A novel takes a long time to write, possibly years. You want to be sure you have enough story. There are steps you can take to better your chances. Let’s get started.
First, work on developing the central characters and places. It’s better to have too much story behind each than not enough. You don’t need to use every idea, but it’s good to have lots of ideas.
Second, decide what genre will work best with your story. If you’re exploring the causes of violence, a thriller or detective novel will work. If your protagonist is searching for the meaning of life, a drama or romance is a better fit.
Third, start with an outline. It is the best tool for ensuring you have a novel length story.
How do you develop those back stories? Several ways.
Write short stories from the world of your future novel. How did the characters meet? How did they pick their careers? What are their homes like? Who are their friends and relatives? What are the ongoing relationships between characters?
Good short stories have conflicts. Inner conflicts. Relationship conflicts. Economic conflicts. Bad weather. Bad products. Bad people. Happy people having an easy time of it is not a story. Unhappy people trying to get what they want and having a hard time – that’s a story.
The more short stories you can write about the world of the novel, the better you will be able to visualize it as a real world with real people when you write.
Character bios for people in your novel are different than short stories about them. Bios tell about their upbringing, education, jobs, successes, failures, family, friends, even appearance and personality. What are their addictions? Mental disorders? For every clinical mental disorder, there are mild forms. Does the character sometimes get depressed, have anger management issues, sleep with too many people?
Character bios also establish friends, relatives, dependents, and pets. Real lives are cluttered. Fictional characters need to have lots going on too.
Describing a business gives you more options for your story. For example, let’s say your story has a thread involving two guys who do roofing. If you haven’t worked on the business model for their roofing company, every scene with them will be two guys in a truck or working on a roof. Thinking about the business gives you options for other scenes. Someone must answer the phone for the roofing company. They must buy their materials somewhere. They will need to get rid of the old roofing material. These are all extra scene locations and that makes the story more interesting.
Some businesses will have an impact on your story. Is the money rolling in and life is good for the characters? Is it failing and the characters feel doomed? How professional is the business? How amateur?
Identify your passions as a way to identify what you will want to write. You will be writing your novel over a long period of time. If you hate winter, don’t set your novel in the wintertime.
Any hobby or job that has been a passion for you is good material for your novel. You already know the subject. Use what you know.
Genre? What genres do you read? Your novel should be one of those. If you want to write sci-fi and never read sci-fi, it’s time to start. The danger is not that the story has already been told. Every story has already been told. The danger is that you write a story that’s been done to death. There are already enough stories about our ancient ancestors being from a crashed spaceship, for example. It won’t help that they traveled back in time from our future.
To get to know a new genre, buy the bestsellers. Search for the best authors in the genre and get familiar with their books. You will get to know exactly what will sell in that genre.
An outline should be about ten percent of the length of your future book. There’s no way to know in advance whether you will write ten times as much on the first draft, but you need to start somewhere. Once you write your first novel, you will know the ratio.
I’ve been told I don’t write enough examples. I’ll give you examples of what I write in my bullet outline and outline. This is from a chapter in my book. A bullet outline is a point form outline of one or two sentences per chapter.
Gore Me. Norm passes his apartment list to Richard.
Richard, Benni, and Norm meet at a screening of a Japanese action horror movie at their friend Doug’s, where they can talk. Norm suggests setting up their dealers with actual addresses. He has a printout of current vacant lots and their apartment substitutions. Even has a business picked for a front (laundromat). They wonder how to deal with fights between the owner’s of different crime rings. Real time or a ring only exists when they’re signed in?
That chapter outline of 76 words took 600 words to write out in the first draft. That’s about as predicted.
These are some of the elements in choosing your future novel. If you make it all the way to the outline step, you’ve probably made your choice.
This is just my opinion based on my own writing studies and practice. There are other ways to write a novel.
Many writers only write the outline and then their novel. I’m thinking of making that switch myself. Planning is not writing.
There are also many writers who even skip the outline and just write their novels. Too short? Too long? Didn’t work out? So what? They’re writing the next one now.
How do you pick your next novel? Do you use an outline?
Article by Ivan Izo.
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