaper... while you are doing that, your mind will be processing the book in the background, and will usually get you back on track with the book. Some basic organization will help if you get a lot of writing done.If you are writing a story, you'll need a chronology, so you know what things happen first, and next, and later, and last. Then you can sort your writing appropriately.

All the advice above is good advice. There is no easy, short answer. But here goes:

  1. If you want to be a great writer, sit your but in a chair and write. As often as possible and as many days of the week as you can manage. Many writers have a daily goal such as writing 5 pages or 1500 words. If that works for you, do it. Writers learn best by writing, failing, writing terrible stories full of cliched stereotyped one-dimensional characters. Over time, as you follow the rest of the advice here (and other places) you will improve. Take it from me: you will improve. Keep writing and then apply everything else here.
  2. Read great fiction, especially in the genre in which you want to write. If you want to write thrillers, read bestselling thrillers; if romance, read romances, etc. By reading these books, you learn about the genre, learn how other professional writers deal with beginnings, endings, point of view, description, plot, characterization, setting, etc, etc.
  3. Study great fiction. Don't just read for pleasure. If you are blessed enough to find a book you love, that you can't put down, study that sucker to death. Study how the author deals with all the story elements mentioned above (plot, setting, characters, etc). Study how the author writes sentences. Study what the other does and what the author doesn't do (example, does the author write detailed setting descriptions, include a lot of action, etc). Study, study, study. On that note, study all great stories, even movies and TV shows. Movies and sitcoms are just stories for the screen. Listen for how to write good, snappy dialogue. Watch for "secrets" you can use in your own stories.
  4. Study the craft of writing. My office is crammed with my favorite how-to writing books. Here's a sample: Plot and Structure, by James Scott Bell, Scene and Structure by Jack M. Bickham, Techniques of the Selling Author (highly recommended), by Dwight Swain, Writing the Breakout Novel Workbook (highly recommended) by Donald Mass, Writing for Emotional Impact (screenwriting book, but also highly recommended) by Karl Iglesias. There are writing books that deal with every story element, so seek these (and other) books out. Read them. Study them. Apply the lessons as much as you can. Review them later, keep plugging along and, over time, you will start to improve. It takes time and patience. I know of no other way. Here's a warning: When you realize what goes into writing even the simplest of stories, you may feel completely overwhelmed at first. Keep at it and it'll get better (not necessarily easier, but more fun!)
  5. One of the best ways to learn what you know and what you don't know is to start writing stories, from beginning to end. Go back and read them a week, 2 weeks or a month later. Edit them, revise them, look for your strengths and weaknesses. Take out some of your writing books and revise again. Keep making them better and better. Submit them for publication (Writer's Market is a great resource for publication, so check it out. While your at it, check out the Writer's Digest website and sign up for their magazine. You'll be glad you did.) Keep writing stories and revising them, improving your craft.
  6. If you follow all the advice above, you should be well on your way to writing a successful, even a publishable, novel.
  7. Here are few practical techniques that can help you write even better:
  • With few (very few) exceptions, start your novel with action, somebody doing something. This grabs the reader's attention immediately and that is writing gold.
  • Start and end every scene with something that grabs attentions: dialogue, action, suspense.
  • Give out back story (stuff that happened before the story began) in small, bite-sized chunks throughout the story. Never start with back story, and avoid including back story as long as you can. The later, often the better.
  • Vary your sentence lengths and structures. This is a simple, practical point that will make your writing much, much better.
  • Your story should have a point, your characters a goal or goals to reach, even the bad guys. Give characters conflicting or opposite goals and watch the drama unfold.
  • Give your characters ample motivation to keep plugging away after their goals, even when they encounter multiple obstacles. In other words, make sure the characters can never reasonably throw up their hands and say, "I quit." If a character can walk away, consider increasing the stakes of the story (i.e., the world will end if the hero doesn't succeed, the bad guys have the hero's child, etc). Sometimes you can "trap" characters in the story by putting them on a train or boat or island, where they can't get away even if they wanted to!
  • Reveal your characters through action and dialogue, and rarely through rote description.
  • Keep raising the stakes and dangers and complications for your main characters throughout the story. Escalate the problems and pain, take away everything important to the character. Writing a novel means cruelty to fictional people. This is often more difficult than it appears! Just remember, the more cruel and sadistic you are to your characters (I'm exaggerating here for effect), the better experience for the reader. Each danger and complication should be worse than the one before right up until the climax of the novel.
  • Create three-dimensional characters by giving them histories, goals, strengths and flaws, nicknames, pet peeves, emotional baggage, secrets, hidden agendas, distinctive and unique ways of speaking, a set of values, etc.
  • Show the different sides of your characters by showing how the character acts and reacts at work, at home, on vacation, in danger, while safe, etc.
  • Put a lot of suspense into your story. Every genre of fiction writing builds upon a firm foundation of suspense. Withhold information from the reader, throw in twists and surprises, and shocking revelations. Who is that mysterious man? Why does the girl always look away and change the subject when the topic of her past comes up? What's in that little brown box? Who is the real killer? How did they do it? Why is he doing that? Get the point?
  • Include tension in every page, scene, chapter and section of your story. If people talk, let them fight and argue get the point, don't you? Writing without tension is often boring.
  • Well, to write a good novel you need a good story line and good characters! You need to be able to connect with your audience through the plot or ,once again, the characters. People have to believe it, and to do that it takes a lot of emotion from you the author. Its not easy but you have to give it ago. You need to think about the audience your writing you novel for. Is it for teens, children or adults? When you have decided, you need to work out what you would want if you were them - eg. what do teens want? Love? Break up? Friendship? and then apply that to your novel, with that in mind there is nothing better than learning something from a book. I always like to learn a lesson from it. So maybe you could put in a normal situation that happens a lot and find a solution to it and write it. This way if the reader is ever stuck in the situation they will go back read it over and will know how to tackle the problem. This way you're helping a person as well as giving them a good read. When constructing characters whether or not they are human or not they need to have some human features or emotions this helps the reader to connect, which is what you want. I don't know what else to say. I myself are in the process of writing a novel and that is all I'm going by. Whether or not it will be a GOOD novel doesn't matter. As long as I can get one stranger to read it, then I will be satisfied. That's the goal you should be aiming for too if you're going to write.