The 25 Step Guide to Writing a Novel

The 25 Step Guide to Writing a NovelPhoto license

So you’re thinking of writing a novel and don’t find 25 steps intimidating. Good for you. You’re being realistic about the time it will take. What follows are the steps I eventually used while writing my first novel, Homicidal Tendencies.

Most of the steps will require both writing and editing. If you’re new to writing, it can help a lot if you do every step until you get used to the process. You should be certain each step is complete before moving to the next. Edit until you’re sure it’s ready.

On the other hand, you’ll be a faster writer if you don’t get hung up on any one step. Do what you can and move on to the next. One of the secrets to fast writing is learning to get things done fast and sloppy (writing) and then returning later to make it better (editing).

1. The Slug Line

This can be a single sentence describing the book or all the text that would go on the back of a book jacket. I usually keep this at the top of my outline because it’s not big enough to deserve its own file. As you write your book, you will keep improving your slug line.

2. The Synopsis

One to ten pages describing the book with no secrets held back. It doesn’t need to cover every chapter. A novel synopsis should show all major plot threads and turning points. A non-fiction synopsis should show all major topics and the main purpose of the book.

3. The Bullet Outline

Break the book down to one line of text for each chapter. If there’s too much going on in a chapter to cut it to one line, you may have two chapters. The exception is red text you place there temporarily until you can move it to the outline. You will use the bullet outline to find your way around your book when you need to make changes. Proper grammar is not required here or in the outline.

4. The Outline

This needs to match the bullet outline but reveal all of the important characters or points that will be in each chapter. For novels, it should be possible to follow all the important threads. For non-fiction, it should be possible to follow how the topics flow through the book. One paragraph of two to ten lines per chapter should cover it, but go long when you must. Your goal is ten percent of the length of the book, which means about 10,000 words for a novel outline. Before moving on to the next step, make sure you have a full outline. Work it over now. These first four steps are short compared to the first draft. Now is your last chance to make changes before you have a 100,000 word document on your hands.

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The Easy Way to Detect Passive Voice

The Easy Way to Detect Passive Voice

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Passive voice weakens clarity. The difference between active and passive voice is the difference between things happening to a character and the character making things happen. You should write in active voice with only a few exceptions. What does this mean? Is there an easy way to detect passive voice?

Examples

First, some examples of active and passive voice.

Active: “The cook chopped the mushrooms.”
Passive: “The mushrooms were chopped by the cook.”

In the active voice, the subject is doing something or being something.

In the passive voice, the subject is being acted upon or having something done to them.

A longer example might help. Wally can’t get the internet to come up and destroys his computer system.

First, in passive voice.

“The internet wasn’t coming up for Wally. None of his links would load. The three hole punch was in his hand before he could think clearly. The speakers went flying. The keyboard got smashed and several letters flew off. The monitor cracked as the end of the punch hit it dead center.”

Now, in active voice.

“Wally couldn’t get the internet working. He clicked links that didn’t load. He had the three hole punch in his hand before he could think clearly. Wally smashed the speakers off the desk. He smashed the keyboard and letters went flying. He smashed the end of the punch into the monitor and cracked the screen.”

Mixed Active and Passive

Beware of mixing active and passive in the same sentence.

“Jim picked up the laundry and plans were made for the day.” The second part is passive and needs to be re-written. “Jim picked up the laundry and made plans for the day.”

When is Passive Voice Okay?

Passive is okay when what is acted upon is more important. “The warehouse was burned down sometime shortly after midnight.”

Passive is okay when the actor is unimportant. “The tidal bore can be seen at 8am and 8pm.”

Passive is also okay in technical and scientific papers where the person doing the acting is not mentioned. “The test was given to 452 subjects. Non-lethal doses of cyanide were injected in half the subjects. Sugar water was injected in the other half.”

Passive voice is also useful when an object becomes a subject. “The gamers decided to go with the SWAT team format for their new game design. The SWAT team concept had been written by Kyoshi.”

The take-away from this is to be sure the subject of a sentence is the one taking action rather than receiving it and you will easily detect passive voice.


Article by Ivan Izo.

Escape Endless Revision

Escape Endless Revision

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As any writer knows, it’s possible to revise forever. At some point you need to decide it’s done and move on to another project.

Two years ago, I found myself endlessly revising blog articles. The following two paragraphs outline my dilemma and solution.

I revise my writing too much. I know this because I find myself getting bored of endlessly revising articles. It seems like I’m going around and around the same group of 50 or 60 articles eternally. An article idea must have a couple of hundred words before I promote it to a first draft. The first draft must be worked on until it’s long enough and has all the components that make an article. Then, I have four revisions before I’m willing to call it finished. Even when I go through the finished articles, I won’t release them as blog posts until I’m certain they are good enough.

The endless revisions must end. But, I don’t want to stop writing. What to do? A different kind of writing is the answer. A different subject. A switch between fiction and non-fiction. A switch between articles and a book.

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Break Your Book Outline Into Scenes

Break Your Book Outline Into Scenes

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When you set out to write a book, it starts with an idea. It bounces around in your head for minutes, days, or months as it becomes a story. When you’ve thought the idea through to your satisfaction, you write a synopsis of one or more pages. You then expand that synopsis into a chapter by chapter outline. That can be all you need to write your book. But, you shouldn’t stop there. Break each chapter down into scenes.

Why would you want to plan your outline down to the scene level?

By writing the scenes for your chapters you will accomplish four things.

1. You limit how far your first draft moves away from the outline.

2. You will have an easy way to check that each chapter advances the story.

3. You give yourself a way to check that each chapter has tension.

4. You give yourself an easy way to revise the novel before you write it.

What am I talking about here? Maybe you write your outline as scenes anyway. If so, you already write a good outline. The longer your outline, the stronger it will be. A weak outline is short because the scenes aren’t written.

How about an example?

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Writer on Fire’s 10 Best Writing Tips

Writer on Fire's 10 Best Writing Tips

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Since 2010, I’ve written many writing tips. These are the ten best.

How to Take a Break While Writing is about writing more by using two writing projects as breaks from each other.

Write More By Reading Yourself is about how pieces you have written in the past can be written again if you’ve continued learning your subject.

Cut More and Improve Your Writing emphasizes the importance of cutting your writing to improve it.

What Are Your Writing Limits? is about pushing your limits by exploring different writing types and working on your skills in the various writing tasks.

Write What You Know discusses the full implications of this concept.

Are You Using Swipe Files? is about using examples of good writing to improve your work.

Create Tension in Your Writing discusses the importance of tension in fiction and suggests some ways to build it.

Fiction Genres looks at 14 movie genres to give you an idea of the many possibilities for a novel.

Great Start – Better Start Over is about recovering from a stalled writing project.

Stages of the Writing Process outlines the full 11 steps that can be used to complete a piece of writing.

These articles cover a variety of writing types. You’ll have to forgive me if fiction writing seems to predominate. It’s my favorite type of writing. I hope this helps.

Article by Ivan Izo.

How to Write Shorter Articles

How to Write Shorter Articles

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If you can answer a reader’s question in 500 words instead of 1000, you’re doing them and yourself a great favor. Most readers just want to know how to do something or learn something interesting about your blog topic.

That’s one reason to write short articles. There are others. It’s an easy way to start your day with writing because it gives you a feeling of accomplishment right away. Shorter articles also give you practice at cutting needless words and sentences.

There are several ways to write short articles.

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Six Proofreading Tips

Six Proofreading Tips

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After years of trial and error, I’ve gotten to where I combine proofreading with revision. Even though I never deliberately studied proofreading, my university papers were considered well proofed. You can pick up what you need to know by doing a lot of reading.

On the other hand, you may need to proofread now. For whatever reason, you may not have picked up the habit of proofreading effectively. First, I’ll explain my method and then list the tips.

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