Tips on Writing Your First Novel

A novel is a form of prose; a fictional narrative about characters and their experiences. The word originates from the Italian term “novella,” which means “short story,” and often refers to prose more than forty-thousand words in length. Due to the sheer length of novels, they are considered by some fiction writers to be the pinnacle of the art.

Many new writers can be daunted by the challenge of writing a novel because of how the art form is viewed in the modern literary sphere. Even so, it is not impossible for new writers to create masterpieces enjoyed by millions worldwide; in fact, such occurrences are quite common. All it takes is the proper investment of skill, resources, and dedication.

Because a novel is fictional – though it can be based on reality – the first challenge when writing one of any genre is the same challenge met when writing any fictional story: the setting. The first task of the writer is to come up with a mythos; a set of rules to serve as the framework of the fictional world the characters inhabit. This set includes the geography of the world, a relevant history, social dynamics, cultures, technological advancements, etc. When coming up with a setting, the writer also takes note of how much time elapses from the beginning of the novel to its closure. A good setting will never stray from the rules unless the plot requires it to, and even in such situations, this is done in accordance to another rule in the mythos.

Once the fictional world is created, the novelist’s next step is to fill it with characters. This means not just the main cast of the story, but the general public that they encounter. For example, it is one thing to write about a man in a marketplace, but a completely different level to write about “a man in a marketplace filled workers – some carrying crates and some checking lists – whilst he haggled with a merchant over a kilo of fish.” A novelist may also add more characters to the scene, such as a beggar on the corner of the street dressed in muddy, brown rags. Skilled writers never neglect the background characters, because they help build the atmosphere of the place and time they are placed in. With regards to the characters the novel revolves around: Depth is necessary. It is very hard to enjoy a novel where the antagonist is pure evil (unless the mythos demands it to be). The most loved characters in writing are those with more than one face; a good father with a past as an alcoholic, a priest who committed murder as a child, or a sociopathic killer who genuinely loves and cares for a daughter who doesn’t know he exists. Depth of character makes it harder to love the good, and to hate the bad of the individual. It makes the character seem more real, and allows the reader to connect that much more intently with the story.

The third requirement to writing a good novel is plot. This refers to the events that drive the characters, building up tension until a climax is reached, and then releasing it to come to a conclusion. Some novelists may choose to write the story over time & with no clear end in sight. Others may have an entire storyline in mind, and merely have to transfer thoughts to paper. The conclusion may not necessarily be clear as well; open-ended conflicts tend to stir intense emotions among readers. A good plot, whether original or with a recurring theme, drives the cast of characters from one event to the next until they collectively lead to one important climax.

Finally, when the setting, characters, and plot come together, all that is left is to organize everything in the pages what is to become of the book. Writers will often do this in an outline form before actually writing the first draft of the story to make sure everything adds up. Once done, the novelist writes and edits the draft. During this phase, it is advisable to not shy away from rewriting and revising the draft as many times as necessary until the entire work is consistent with itself, and all errors are eliminated. Though long and tedious, this process guarantees that no corners are cut with regards to the quality of the written content.

Writing a good novel is no easy task. Many writers tend to get discouraged in the middle of the story when it dawns on them just how much work needs to be done. In fact, some novels require years to complete (J. R. R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings took 18 years to write and publish). However, time and effort often pays off, and novels drive the writer’s own created world into full view of the public. Many writers continue to write novels even if such success is not their goal however; the idea of having breathed life into paper is enough for them. That is after all, the true reason of the novel.