How To Write A Novel: The First-Time Author's Course

To outline or not to outline

So far, we’ve been pretty rock’n’roll in structuring our writing; penning down anything that came to mind without any rules or regulations. And if you’re sticking to one-off short stories, that’s an excellent way to roll — but when it comes to writing a full-length novel, things do get a little trickier.

And again: I should know. My debut novel was quite the stack of papers, comprising some 96 chapters, over 150 named characters and tons of locations, languages and cultures. To be fair, that’s far more extensive than most books on your bookshelf, but even just a third of that gets pretty tough to keep track of in your brain cells alone.

Of course, that does put you in a bit of a pickle. After all, there’s no way for you to know your story start-to-finish, certainly not at this point in time. Most of it will come to you when you’re well underway, and a lot more when you’re halfway through the editing process. On the other hand: how can you start writing if you’re not quite sure where you’re going?

Breathe in, breathe out. The truth is: at this point in time, it really doesn’t matter all that much. Let me explain it to you in another video:

Let me repeat that once more: nothing you decide at this point is final. If you were to plan your entire story this instant, it would evolve so much that you’d have to come back and change it up sooner or later. If you decide to wing it, on the other hand, you’ll eventually hit a wall where you need to take a step back and think things through. However you decide to work, you’ll be going back and forth more times than you can count.

That being said, taking a moment to think your novel through is an excellent skill to have, so I’d like you to at least have tried. Let’s start by dipping our toe in the water:

For the first three chapters of your novel, write a short outline in which you describe the main events.

This is about as basic an outline as it gets: two or three sentences describing the most important things that happen in each chapter. You could do it on a napkin, for all I care, because that’s precisely what it should be: disposable. And should you find a more exciting plotline, or wish to gender-swap your protagonist, or even throw out the whole thing and start out fresh: do what you must and don’t look back. This is your novel, after all, and you can take it anywhere you damn well please.

Once you have your outline finished, let’s get to the good part.

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About the author

Creator of Nearly Complete and author of Dav Iven. Very fond of semicolons.

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about the teacher

Creator of Nearly Complete and author of Dav Iven. Very fond of semicolons.

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