Not long ago, I went to Google and typed this into the search field:
“How to Write a Novel.”
In a split second, I received over 1,540,000,000 results. That’s 1.5 billion results on how to write a novel.
I wet through the first couple of pages and found the following:
- How to Write and Sell Your First Novel
- How to Write a Novel: Writing an AMAZING Book in 15 Steps
- How NOT to Write a Novel: 7 Things that will Doom Your Novel
- How to Write a Novel: Advice for New Writers
I then went on one of the most popular fiction writing groups on Facebook and posted the same question.
Here are a couple of the 147 responses I received in the first two days:
“Best way to start is to start. Don’t worry about the outcome now. Don’t think about it. Just write.”
“Take a pen and write.Forget everything else. Eventually things will fall into place.”
The problem with the internet today is everything we ever wanted to know (and many things we never wanted to know) is at our fingertips. We can get answers or opinions to whatever question we want in a matter of seconds.
To me, that’s both good and bad.
It’s good, because if I have a SPECIFIC question and need to find an answer, it’s easy to do. Just “Google it,” and you’ll find your answer reasonably quickly.
It’s terrible because, If I have a GENERIC question like How to write a novel, you’ll receive billions of results with Google, or ridiculous answers and opinions inside Facebook groups. Simply put, trying to find an answer to How to Write a Novel shouldn’t be this difficult.
Here’s what I found after spending more time working through the answer to How to write a novel.
All of the writers who have had significant success as fiction writers NEVER asked that question.
The successful writers took a much more natural, much faster, and much simpler approach.
Instead of boiling the ocean and trying to decipher what it means or asking a bunch of advice-giving trolls on social media… they STARTED WITH THE BASICS.
There’s a simple innocent-sounding 2-word phrase that I’ve seen keep fiction writers stuck in place for years.
“If I just write, won’t I eventually finish with a novel?”
Here’s the funny thing about those two words…
We tell ourselves, “Just write” sooo much early on in our careers as fiction writers that we keep believing it LONG after it’s proven not to work.
I have a conversation like this on a weekly basis now:
Writer Friend: I wrote 40,000 words last month.
Me: Great! How do you feel about them?
Writer Friend: Okay. We’ll see if they turn into anything.
Me: What…do you mean? That’s like half a manuscript.
Writer Friend: Yeah, but…
OMG. Why do we believe in “just write” anymore?
Who has the time these days to just write willy nilly, and HOPE your words turn into a novel? Where’s the process here?
“But Mike,” you say, “I literally have no idea where to begin, so I just write.”
Awesome. I can’t fault you there. If you read my last email and remember the 1.5 billion results thing, I don’t blame you. It’s nearly impossible to find a straightforward answer these days, and downright overwhelming to find a specific enough answer to most general questions. But, just write, is still not the answer.
The truth is, ANYONE can write a novel. It’s more about IF what you write is readable. Not because you won’t get better at putting together a sentence with words, because you eventually will, so “just write” makes sense. I’ll give you that, but using “just write” as an answer to learning HOW TO CREATE THE STORY, is ludicrous, yet those are the answers many saw so-called “writers” gave beginners in my last email.
Let’s be clear about two things:
1. “Writing” is what you do AFTER you’ve created a story idea in your head, or if you’re a prolific planner, a complete novel outline.
2. Everybody outlines or uses some sort of story structure in their work. EVERYBODY. Outliner or seat of your pants writer.
If you believe number one and two from above, and you should because it’s true, why aren’t we trying to help the beginner writers by explaining the basics of writing fiction, instead of lazily dropping the “just write” B.S.?
Why do many writers feel defeated when looking for steps on how to create a novel when it shouldn’t be sooo difficult?
Well, I hope to put some of that difficulty to rest.
Your Solution to “Just Write”
If you’ve followed Fiction Formula long enough, you know we are all about the thriller genre. We’re also all about the basics every writer should know before they put pen to paper.
Earlier in this post, I brought up the frustration of never being able to find a straightforward answer to:
How to Write a Novel
I showed you how Google has 1,540,000 results on How to Write a Novel, and I listed some of those so-called solutions websites are touting these days. They were less than helpful, in my opinion, and the entire situation a bit overwhelming.
I then showed you some of the results I received (147 answers at the time of the posting and now 181) I received when I posted the same How to Write a Novel on a super popular (100k+ member) fiction writers Facebook group.
The answers here were concerning to me considering a few of the “writers” who replied had some clout in the group, and their responses were downright wrong.
Now, I’m going to show you the NON-LAZY version of the “just write” answer some FB writers give so many of us, and a simple answer to Googles 1.5 billion results you would receive if you typed in, How to Write a Novel.
To be sure I’ve covered EVERYONE at EVERY STAGE of novel creation, I’m going to provide you the same solution to two scenarios.
Scenario #1 – You’ve written a novel or most of one and aren’t sure if it holds water.
Scenario #2 – You have an idea for a novel, and you aren’t sure where to begin.
First, the solution.
Then how to apply that solution to either scenario.
ALL story follows a specific path. It doesn’t matter what genre of a story or in what medium a story is delivered; they all follow a particular, time tested, and proven path. It’s called a story structure.
In the early years of writing, story structure was referred to as the three-act structure, referred to today as Aristotle’s Three-Acts in most circles.
Today, there are several versions of story structure, but one of the most popular and the one we follow at Fiction Formula is the version of four parts of story structure created by author Larry Brooks. Though the entire creation of Brook’s story structure is enough to write a non-fiction book of its own, and he has, today, we’re going to follow the basic points Brooks established as being required in any story.
Scenario #1 (1 hour completion time) – You’ve written a novel or most of one and aren’t sure if it holds water.
Let’s say you’ve completed a novel, and you’re not sure the story is told correctly (structurally speaking), or maybe you’ve received feedback the story is missing something, or perhaps YOU just know it’s total crap. It happens. A straightforward way to make sure your story is following the proper structure is to check up on the points of the story that HAVE to be there, and not only there, but in the right spot.
If the below milestones of structure are NOT in your current manuscript or in the wrong place, you need to fix it, before you fix anything else.
Scenario #2 (1 hour completion time) – You have an idea for a new novel and are not sure how or where to begin.
For me, this is an easier scenario for a number of reasons, but the main one is I don’t want to spend the time it takes to write a complete manuscript to realize the story is terrible. Using the below points of structure BEFORE you write will ensure you have an complete story (structurally speaking) and one that would be interesting once told.
First, write a short synopsis of the story as you hope to tell it.
Next, using the synopsis as a guide, write down a Hook and the Final Confrontation/Climax.
After completing that step, start from the beginning and work your way through the entire story filling in the First Plot Point, First Pinch Point, Midpoint, Second Pinch Point, and Second Plot Point. A couple of sentences, to a small paragraph will suffice.
Once you’re finished you can spend all the time you want recreating the seven milestones of structure until you’re satisfied you have a solid story. There are an untold many of pinch and plot points. You may have come up with more than one. Switch them out and analyze your story points to see which you like better.
To me, there is nothing better than creating and visualizing the entire story at this point. I could sit and day dream scenes in my head around the story points for hours.
Here are the milestones you need to use for each scenario:
Hook – 1% mark of your story
Definition – Hook your readers with an engaging beginning.
Example – A mysterious death, a ruthless killer, or a twisted crime.
First Plot Point – 25% mark of your story
Definition – The point of no return for your Protagonist
Example – The moment the story becomes personal for the Protagonist. He IS moving forward.
First Pinch Point – 37% mark of your story
Definition – An in your face reminder of the antagonistic forces FIRST hand
Example – The Antagonist makes yet another move against the Protagonist. This could be another murder or a set-up for another murder.
Midpoint – 50% mark of your story
Definition – The Protagonist has an eye-opening moment and realizes what the Antagonist is after.
Example – A major clue or evidence is found revealing the core issue.
Second Pinch Point – 62% mark of your story
Definition – Feeling the heat, the Antagonist makes a plan to fight the Protagonist.
Example – The Antagonist gets set to kill again, and this time the target is someone close to the Protagonist.
Second Plot Point – 75% mark of your story
Definition – The Protagonist learns something new that takes him one major step closer to finding the Antagonist.
Example – The Protagonist learns the true identity of the Antagonist.
Final Confrontation/Climax – 88-98% mark of your story
Definition – The Antagonist and the Protagonist face off in one final confrontation.
Example – There is a fight to the death with both parties.
Part of the excitement of writing a novel is the creation process. Whether you’re in scenario #1 or scenario #2, take the time to make sure your structure is correct. Not only will you no longer feel overwhelmed or defeated in your attempt to write a novel, but you’ll feel energized at your progress.