How To Write Your First Novel

Factors to consider when sitting down to write your first novel.

When I was very young, I was lucky enough to have a school visit from Michael Rosen. He said something that will stick with me for the rest of my life.

To be able to write fiction of any type you need to imagine the story in your head like a movie and then write what you see.

It was the first time I realised, that I could write a novel. I could see the characters and action in stories as clear as if I was watching it on a TV screen.

Have a clear story in mind for your novel

Imagine the characters personalities, back stories and appearance. Even if you don’t include all these details in your novel, know your character. Authors have several books full of facts on their characters that never make the novel. You have to live with your characters and know everything about them. Know them as you would a member of the family. If you are writing crime you are going to have to live with your murderer as well as your detective.

J.K. Rowling shared a train ride home with an imaginary Harry Potter and at that point knew she had to write his story.

Build tension from the start of the novel

Despite what some readers say, action is not always the best way to start a novel. Action which is out of context can bore some readers. This is why I would say start your novel with tension. A characters dilemma or problem. This introduces your characters, as well as making the reader want to read further. Make sure your first sentence and chapter are the best. This will keep the reader engaged. Try to make the first line of every chapter as engaging as possible

The setting is essential to any novel

Where are you setting your novel? Is it a fantasy land of which you are designing all elements of or is it a location you are familiar with? If you are writing about a location, that isn’t fictional, it is best to research the location. Readers like to see realism when they read about a location they are familiar with.

Only last month I read a book that had facts about a port in southern England, which was completely wrong. I recognised it immediately. I live 10 minutes from Folkestone which hasn’t been an operating port for a decade. The author stated the detectives went to interview someone getting on a boat in Folkestone. A small inconsequential mistake to the plot, but it drove me crazy. The book was brilliant, but I can’t read any more from this author. If this fact was wrong, what other factors were wrong?

Understand the audience for your novel

Are you writing a fantasy novel? A crime novel? Erotica? Fiction genres are different and are told in different ways. Audiences of each have different expectations that you need to cover. This is why it is important to write in a genre that you enjoy reading.

You are your best audience and know what the expectations are for this.

The other factors that need to be looked at when writing for your audience, is, point of view. There are several points of view you can use to write a novel. The two most popular are first and third person. If you write in the third person, you are the narrator, telling the story. If you write in the first person then you are telling the story as it happens to you. Both have their own pitfalls and advantages. Some novels try to combine both. Each chapter changes perspective, this is not always easy to do. Which novels do you enjoy reading, is this a point of view you could use?

Plotting your novel

Have a clear plot to your story. Even if this is a couple of lines for each chapter. Planning is an individual thing and can take many forms.

Work out which parts will be written and which will unfold through dialogue. When writing dialogue it needs to be realistic. The best way to ensure this is to speak the dialogue, as you write it. Make sure the dialogue is appropriate to the age that you are writing for, but also to the age of the characters.

End each chapter on a cliffhanger

End every chapter on a slight cliffhanger. Again, this is an excellent way to keep the reader progressing through the book.

I know many a long night where I have read way longer than I should have with the mentality ‘oh just one more chapter.’

Give your characters obstacles to overcome

As the book progresses allow your characters to face obstacles and problems. Allow your characters to develop their personality and grow. It is not true to think that all your lead characters should be perfect. Some of the best novels, I have read, have a flawed lead character. Someone who isn’t perfect makes mistakes and deals with problems. It is far more realistic to have a flawed main character than a perfect one.

Ending your novel

When you get to the end of your story you need to tie up all the loose ends. You need to answer all the mysteries and questions asked. If you are thinking of making this a series, then leave enough to keep your audience wanting more.

Getting published

There are two ways to publish a novel. Each of these is an article in themselves. Traditional publishing is a difficult market to break into. This shouldn’t mean you don’t try though. It will involve many hours of sending out query letters, examples of chapters and waiting. A thick skin is essential, you will receive many rejections before you get a yes.

Self-publishing can be an easier option and results in you having complete control. You will need to carry out your own editing and cover design. If these are not your areas of strength, many people offer these services at a reasonable rate. I found my novel, cover designer on Fiverr, it cost me less than a takeaway meal. The cover now looks professional and eye-catching. I couldn’t be more pleased with it.

The last task is to market your novel. Again this is not an easy job and relies on you previously establishing a social media following. Here are a few easy ways.

Whatever path you travel to write your fiction enjoy the process. A book that has been a labour of love will resonate with the readers.

Write for yourself first and then your audience. Whether anyone buys your book or not, you have written a novel and that is nothing short of amazing.

Published by Sam H Arnold

Sam H Arnold is a writer of True Crime, Parenting and Writing Tips articles. If you have enjoyed her work you might consider donating her a coffee on Ko-Fi. Links to this and all her other work can be found on the about me page.

5 thoughts on “How To Write Your First Novel

  1. I definitely see it as a movie in my head but actually hearing somebody put it like that is helpful.

    I’ve just picked up again at about 28000 words after a little pause. It’s not easy to dip in and out though even day to day.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I have a half finished manuscript which has been lying around for years. I have finished others in between, but this one is different.

      I am determined to finish it at some point. You’re right though dipping in and out is difficult.


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