Many people think that writing a novel is as simple as sitting down at a computer or with a pen and paper and just writing. That does work for some people, who are known as Pantsters in the writing community because they are flying by the seat of their pants. These people can just let the story write itself. They claim that the characters take control of the story and the writer has little say in what actually happens. For most people, this is not the case. Many people have to be Plotters, which is the term for people who plan out their story ahead of time and have a clear vision of where the novel is going to go. This article is for the Plotters. There are three parts to writing a book: prewriting, the actual writing, and editing.
Before a person can start writing a story, some tasks need to be completed first.
1. Decide on a general idea for a story.
This comes to writers in many different ways. It can come in the middle of a dream, while in the shower, while talking to friends, or after thorough brainstorming. Not every story idea will make a good novel, so these prewriting steps can help to see if an idea has potential.
2. Create the characters.
Names are important to the final story, but they are not essential at this point. It is more important to determine what the purpose of each character is. Are they the main character? Are they the antagonist? Are they a supporting character? What do they do in the story? It helps some people to complete a character profile, which includes their physical description, their personality, their backstory, and their role in the story. It gives the writer an idea of where the character is going and how they might change. It also helps some people to create a family tree or a web of how different characters are connected.
3. Create a plot map.
This could be as simple as writing down how the story is going to start and how it ends, since those are the most important parts of a book. Then add some details about what happens in between to get the story from where the characters are in the beginning to where they are in the end. Plot mapping can also be more complex if a writer starts adding in a theme, different points of view, subplots, and more specific details to guide the writing. Every writer spends a different amount of time in the prewriting stage. Some spend more time prewriting than writing, whereas some writers do not do any kind of prewriting at all.
The process of this step depends on how much time a writer spent in the prewriting stage. It can also vary depending on a writer’s style. Some writers have to write a story in sequential order, from beginning to end. Whereas some writers like to write individual scenes as they feel inspired. Then they piece together all the parts at the end. This all depends on personal preference, but the simplest way is to write in sequential order.
1. Writing starts off as a draft.
No writer gets it perfectly the first time through the story. The purpose of a first draft is to just write and get all the ideas down. It is okay to miss some details or have too much information. The revision will come later. Many writers get stuck during the first draft because they overthink while they are writing and start focusing on revision and editing when they should only focus on writing at this point.
After the first draft feels complete—which is different for every writer—the writer needs to read the entire story. This is where some big edits can happen. This is when to check for macro issues in the story. Does the order of events make sense? Do the characters develop? Are important details missing? Once the story feels solid, the writing process moves on to the next step, editing.
Many people think that editing is quick and easy and that moving into this stage means that writing is over. That is not true at all. Editing is usually the hardest and most time-consuming step of writing a novel. The author also might end up rewriting most of their novel.
The best way to start editing is to read the story aloud. Do the sentences flow? Are there grammatical issues to fix? After giving the story a few read-throughs, find a writing group to join.
2. Get feedback.
Many writing groups have meet-ups where each writer reads aloud a portion of their story to the group and the other writers give feedback. The best way to get feedback on stories is to get a reader’s perspective. Ask them if everything makes sense and what can be improved.
3. Professional Editing.
Once a writer has edited their own novel to the best of their abilities and had a few peers read-through and edit their book, it is time to hire a professional editor. Many self-published authors ignore this step, but it is extremely important in order to have a quality novel that experienced readers will enjoy. Reading enthusiasts will easily pick out errors in a book and will not recommend a poorly edited book to their friends, which means no money for the hardworking writer.
4. Get published.
The final step, getting published, is optional. Getting a traditional publishing deal is getting harder and harder. Many publishers only accept manuscripts from friends or already-established authors. That does not help someone trying to break into the novel writing business. This option requires finding an agent that is in love with the novel and will fight to get the book read by a publisher. Some publishers may request rewrites and some never give any feedback. Very few lucky writers will actually receive an offer. The second route for writers who cannot get a traditional deal, or who choose to forego the agony, is to self-publish. The invention of eBooks has made this into a cheap and easy alternative to paying upfront for a printing company to print hard and paperback copies of a book. Self-publishing can be pricey and requires the author to do a lot of marketing. A small number of self-published authors can make a living off of their book sales.
Some writers write for themselves and never plan to do anything with their novel, and some write with the goal of getting published. The most important tip to remember is that there is no publishing step if an author does not complete the first three steps carefully. Writing a strong story that is edited well should always be the goal. Unless a writer is a Pantster, it is important to properly plan out a novel, then write it well and edit it thoroughly.