How to Write a Novel

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Daily Deviation
Daily Deviation
January 30, 2010
How to Write a Novel by ~BarbecuedIguana is a great guide to something that often can help or hinder an new author: organization. This is a guide on how to organize your noveling endeavors from start to finish that I found very useful.
Featured by StJoan
Suggested by bekkia
BarbecuedIguana's avatar

Literature Text

Or at least how I plan to write my novels. Right now I'm tweaking a novel for release (aka Fine Drafting it). No matter how essential this step is, fine drafting a book doesn't feel like real writing, so I thought I would flex my writing muscles by trying to recapture what it took to bring this book into existence. What burbled up from the morass seemed about as wiry as Jeffy's run through gangland in the Family Circus cartoon that never made it to print (ask your parents kids). So. I decided to iron the process out and streamline the steps into what you might call "Ikea Instructions for Writing a Novel" a short simple guide to the mechanical side of bringing a book together.
One word of warning though, some of this is untested advice. It is a combination of the way I did it as well as the way I now see that I should have done it. Whether or not it actually works I won't know until after I write the next book. So take what you read here with a grain of salt.

Focus: Generate random ideas to be used in the story.
Technique: On your hard drive, in a folder full of other brainstorm files, create a new file (Title_Brainstorm.doc) and dump into it anything related to the story, splatting ideas down in any old fashion. This step may take a day or it may take years.
Visibility: Brainstorms are for your eyes only.
Goal: When you sincerely feel like this story is something you want to write – and not just dream about writing - move on to the next step.

Story Boarding
Focus: Take an eagle-eyed perspective on the story, emphasizing shape over substance.
Technique: Create a folder using the working title of the book and move your brainstorm into it. Create another file in this folder for your storyboards (Title_Storyboard1.doc).
Using your brainstorm for inspiration, group thoughts into scenes. Give each a working title and list related items beneath them.
Don't bother with florid descriptions or dialog unless they are coming to you naturally. Even then - try to keep your story boards small and tight – most of what you write here will be tossed out and never seen by anyone anyway.
Rearrange these scenes into an approximation of what the reader will be presented with by the book.
Visibility: It's okay to show your storyboards to other people, just so long as they know they're looking at storyboards and that you're still in the planning stage.
Goal: Create crude thumbnail sketches of the story. The step is finished when you have a basic idea of its beginning, middle, and end.

Rough Drafting
Focus: Discover the story for yourself by diving into the thick of it.
Technique: Create a new document in the folder (Title_RoughDraft1.doc). Using your storyboard as a guide, turn the scene titles into chapter titles and write your way through the story as quickly and crudely as possible. Write as if sitting at a typewriter with no correction ribbon. If you make a mistake or need to do some research or fact checking, lay down some brackets and note it to yourself [like so]. Whatever you do – do not start backing up and correcting things!
This is where you write with mad passion and wild abandon. If the story wanders away from your storyboard then let it. Shoot along the tangent. Have fun with it. See where it leads. This is the exploratory part of your writing.
If the tangent leads to a dead-end, reel back to a chapter where a different turn could have been made and write from there.
If you get to the middle of the book and find that you simply cannot continue because of all the changes that need to be made to the way it begins (which happens far too often) create a new document (Title_RoughDraft2.doc) and start writing from the top. You might even want to create a new storyboard (Title_StoryBoard2.doc) or rearrange the old one. Fine. This is the reason why these files are numbered, short, and crudely written.
Be lenient with yourself. Novels are not like short stories or poems. If you expend too much energy trying to make your rough draft seem like a final draft you will burn up your enthusiasm and the book will disintegrate. Try chanting this mantra as you write, "Rough drafts are supposed to be rough."
Visibility: Do not show your rough drafts to anyone – they're not done yet!
Goal: Write a complete draft that roughly depicts the entire story (not just the first half of the story followed by an outline of how it will end).

Plain Drafting
Focus: Be a tour guide to the story you have discovered.
Technique: Read though the rough draft and focus on the chapters. Chapters should generally be 10 to 30 pages in length. Break apart overly long chapters and provide them with new working titles.
Think about how the reader will receive the story and shuffle about the chapters to provide a dramatic opening, rising tension and a climactic ending. Strike out those chapters that don't need to be there and crudely write in the missing ones that do.
Use Find/Replace to track down your bracketed notes [remember these?] and consider what you left for yourself. Do research if necessary. List important notes for the rewriting of a chapter just beneath the chapter title.
Create a new document (Title_PlainDraft1.doc) and write out the plain draft using your rough draft as a guide. Read a chapter in the rough draft and then write a chapter in the plain draft. Even if the writing is extremely good, do not simply cut/paste text from the rough draft to the plain draft. Yes, you need to rewrite everything.
Unlike the rough draft, let yourself make large error fixes, such as erasing whole paragraphs that just don't work. Avoid making smaller error fixes such as fixing misspellings, changing sentence structure, or hitting the thesaurus to find just the right word. The plain draft should not be as fast and crude as the rough draft, but it should still move at a quick pace.
On the rare chance that your plain draft falls to pieces - just as with the rough draft – create a new document (Title_PlainDraft2.doc) and start over from the top.
Visibility: Finished plain drafts can be workshopped with other writers who are talented in their craft. Here is where you could use some critical feedback.
Goal: When you get to THE END of the plain draft you're done.

Fine Drafting
Focus: Finely tune the story at hand.
Technique: If you haven't done so already, you might want to shift this project to the side burner and go work on something else, perhaps the start or finish of some other project slid off to the side burner long ago (but not the "back burner" only hopeless projects get pushed to the back burner). Purge your thoughts of the current story so you can return to it with a fresh eye.
Read through the plain draft (try not to vomit), write notes on each chapter below the chapter headings, create a new document (Title_FineDraft1.doc) and rewrite the plain draft in the same way you rewrote the rough draft: read a chapter - write a chapter. Don't be surprised if you find yourself relying less and less on the previous draft for guidance as the story will probably be quite firmly entrenched in your imagination.
Give yourself the leeway to fix errors but still be wary of cyclical writing (which will screw you up every time). Hopefully you won't need to write more than one fine draft, but if the story is still not to your liking then create a new file, number it and rewrite it.
Visibility: Fine drafts you can safely show to your friends but not the general public.  
Goal: When you feel confident showing the fine draft to your confidants then you are done.

The Final Draft
Focus: Make your story the greatest thing ever written.
Technique: Thankfully, this is not an actual draft (listen to your fingertips rejoice). Make a copy of the last fine draft you wrote and rename it (Title_TheFinalDraft.doc).
Now read it through, from beginning to end, whispering the text to yourself and making a point of exaggerating the movement of  your lips and tongue as if enunciating each word out loud. This will slow you down and hopefully draw your attention to all those little demonic words – articles, prepositions, conjunctions, etc. - that so easily get out of whack.
Focus on each paragraph as a separate entity. Every time you make a change to a paragraph return to its beginning and start reading it again. Continue cycling through this paragraph until you can enunciate the entire thing without a hitch - then move on to the next paragraph.
Correct grammar is good, but being able to read your work aloud without embarrassing yourself is so much better.
Visibility: The final draft is the one you want the world to see.
Goal: The book you want!

Final File Rundown
Aside from all the support files you'll probably accumulate (image files, maps, bits of text, character profiles, etc.) here is what you'll probably end up with in your project folder. Ultimately only the final draft truly matters, but it doesn't hurt to keep the old stuff around too.

2013 Update
Believe it or not, but I still write this way and it is still working for me - to a degree.

I've come to the realization that it does demand a brutal amount of typing, especially for book length works, so what I have been doing lately is what I call an Audio Rough. Instead of typing my way through the rough draft (as if on a typewriter :D ) I record myself speaking my way through it.

I go someplace quiet (aka away from people who will wonder what the hell I am up to) and using my storyboards as a guide I focus on sincerely trying to see what is happening inside my head and then babbling out whatever it takes to capture it on audio (using the pause button whenever I have to stop and think).

Just like a typewritten rough draft, the recording process forces me to constantly go forward, but unlike typing it is not weighed down by words so my imagination has more room to wander. Oh yeah. And it is also a hell of a lot faster to do and easier on the fingers.

Once finished I go back and listen to what I recorded. I write pertinent notes into my storyboards, flush them out into (groan but yes) an outline. Rearrange scenes and make changes if needed. Then I use this as a guide for the Plain Draft - which now becomes the first actually typewritten draft.

So far, recording an audio draft has worked great, but I have yet to use it with an actual full length book so consider it still experimental.  

If you need some free and excellent audio software google Audacity.
It explains itself
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Destyya's avatar
amelia-nite's avatar
I really like your idea, but I prefer my method still. Someone mentioned yWriter5 to me last month and I haven't turned back. It's also free and quick to download. It has all the same techniques as your idea. So I don't have to go into a long, detailed outline of what each compartment of yWriter5 has, I'll just post some links.

Link 1:…
      Rose Red Bullet - F2U! this link allows you to see screenshots
Link 2:…
      Rose Red Bullet - F2U! this link tells you about it.
Link 3:…
      Rose Red Bullet - F2U! this link shows you multiple things around the board.
Link 4:…
      Rose Red Bullet - F2U! this link shows you what you can do with your characters. Of course, you still need a folder for just images to load them up.

I understand if you're not comfortable with this system, but this is just my way of doing things. Don't get me wrong, I do respect your choice. I don't want you to change your way if you're not comfortable. This just works with your same format, only it's all in one spot instead of multiple folders (I used to do that the same way until I found this method) or documents.

P.S.--You can have as many chapters and scenes as you want with this story, so you can have:
        Brainstorm [would be listed as Outline (where 'Status' is) when you go under the 'Details' tab after opening up the scene;
                      you can change

        RoughDraft1 (It would just be labeled Draft in the same spot as Outline--remember: you can create as many as you want
                      of this as you can change the scene name to whatever you need it to be).

        PlainDraft1 (Would be labeled 'Edit 1' in the same spot as Outline)
        FineDraft1 (Would be labeled 'Edit 2' in the same spot as Outline)
all in one chapter. That way, you're not having multiple folders or documents open/created.

Again, this is just my way of doing things. You way is your way. I am just here to explain my thoughts. I hope you don't take any of thoughts as an offence, as this is just my idea.
strawberrynekos's avatar
I'm trying this out now and it's been working really well so far. I actually feel like I can finally finish a novel because I know that the story is worthy. :excited: I thank you muchly for this, it's been a terrific help for me.
BarbecuedIguana's avatar
Thanks! I hope it works out :-)
strawberrynekos's avatar
I hope it does too :-)
brighteyedsiren's avatar
I've been looking for new ways to organize my ideas and plan out my stories. This could be helpful. It's a good guide. Thanks for making it. :)
sunnycustard's avatar
There is no "right" or "wrong" way to write a novel, but this is certainly the most organized way.
BarbecuedIguana's avatar
Ultimately, what's right or wrong is what works best for oneself. This is what works for me now. Twenty years ago? I doubt I could have talked myself into doing it.
sunnycustard's avatar
True. Personally, what I do is write down a basic list of what I want to happen and then expand the list until I have a collect of scenes and that I continue to expand the scenes until I have a chapter.
sunnycustard's avatar
My stories tend to end up being about 8 chapters long
xEternalSkyx's avatar
Oh my god I've been looking for something like this since forever *insert dances of happiness*
inknalcohol's avatar

You've been featured in #Beta-Readers' very first Resource Feature.

Thank you for the wonderful resource!
writtenrhythm1's avatar
Great advice. I mostly write fanfiction (at least for now) and my way of writing is a bit different, but I found a lot of good stuff in here that I should remind myself to try next time I sit down to write. (Which shall be soon! :D ) I'm also glad to know I'm not the only who reads their writing aloud while editing! :)
gracefuldemon's avatar
I've always had the most trouble with Drafts. Especially the very first one.
You know? You're constantly thinking "I can certainly make better than this, so why am I writing so terribly?" but at the same time you know you need it! >.<
Ugh! So stressing!

I had never really thought about making severam drafts, I usually write one and then separate it into chapters. The idea of rewriting it two more times makes sence to me, though. The story will surely be far more interesting and consistent.
Thank you for the tutorial. :+fav:
BarbecuedIguana's avatar
No problem, glad you like it!

Seriously, that's one of my favorite hidden reasons for saving drafts into different files. It saves me from the "please don't let me screw this up in rewriting it anxiety." So even though I almost never end up going back to a previous draft to reclaim some good swatch of writing, the idea that I could if I needed to allows me to be more adventurous with the writing that I do.
gracefuldemon's avatar
Still... It is so HARD! >.<
Does it get easier after the first draft?
BarbecuedIguana's avatar
Yes. Absolutely.
The trick though, is letting go of that draft when you go to work on the next one, and this is where "hard work" can be quite dangerous. It's very easy to get attached to something that a lot of work went into. Once you begin to cherish the words on page - those become words you're not going to be able to change.
gracefuldemon's avatar
Oh, I am glad!
I am just working on my first book and it is... very difficult at the moment! >.<
So, I must write carelessly (regarding to grammar and so) but get to the point quickly.
Got it!
Thanks! :hug:
Half-A-Star's avatar
THIS. This is perfect! I feel like I can let out a sigh of relief now. I only ever used to get half way through a story because I'm kind of anal and tried to make the first draft perfect. I'm just at the brainstorming part of an idea I really love and now it won't end up in my 'inactive stories' folder.
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