Master the art of storytelling with Contra. Discover how to write a novel with our step-by-step guide and get expert tips for breaking into the literary world.
Got a bestseller bouncing around in your head that you want to put on paper? If you have a way with words and dream about seeing them fill a book but don’t know where to start, this one’s for you.
First things first: There are no rules set in stone when it comes to figuring out how to write a novel. For beginners, it’s not unlike learning how to swim — the best way is to hop in the water. This step-by-step guide will help you do just that, with tips for creating a powerful narrative from start to finish.
What is a novel? 📖
Every story has a name, but what exactly makes it a novel? Traditionally, they’re narrative works of fiction that focus on the human experience and typically have between 75,000 and 100,000 words. The novel most historians consider to be the world’s first is “The Tale of Genji,” a Japanese classic written by Murasaki Shikibu roughly a thousand years ago.
Ready to follow in Murasaki’s footsteps and write one for the ages? Before you set off on your literary journey, take some time to prep yourself for the experience:
Preparing to write a novel ✏️
Think about your favorite books. What genres do you gravitate to? What characters grab you, make you laugh, and stay up too late? To craft a fantastic story, choose elements of storytelling you’re passionate about and read books within those categories to see how those authors did it.
Not only will you identify trends and tropes, but you’ll also gain a deeper understanding of what’s already been done (and overdone). Reading bestsellers in your favorite genres also helps to get the rhythm in you and develop who you are as a writer — your tone, voice, and style that readers will one day recognize as unique to you.
10 steps for writing a novel 💻
Creative writing is a journey, one that’s meant to be savored every step of the way. These 10 tips will guide you, from brainstorming an initial idea to figuring out the setting, characters, point of view, plotline, and structure.
Ready to get started? Here’s how to write a novel like a pro:
1. Brainstorm ideas 🧠
This is arguably one of the most enjoyable parts. Now’s when you let your imagination run wild! Consider scenarios (if you don’t already have one), themes, and worlds that captivate you. Think about what excites you and sparks your creativity. What resonates with you, your interests and passions, and what may grab readers’ attention?
2. Solidify the important details 🧊
Now it’s time to make some decisions. You can always change things later, but providing a few touchpoints will allow you to move on to the next steps. Select your main story idea and establish in what world your narrative will unfold. Choose the period and setting, and jot down all the nitty-gritty details. This is the foundation for the rest of your novel, including the plot and characters.
3. Create relatable characters 👪
Develop key players, like a main character with whom your audience can identify. Give them authentic emotions, back stories, desires, needs, and flaws, and determine their goals and motivations. How will they develop and change throughout your novel? Complex, multidimensional characters, each with their own character arc, help readers establish emotional connections with your work, and drive the narrative forward.
4. Establish a point of view (POV) 🔍
Decide whether you’ll write in the first, second, or third person (I, you, or they). This choice may depend on your preferred narrative style, which might be dictated by the type of novel you’re writing. Different POVs offer different perspectives and levels of intimacy — pick the one that conveys your characters’ experiences most effectively.
5. Outline the structure 👷
Writing complex fiction that makes sense to the reader can be challenging, but by creating a detailed roadmap for your story, you’ll establish the central conflict and organize your plan of what and when to reveal plot points and other details.
- Condense your overarching idea into one sentence. This is your storyline, which will keep you accountable to a core narrative.
- Create an outline, including an inciting incident, climax, and resolution.
- Break the narrative into acts — many authors structure these acts around the incident, climax, and resolution, but there are no hard rules.
- Break down individual scenes for each act while keeping the characters' personas, needs, and struggles in mind.
- Add interesting and unexpected conflict to the outline — how will they get out of this one? This will help keep readers engaged.
6. Craft a mind-blowing ending 💥
Plan a memorable conclusion to satisfy readers and leave a lasting impact. Tie up loose ends, resolve conflicts, and deliver a powerful finale that rewards readers’ emotional investment in your story. Work on this for as long as it takes until you get it just right.
7. Write your first draft ✍️
Get your story down on paper (or computer), and remember to kick things off with an outstanding first chapter. This hooks the reader and ensures they continue reading. Immerse yourself in the creative process and let the story flow; perfection comes later. Review this draft yourself without outside input.
8. Write your second draft ✌️
Edit your first draft, refining your story. Address inconsistencies, plot holes, character issues, and any parts you dislike. At this stage, ask others for feedback and consider their opinions. Their input will help you write a better novel by learning about the parts that don’t make sense. If you need assistance with editing or proofreading, consider hiring an Independent on Contra’s commission-free platform.
9. Review what you’ve got so far 👀
Step away from your early drafts — you’ll gain a fresh perspective when you return to them. Consider the novel’s clarity, character development, world-building, pacing, conflict, and more. Are they engaging, coherent, and enjoyable? Are you enjoying spending time in your world?
10. Revise, revise, revise 🚧
Writing a great novel requires extensive revision. While some books are successful after only a few drafts, most need many. There’s no set number — write and rewrite your story until you (and your editor) are satisfied. Then, it’s ready to be presented to publishers.
4 tips for writing a novel 💡
The novel-writing process is exciting and challenging. The more you prepare, the better, but the only way to know if you can do it is to sit down and write!
To write an impactful novel without losing your inspiration (or your mind), try these tips:
Take regular breaks 🏖️
As tempting as it is to write for hours on end, sometimes you need to take a break. Spending time away from your work helps avoid burnout and lets you look at your story from new perspectives. Try getting out for a daily walk — it’s great for stretching your legs and working out any roadblocks you may be experiencing.
Establish a writing routine ⏰
Set aside dedicated times for writing. This is integral to making progress and can help you set achievable goals. Share your progress with friends, family, and coworkers to keep yourself accountable.
Avoid “purple prose” 🥀
“Purple prose,” which is overly ornate language, is distracting for readers. Aim instead for clear, concise writing that contributes to the overall progression of your novel’s narrative.
Do your research 📚
Putting effort into researching helps avoid errors that can turn readers off. Accuracy is vital for building a believable world. This is particularly important if you are writing about a setting, period, or culture that is not your own.
Achieve your writing goals with Contra 🚀
Remember — writing your first novel is a process! Focus on your goals, and trust in your vision and ability to tell a compelling story.
If there is a novel in you just waiting to get out, it’s time to leave your fears behind. And Contra is here to help. Our platform is the perfect place to find strategic partners for editing and elevating your work, including ghostwriters.
If you’re not quite ready to hire, join Contra’s vibrant Slack community to connect with like-minded writers and discuss your craft.
The world is waiting to read your masterpiece — so pick up your pen and get going.