Writing Fiction: 4 Tips To Help You To Begin Your Novel

Thinking about writing fiction? I’ve had questions from freelance writers who want to spend their sudden free time writing a novel.

One writer, a former freelance writing student, said she’s tried writing fiction during NaNoWriMo, but hasn’t published a novel yet.

She wants some help. “How do I write a good novel? What’s the secret?” She asked.

Writing fiction: start writing

The only secret I know is: start writing. Keep writing. Every novel you write is different. As long as you have a story you’re telling and keep writing, you’ll do well.

Initially, focus on your story. I encourage my students to write a blurb as soon as possible for this reason. Story and plot are different things. Start with your story. Your plot is what your characters do to achieve the goals of the story.

(More on story and plot below.)

Here are some tips to help.

1. Write a book journal: set your word count

Please create a book journal; either handwritten, or on your computer or phone. When you’re writing a novel, you’re trying to keep 1001 thoughts, insights and ideas in your head. You can’t; no one can. So journal! 🙂

If you’re a freelance writer you’re way ahead of non-writers when you write fiction. You know how words work; you have a reasonable facility with them.

Writing fiction demands a change of mindset: you’re imagining—daydreaming your story to life. Shove your normal, logical, everyday mindset into neutral and daydream.

Your book journal helps you to turn on your imagination. It’s a safe space to allow your imagination to soar and play WHAT IF.

I encourage my fiction writing students to set a daily word count. Start low: 50 words is fine. Write your 50 words in a paper journal or in Scrivener or MS Word—anywhere you choose.

2. Collect ideas—lots of them

In this post, Writing Fiction: 4 Ways To Find Bestselling Ideas, we looked at ways to find ideas.

Ideas are everywhere; they provide inspiration for your novels. Whenever something catches your attention, jot it down in a sentence or two.

3. Focus on story first, then on plot

You should be able to sum up your story in a sentence: a faithless husband who married for money hires a hit man to kill his wealthy, unsuspecting wife.

Your sentence should:

  • Intrigue readers;
  • Set the story question;
  • Evoke emotion.

Check out IMDb for examples of story summaries. Here’s the Shawshank Redemption’s summary: two imprisoned men bond over a number of years, finding solace and eventual redemption through acts of common decency.

4. Plot scene by scene: your plot is what your characters do

To repeat: Your plot is what your characters DO.

Plot in scenes. You may have heard that fiction is show and tell. Scenes are the “showing” part.

I’m fond of saying that a scene is “a unit of action.” Yes, I know… that’s probably as clear as mud. 🙂 This means that a scene happens in real time. You and your reader inhabit your Point of View (POV) character; you’re seeing what the POV character sees, touching what he touches, and feeling what he feels.

Vital: something changes in a scene, always.

Getting back to our story summary: a faithless husband who married for money hires a hit man to kill his wealthy, unsuspecting wife… Let’s imagine that it’s time to plot the story.

Keeping my favorite fiction writing mantra in mind, “write in scenes”, you might jot ideas for the first couple of scenes. (BTW, don’t over-think this. Write! Change it later. ;-))

  • Scene 1: the faithless husband (call him Bob), is a lawyer. He’s representing a killer. In this scene, the jury finds the killer not guilty. Bob knows he IS guilty. The killer’s grateful and says: “Bob, anything you want from me, just name it.”
  • Scene 2: Bob and Jane, his wife, are giving a dinner party for Bob’s boss. The scene is from Jane’s point of view. She’s terrified of Bob, who treats her with complete contempt and is violent. At the end of the scene, she’s made up her mind to leave him.

I’m a pantser, rather than a plotter, so with a story summary and a couple of scenes in mind, I start writing a novel. You can keep imagining scenes if you wish—it’s up to you.

Just keep writing.

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