How to write a novel

by | Aug 17, 2010 | Writing Novels | 119 comments

How to write a novel

My guide to writing a novel has all the best advice I know: How to Write a Novel: 47 Rules for Writing a Stupendously Awesome Novel That You Will Love Forever. But hopefully the post below helps you in the meantime!

UPDATED 5/27/19

How to write a novel. We should probably first agree that this is a rather large topic. One might even call it rotund, ginormous, massive, weighty, of-gargantuan-proportions, etc. But lately I have heard from several would-be writers with a very common sentiment:

I want to write a novel, I think I can write a novel, but for the love of Tim Gunn, how in the world do you write a novel?

And that brings us to the most important advice I can offer in this How to Write a Novel overview. If you try and hold the entire novel in your head all at once and attempt to imagine it in its entirety and all of its various ins and outs, your brain will suddenly become so heavy that you will topple over backwards and pass out.

Don’t be intimidated by the bigness of the task. The best thing you can do is to break a novel up into some comprehensible components that you can think about in a coherent fashion and try as hard as you can not to be intimidated.

Contrary to the myth of the writer sitting down blindly and letting their inspiration spill onto the page, whether you’re a thorough outliner or an adherent to the school of write-as-you-go-I’ll-edit-later, I highly recommend having at least a rough sketch of the below elements in place before you sit down and type “Chapter 1: It was a dark and stormy night.”

How to write a novel

Get started with the main plot arc.

This right here is the spine of the book. It’s what happens, it’s what you build around,  it’s the main event. When people ask you what your book is about, this is what you tell them.

I like to think of every novel, whether it’s literary fiction or genre fiction, as a quest. Every quest has:

  1. A starting place
  2. One first step
  3. A journey (the biggest chunk of the novel)
  4. An ending

Take a look at all of your favorite novels – they have a starting place, then something sets the main character’s world ajar, then the character embarks on a literal or figurative journey with significant obstacles, and then an ending, where the character either ends up somewhere new or ends up back where they started but irrevocably changed.

There are millions of variations on this quest, whether it’s a journey through the mind, battling personal demons, or flying through outer space, but every single novel is about a character or characters who start in one place and end up somewhere else. That journey, physical or emotional or hopefully both, is the heart of the novel.

For further reading:

Along the quest, the characters face…

Obstacles of increasing intensity, with ups and downs

If the most challenging obstacle your main character faces happens in the first half of the book: the reader will be bored in the second half. If your character gets everything they want and always has “up” moments: the reader will be bored with the predictability. If your character only has “down” moments and things get steadily worse and worse with no hope whatsoever: your reader will either be horrifically depressed or start to think everything is unintentionally funny.

Whether the main obstacle is an arch-villain, their own personal demons, or a powerful army of rhetorical questions–the biggest battle is in the end, and there are gains, setbacks, and smaller obstacles along the way. Better still if the obstacles and the intensity of the emotions steadily increase and swing back and forth as the novel goes along.

For further reading:

The Protagonist

At the center of a novel’s quest is a protagonist, or possibly a small group of protagonists, but for the purposes of this section let’s just stick with the protagonist as a singular. Said protagonist can be a man, a woman, a child, an alien, a Chihuahua, a mold spore, or anything else you can think of trust me it’s been done before.

But every single protagonist, no matter what species, has one thing in common: they want something. The novel is about trying to get that thing they want.

Now, the best protagonists are complex individuals who may want multiple things. They may think they want one thing but in reality want another, or they may want two things that are at odds with each other. But once you know what a character wants, their personality (funny? brave? weak?) becomes an expression of how they go about getting it.

Every additional character also has something they want, and that may perchance be at odds with what your protagonist wants. The villain, if you have one, either wants the same thing as your protagonist (competition) or the exact opposite of what your character wants (adversarial), and is nearly, but not quite, as powerful as your protagonist.

For further reading:

How to write a great setting for your novel

The setting is more than just where your novel takes place. A great setting is woven into the very fabric of the novel. The best settings have:

  • Change underway – Something is happening in the world that is changing, whether war is coming, new moral values are ascendant, or something else that is roiling the calm. Whether the novel is a massive multi-country canvass or a very personal coming of age story, something is changing.
  • A personality – The setting is different than the real world not just in where it’s set, but also in its value system and character. Maybe it’s a funny world, maybe it’s ruthless world, maybe it’s all totally punk rock YEAH MAN, but it has its own personality.
  • Unfamiliarity – A great setting shows us something we haven’t seen and makes us look at our own world in a new way.

For further reading:

Novel style and voice

Much like love, style don’t come easy. Our first attempts at crafting a signature style inevitably feel like imitation. But if you write enough and keep trying and keep pushing yourself, eventually you will arrive at your own personal style that is nothing like anyone else’s and voila, your novel will have a voice.

For further reading:

How to write a great novel climax

And at the end of the novel (it is near the end, yes?), your characters will face their biggest obstacles, and all of the simmering conflicts and plots and subplots all come to a head. It helps if the climax is your best, most dramatic scene, when the moments have the biggest weight and the characters are experiencing their highest highs and their lowest lows. A great climax will have your reader cheering or crying or laughing or all of the above. Hopefully in a good way.

For further reading:

Now write it!

If you have a sense of these six components before you sit down to write you will already have the most difficult elements in place. You will have a sense of who your character(s) is/are, you will have a sense of where they are and where they’re going, and a rough idea of how they get from Point A to Point B.

To be sure, the characters will surprise you along the way, certain things won’t make sense when they’re on the page and you’ll have to adjust on the fly, but as long as these key elements are in place there is no reason why the idea of your novel should make your brain shut down.

Then all you have to accomplish is the mere trifle of spending hundreds of hours writing it.

Oh. And don’t forget to revise like crazy.

Need help with your book? I’m available for manuscript edits, query critiques, and coaching!

For my best advice, check out my guide to writing a novel (now available in audio) and my guide to publishing a book.

And if you like this post: subscribe to my newsletter!

Art: Portrait of a Scriber by Bartolomeo Passarotti

119 Comments

  1. Diane_Amy

    Ah.. now it all becomes clear! No, seriously, great points made here. Has got me really thinking about my novel and what it is or is not missing. Thanks, Nathan!

    Reply
  2. Pamala Knight

    Thanks for the wonderful post! I'll come back and read, as soon as I stop laughing and imagining the Donald saying 'UGE.

    Stop with the mixing the funny with what I desperately need to read if you please. When I get an "F" on the test, it'll be your fault.

    Reply
  3. thewritingant

    Fantastic post! Really informative, and it actually makes me feel less anxious about my little novel now that I've gone down the "checklist" and realised that I have all those elements on my pages, so it's at least partially a novel. 🙂

    Reply
  4. Susan Kaye Quinn

    I want my own powerful army of rhetorical questions! Or at least a small army of powerful rhetorical questions.

    Here's a serious question, though: What's your take on the "necessity" of a villain (i.e. no larger, structural antagonists, we must have a really bad guy with dastardly hair) in children's fiction (I'm thinking MG more than YA)?

    Reply
  5. Nathan Bransford

    Susan-

    With the caveat that it works it works, I'd say with middle grade a villain probably a bit more necessary because the worldview is a bit more black and white at that age, whereas I think there's more room for complexity as kids get older.

    Reply
  6. Author Guy

    "Main plot arcs"? What are these? Actually, I often do have a main plot…um, endpoint or two, but by the time I reach one of them the arc isn't really an arc anymore, and what I thought was going to be the climax often isn't. I start with only a few of these things, a character, maybe where he is, or what he's trying to do in the next few pages, and then set him off and follow him around. I follow the internal logic of that character and all the others that pop up out of the ether. The story grows organically that way, it's more fun to write, and I think to read, and the events of the book make more sense.

    Reply
  7. Marisa Birns

    Yep. You brought that gargantuan mass of topic down to size with your post here.

    And it really wasn't the "It was a dark and stormy night," that makes the book such a ridicule of purple prose. It was the rest of the story. 🙂

    Reply
  8. Krista V.

    Great post, Nathan. Nicely thought out. I especially appreciated the relevant links to earlier posts within each subsection.

    Honestly, where do you find the time to write these kinds of posts, take care of a gaggle of clients, and work on your own manuscripts?

    Reply
  9. Tina Lynn

    *arches eyebrow* An army of rhetorical questions? A frightening prospect indeed.

    Reply
  10. Marilyn Peake

    This is my favorite of your Blog posts so far. Very detailed and very informative! I love how you clearly describe the steps in writing a novel, even after describing the herculean reality of the task: "And that brings us to the most important advice I can offer in this How to Write a Novel overview. If you try and hold the entire novel in your head all at once and attempt to imagine it in its entirety and all of its various ins and outs, your brain will suddenly become so heavy that you will topple over backwards and pass out." HaHaHa! That is so true.

    I think it gets easier to write a novel with every novel you write. I’ve written seven novels so far: three safely tucked away in drawers, three published by indie press, one new one recently completed. After a while, the steps to writing a novel kind of live at the back of your head while you craft the story, coming out as reminders when you need to review them.

    Reply
  11. Draven Ames

    Writing is like water–it either lulls you to sleep or pulls you with.

    I love your articles Nathan. Thank you for some good tips. Going in blindly can be a horrible mistake that can leave you doing edits for years. Do you have a book out about writing and publishing yet?

    Reply
  12. Marlan

    Well, there goes my Mold Spore protagonist idea.

    Reply
  13. T. Anne

    Now you tell me.

    Reply
  14. Stacey Cochran

    Great stuff, Nathan. It helps to hear your perspective. For anyone interested, I just guest blogged on this exact same topic at Steve Girffin's blog yesterday.

    It's interesting to see just how similar we approach this, and to know that we're not alone in our beliefs.

    Reply
  15. Erika Robuck

    The inevitable question: When will you lead a workshop?

    Reply
  16. Anonymous

    Thanks for the information. I needed reassurance I was heading in the right direction. Writing my novel has been one of the hardest things I have ever tried. I will not quit. I will persevere!

    Reply
  17. LaylaF

    Nathan…

    Are you SURE you weren't a teacher in a previous life? No seriously, are you sure?

    Awesome info!! Thanks so much!!!

    Reply
  18. Julia Rachel Barrett

    I agree – huge topic, pretty much insurmountable challenge-type topic. IMO, there is no one way to write a novel – no checklist and no outline will ignite that holy inner fire that produces a great novel. But good novels do have some things in common – they tell a compelling story in language that makes sense and somehow, in some way, the characters are relate-able. In other words, the reader can identify with the characters and their challenges. If all the characters in a novel are abhorrent or puke-worthy, I don't consider that a good novel, no matter how well-crafted. For me, a great novel must not only move me, it must have at least some small redemptive power, even if that redemptive power involves failure and/or death.

    When I write, I must remind myself to be patient, the story comes out word by word. A novel cannot be written all at once.

    Great novels don't come along often. As far as I'm concerned, East of Eden, by John Steinbeck, epitomizes the great American novel.

    Reply
  19. Katarina

    It was really inspiring to read these instructions, I am sorry that I did not have a year ago when I began, but always good to come, maybe help me with the extension. In any case, each praises the good ideas, but also the good will to help those who wish to engage in with this, these guidelines are more than welcome! Regards!

    Reply
  20. Kevin

    James N Frey, How to Write a Damn Good Novel (books 1 & 2), are the best handbooks on the craft.

    Follow the advice religiously and follow it up with any of his subsequent three How to Write Damn Good craft books: Myth, Mystery and Thrillers. Or any of his workshops usually held in SF area. http://jamesnfrey.com/

    Reply
  21. Maya

    LOL. Awesome post, Nathan. What you wrote is an incredibly concise list of all you need to start. As a "panster" I don't do much more planning than that. Great resource for beginners!

    Reply
  22. kathleen shoop

    I think I've done it! I think I've done it! Great post.

    Reply
  23. swampfox

    Writing on the fly is great unless you land in fly paper.

    An outline can avoid that problem, unless you stray, and, whoops, there's that fly paper again.

    No, really, it happened.

    Reply
  24. Anonymous

    Nathan, Do U think it best for a new author to use an editing service? If so, can u recommend one?

    Reply
  25. Prince

    I think I will have to save this page. Thanks, Nathan!

    Reply
  26. Anonymous

    Thanks 😉 R u married, because I have a beautiful daughter I'd like to introduce u 2.

    Reply
  27. GhostFolk.com

    Perhaps you're best post ever, Nathan. Thank you for the clear overview.

    Reply
  28. writerjenn

    That pretty much covers it!

    Reply
  29. Deb

    I'm afraid I lack a Y chromosome in the war for Tim Gunn's love. But perhaps I can vie for the attention of his plucky, style savvy chihuahua protagonist.

    Reply
  30. RubyRed0

    Thanks, just what I needed to know. 😉

    Reply
  31. Hannah Jenny

    I haven't finished a novel yet, but I hope it's OK if I only have a couple of things planned before I start writing and figure out the rest by writing (I write a lot of things in the first draft or two that won't end up in the story–writing *is* my process of figuring out most of the elements of the story)

    Reply
  32. Anonymous

    Bravo Nathan !

    Reply
  33. Ms Khan

    Now i also can write a novel, thanx for the post Nathan

    Reply
  34. Ishta Mercurio

    Nathan: this was an 'UGE post! 'uge. Thank you for this very detailed rundown, and the additional links.

    Did you have an outline before you wrote this? 😉

    More detailed thoughts when I've had time to process. I just wanted to pass on my 'UGE thanks!

    Reply
  35. Anonymous

    What I am most amazed at here, after being impossibly grateful that you even exist (you are such a gift to writers), is how you got so wise at such a young age.

    To top that off, you are kind.

    It raises the bar(s) (all connotations allowed).

    Reply
  36. Anonymous

    PS I've got a couple of theories though:

    1. your mother

    2. your mother reads this post, but she doesn't have to.

    (we's really got to meet her)

    3. rice farming has secret underpinnings that have yet to be revealed???

    Reply
  37. Sugar

    Thank you Nathan! I needed another boost to get going again. I have been a lil lost on my writing..Maybe this will help get me back on track.

    🙂

    Reply
  38. D.G. Hudson

    Thanks, Nathan, for condensing the basic elements of writing a novel into this post.

    I use a similar breakdown when I work with an outline for a new novel project. I include research time, and try to do the characterization, location details and background info (world or universe building) prior to starting the basic writing. I may rearrange chapters or whatever is needed later in the writing, as the outline is flexible and is used as a guideline. Style and voice develop along with the story, after I've decided the POV and a working title.

    One thing I find I need when writing — a lot of time to think things through. A writer needs some time to make those connections in the brain which feed our imagination.
    In time management, they call it 'chunking' the work.

    Reply
  39. ryan field

    Read this one twice!!

    Excellent post and many thanks for taking the time to do all this.

    Reply
  40. Kristi Helvig

    This post is pure awesome! I'm at the revising like crazy part…why does that part take the longest? 🙂

    Reply
  41. D.G. Hudson

    To clarify previous comment – 'Chunking the work' as a time management expression was referring to was what you called 'comprehensible components' (of any job or project). Should have had a line space there.

    Reply
  42. Lucy

    Your blog is my hero.

    Reply
  43. Nancy

    I really needed this post today. It offered a much needed reassurance that I'm actually doing something right in this crazy writing business. It's been a rough week and I definitely needed that.

    Of course, when I read through all the linked posts tonight I'll find several areas where I can improve, but that will be encouraging too.

    Reply
  44. cheekychook

    Nathan-
    Excellent advice, awesome links, subtle paraphrasing of Wes Hayden—there's no other word for it—you're AMAZING.

    Reply
  45. Dayana Stockdale

    I love the part about figuring out what all the characters want. Whenever I get stuck in a scene or something isn't feeling real, I step back and remind myself what the characters involved want and it always helps me to come up with some sort of resolution to whatever was bugging me.

    Reply
  46. CFD Trade

    Wow! It all sounds easy we will all be writers at the end of the day…I wonder why it is so difficult to execute…

    Reply
  47. Stephen Prosapio

    Okay so you just typed that whole article out. Wouldn't it have been just as easy to write the novel for us???
    😉

    Excellent overview!

    Reply
  48. Perri

    Thanks so much! This is a great help!

    Reply
  49. Terin Tashi Miller

    Mr. Agent Man (I just like that idea Mira came up with in the post way back about how NOT to address a query):

    Excellent post. It's like a creative writing course condensed to its elements.

    Every aspiring writer, and even experienced/professional writers, would do well to print it out and put it up somewhere they can see it every day before they start trying to put words to paper.

    Reply
  50. Ishta Mercurio

    AH! I've read and digested it now. I was struck by your statement that voice is something that doesn't come easy, and is something that we have to push ourselves to craft. I've never thought of it that way.

    Actually, I've always thought of it as kind of the opposite. That it is what naturally comes out when you sit down to write, which is why your voice is yours – it is your own words, stated in the way that comes naturally to you. And when we write the same idea over and over in different ways trying to find the right words, what we're really looking for are the words that will match the voice that is already in our heads.

    But since even my idea of voice involves revising the same statement dozens of times, maybe we actually agree on the "pushing yourself to craft it" part…

    Reply
  51. marjoriekaye

    Oh dear-

    The writing is the writing. And after that? It helps to know someone and to have a track record of being marketable or perhaps your work resembles what's selling at that moment. You're taking the reader on a journey and there has to be some trust. If they don't know you, it's difficult to convince them that you know where you're going, especially if they've never been there and are unfamiliar with the scenery. So no one takes a serious look and you're tossed in favor of the familiar.

    And the beat goes on.

    Reply
  52. marjoriekaye

    Oh dear-

    The writing is the writing. And after that? It helps to know someone and to have a track record of being marketable or perhaps your work resembles what's selling at that moment. You're taking the reader on a journey and there has to be some trust. If they don't know you, it's difficult to convince them that you know where you're going, especially if they've never been there and are unfamiliar with the scenery. So no one takes a serious look and you're tossed in favor of the familiar.

    And the beat goes on.

    Reply
  53. marjoriekaye

    Ah geez it printed twice. Actually three times. Frickin frackin confusing.

    Reply
  54. pam owldreamer

    Thank you for the chuckle.One of the best descriptions of writing a novel I've read in some time.I have written two novels and have yet to find an agent.I would add the untold hours of learning the craft and the masochistic need to expose one's innermost thoughts to the world.Combine all of that with our driving,relentless crusade to find and possess,the Holy Grail( A great agent)coupled with constant rejections that tear our heart out,rip any remnants left of an ego to shreds and you have it.Why would anyone want to be a writer. because we can't not write,that is the truth of it.I'm going to feed my ego with chocolate candy now. I'll send out more queries when I have the money for the d*mn stamps.Happy writing.

    Reply
  55. Ganz-1

    Nice post, I'm ctrl+D ing this one 🙂

    Reply
  56. Mira

    Mr. Agent Man (I forgot all about that, Terin! :),

    Oh. My. God.

    This post is AMAZING.

    Wow. I'm speechless. That doesn't happen often, especially when I'm not even talking, I'm writing. But I just. Wow.

    And funny. "Your brain becomes so heavy." Ha, ha, ha.

    Thank you. Aside from all of the organized thinking and excellent advice, this was so much work. I loved that you linked everything, both for us, and so you can begin to collect your writings.

    Truly wonderful post.

    Reply
  57. Mira

    p.s. "…anything else you can think of trust me it's been done before."

    Ah ha! Our one-sided debate continues. This may be an astounding, wonderful, amazing post, but I keep telling you, I can have an original idea.

    Okay, that's all. Thank you for that knee-jerk detour, back to my goodness, what a post.

    Reply
  58. Christine Macdonald

    Every human being who is interested in writing should read your blog. This post is invaluable. Thank you.

    Reply
  59. Donna Hole

    Thank you Nathan.

    I have this document in my works program labeled "teaching posts". How come almost all the links come back to here?

    You should keep this up a few days so EVERYONE has an opportunity catch it in their blog rolls.

    You rock, Dude.

    …….dhole

    Reply
  60. Nina

    Thanks for some great advice!

    Can't wait untill this week of weddings, courses and exams are finally over! My fingers are about to pop!

    Reply
  61. Kate

    Wow, that is one doozy of a post. You boiled it all down so nicely! I with links! Ahh…

    Reply
  62. zerospark

    It's the breaking down into manageable chunks so I don't freak out part that gets me every time.

    I get wonderful plot ideas and characters that want to play. Then it spirals out of control into a galaxy of schizophrenia and my brain evaporates out of my ears.

    Reply
  63. maine character

    Excellent overview. The only part I'd disagree with is this:

    The villain is nearly, but not quite, as powerful as your protagonist.

    The villain should either seem to be or actually be stronger than your hero. This makes the hero grow, as with Luke taking three movies to be the match of Vader, or Rocky needing to train after taking a beating from Mr. T.

    Without the David vs. Goliath odds, there isn't as much sympathy or suspense, and the hero doesn't have to call on as much ingenuity and courage.

    Reply
  64. Elie

    Yes, I too would love it if you'd publish your blog as a book (preferably printed on paper lol).
    It's soooo useful – in fact I was wondering only yesterday why my brain was overweight, and now I know how to put it on a sensible diet – thanks.

    Reply
  65. Patsy Whyte

    Loved it…as they say, a 'must read' for any aspiring writer. Well done.

    Reply
  66. Sheila Cull

    Gargantuan proportions is right. I spent thousands of hours creating and editing fiction manuscripts and they all got rejected. Because I didn't use all the ingredients you suggested.

    Thank goodness that I discovered writing about my past hanging from a light fixture type of wild adventures.

    Good fiction is tough. But I love reading it and love the writers that can accomplish it.

    Reply
  67. Anonymous

    Depressingly reductionist.

    There's no substitute for real inspiration.

    Reply
  68. Bryan Russell (Ink)

    Well, you know, Anon, it's hard to fit an expansionist version in a couple pages. You know, the font gets pretty small.

    Reply
  69. bucko

    I'd agree. While I start the germ of the novel idea by writing and sketching and daydreaming, I'm not going to commit to those hundreds of hours and the inevitable freakouts when things go awry unless I feel it is a story that will move. That said, once I begin with certain elements in place, I'm always surprised at how it turns out in the end. No, it's not necessarily an outline, he's talking about (although they help me); it's a sense of the story.

    Reply
  70. Amy Lundebrek

    So THAT's why I keep falling over backwards!

    Reply
  71. Jared X

    Thank you, Nathan, for an (as usual) informative and entertaining post.

    Unfortunately, as a born-and-raised New Yorker, I feel compelled to submit a small correction. Mr. Trump and I communicate in the same dialect. The correct spelling of the English word "huge" in our shared dialect is yuge, not 'uge. An acceptable alternate spelling, indicating emphasis, is yooge (unfortunately, this is also what the locals in Eugene, Oregon call their hometown, albeit with a capital Y and a definite article). Whether spelled as yuge or yooge, the initial 'y' is important to distinguish us from our Cockney friends in England.

    I apologize for the nitpicking and again thank you for your otherwise spot-on post.

    Reply
  72. Malia Sutton

    This is a wonderful roadmap for authors to follow.

    Reply
  73. Heidi

    Thanks for the great post! I really appreciated it. So many invaluable tips that are now written down in my notebook and will be read and re-read and re-written and highlighted until I have them memorized.

    Reply
  74. Leslie

    Wow. I teach a "writing the novel" workshop but take 12 weeks to get through all this! Excellent post.

    Reply
  75. Courtney

    I'm going to stop reading this post for a moment to make a quick comment:

    "…a powerful army of rhetorical questions…"

    Ah. You are just so great, Nathan. 🙂

    Now, back to reading the post.

    Reply
  76. J. T. Shea

    Great idea, Elie! Nathan's blog is already effectively a free online e-text on writing and publishing, but I would pay good money for a print version and I'd say I'm far from alone in that.

    And then CHIHUAHUAS VS MOLD SPORES!

    Reply
  77. wry wryter

    Egads Nathan now I've got to add an army of rhetorical villainess fungi to my story.
    How the hell do you fight mad mold?

    I'm jumping ahead to the climax.

    Reply
  78. Scott

    "If your character only has "down" moments and things get steadily worse and worse with no hope whatsoever: your reader will either be horrifically depressed or start to think everything is unintentionally funny."

    This is exactly my problem with "The Road".

    I kept saying to myself, "Really, Cormac? What horrible thing could happen now to further destroy all hope? Oh, that? Wow, what horrible thing could happen NOW? How about NOW?"

    Reply
  79. Anonymous

    Jane Smiley's "13 Ways of Looking at the Novel" is a good resource on this topic.

    Tomas

    Reply
  80. Jewels Diva®

    With my first I just wrote for a few hours everynight and the story came itself. I had no real problems writing, it worked itself out as I went.

    With my second, I did a one or two sentence outline for each chapter, then let the story come. I ended up being ahead in chapters, as I wrote the story flowed itself, taking it's time, characters apppearing because their ego wanted them in there etc. After major editing, the number of chaps came back down, but the story's still there.

    Reply
  81. Heather Church

    Love this post, Nathan. In character development, I often remind myself that human nature is neither black nor white, and that villians are much more likeable – and believable – when the reader witnesses them committing acts of kindess. Same goes for heroes: exhibit just how far they're willing to go to get what they want, especially when they think no one's looking. Finding their dark side is fun!

    Reply
  82. Anonymous

    And let's not forget that to teach yourself how to do this really well, you're going to have to pay your dues through a rigorous apprenticeship.

    Like becoming a doctor or a lawyer, it will take you years to learn the required skills.

    Like becoming a doctor or a lawyer you'll have to spend spend ten, eleven, twelve hours a day, learning these skills. (If a guy came up to you, after you had been injured in a car accident, and he said he was practicing to be a doctor in the evenings… and another guy came up to you and said he had just graduated from medical school… which person would you want working on you?)

    Quitting your job, I would argue, is almost essential. Could one teach oneself to be a lawyer by studying in the evening after work – how about becoming a doctor or a dentist, or a mathematician? To excel at any profession, you have to earn it.

    Unfortunately, the above mentioned rigorous apprenticeship is something that's not respected by contemporary literary agents, and unfortunately, one does need a literary agent in order to attract the attention of a publisher.

    Everything about this business, at the moment, is… unfortunate.

    Reply
  83. Io

    For the love of Tim Gunn! I knew I was reading this blog for a reason.

    Thanks for the reminders. I needed a little bit of a map to get me going again.

    Reply
  84. Aunt Boomie

    Just yesterday I started to plot out the arc of my novel-in-the works on the back of a DiGiorno pizza box. The final result, I hope, will be a lot better than the pizza.

    Reply
  85. Sonya Bateman

    Ahem. I'm sorry, but Billy Fucillo has already trademarked the phrase 'UGE (with the occasional addition of Tom, as in, "It's 'UGE, Tom. 'UGE!").

    I think he should sue the Donald. *G*

    Oh yeah – and this is a great post, too. Especially since it suggests that I'm unintentionally funny, when I thought I was intentional. SCORE! 🙂

    Reply
  86. Erin

    You are a man who knows what he's talking about. And apparently, what's he's writing about.

    Many thanks for this.

    Reply
  87. Brenna

    I absolutely hate plotting stories thoroughly. Writing for me is a romance with the characters. If I don't treat it like a real relationship, where I get to know them over time, my inspiration and desire to write vanish. I write so that they might live, not so they can do what I tell them to do. Yes, I know the general plot. I know where it starts and where it ends, and I know the gist of how they're going to get there. But I have to let the characters fill in the details or else I can't write.

    That being said, I really appreciate this article. It gives me confidence that I've done my part; now it's the characters' turn to do theirs.

    Reply
  88. Sally

    I love this post, and all the associated hotlinked posts–extremely helpful and insightful. One unintentional insight you left me with, however, is perhaps you watch a bit too much reality TV. 😀

    Reply
  89. Jodie Renner Editing

    Extremely helpful and well-written, Nathan. Thanks! I'll pass these ideas and your blog URL on to my fiction writer clients.

    Reply
  90. linda randall

    I find when I have created an outline first it only takes a few days to hand write my manuscripts, but it takes weeks for me to type and edit. lol

    I write fiction and non fiction blogs and novels.

    Reply
  91. peter brown hoffmeister

    My agent, Adriann Ranta, just turned me onto your blog, and it is that perfect combo: Funny and informative. Excellent.

    Reply
  92. Alia Johns

    Thanks Nathan,
    Your suuggestions serve as a checklist for me. I see that I have all the components in place, so now I feel much more confident proceeding. Great blog, by the way…youve got me smiling!

    Reply
  93. Glenn Knight

    You write truth succinctly. I have studied the craft estensively and find what you present not only credible but also worthy.

    In your discussion of voice, you might add that voice not only represents the writer but also the work itself. I have (self) published four novels, no two of which has the same voice. I suspect there will never be a Glenn Knight voice, but multiple voices, depending on the work of each.

    Reply
  94. Anonymous

    Followed you here from linkedin and am impressed. It's a rare talent to gather a huge topic into a few concise paragraphs. I'm anxious to read more of your blog. Shelly

    Reply
  95. Chevonese Fender

    This was very useful! Thank you. will certainly be checking your blog on the regular.

    Reply
  96. Anonymous

    I am so impressed. I have this idea around in my head, I've dabbled in writing but never thought I could write something that was novel-worthy, but your article really helped! It made total sense and was relatable. Everything isn't daunting anymore. I've started researching on the internet and finding bits and pieces, but yours really made so many things clear.
    THANK YOU!

    Reply
  97. Daniel Smith

    Very well done.

    Disney should so craft a Goofy How-To cartoon on this topic.

    Reply
  98. Anonymous

    Nathan,
    Thank you for providing all of this information. As a want-to-be writer, I appreciate what you are sharing with others. My first novel is currently being read by a couple of friends to "test the water." If they approve, I will continue to polish and start working on the other aspects of this process. Thanks to you, I'm looking forward to proceeding with this journey (rejections and all!).

    Reply
  99. writer jobs

    realised that I have all those elements on my pages, so it's at least partially a novel

    Reply
  100. Gael McCarte

    I thought I was resady to start the challenge having read this I am NOT ready, can we delay Nov 1 by a few weeks?

    Reply
  101. Virya

    Hi Nathan, you did tackle a large topic and it turned out quiet well written. Any thoughts on Indie Comic Books ??

    Reply
  102. Moonman

    Hey Nathan–

    You raised an excellent point about organizing the novel–I have been asking writers I know for several years now whether they organize from the beginning (you know, detailed outline), or organize roughly, or don't organize at all. Most seem to work from an outline. I wrote my first novel without an organization (like Robert Frost, who said, when asked how he wrote, I just start writing and, I know I'm done when I stop writing)–the difference being that I'm no Robert Frost!
    I had to go back and redo that first novel. It's being shopped now. My second novel is much better organized. Tim Dorsey was surprised when i told him I wrote without an outline. My outline now is just a general idea of where the characters are going. Oh well–I will keep experimenting. The second book seems better than the first. Moonman

    Reply
  103. Adrienne deWolfe

    Awesome compilation of writing tips, Nathan. I especially appreciate the care you took to illuminate the difference between protagonist/antagonist (villain). So many aspiring writers don't quite understand that conflict has many layers — and that the best reads include internal conflict (value driven) as well as external conflict (plot driven). Thanks for this wonderful resource for writers.

    Adrienne deWolfe
    Award-winning novelist
    Fiction instructor, Writers Digest University
    http://WritingNovelsThatSell.com

    Reply
  104. Matt

    I've always been interested in writing a novel and getting published. Your posts are are so well thought out and helpful I can't help but reread them. Thank's so much for the advice you continue to give in your blogs and the push to help me keep going in my writing!

    Reply
  105. Rajapallet

    I always wanted to start my life in a way to write a novel, but always in doubt. Thank you Nathan this article into a new inspiration for me.

    Reply
  106. Pallet Plastik

    Thanks for the wonderful post! I'll come back and read, as soon as I stop laughing and imagining the Donald saying 'UGE.

    Reply
  107. Olivia N. D. Burnett

    Hi Nathan! Thank you for the incredibly helpful post that I’m about 7 years late in reading! I’ve just challenged myself to write a novel in the next year and to ensure that it happens, I’ve started a blog to make myself accountable. Check me out at https://writerighthismoment.com/

    I’m now at the most important stage of writing the book, which is of course, writing the book. Your post will help me to start on the right foot! Thanks!

    Reply

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ABOUT NATHAN

Hi, I’m Nathan. I’m the author of How to Write a Novel and the Jacob Wonderbar series, which was published by Penguin. I used to be a literary agent at Curtis Brown Ltd. and I’m dedicated to helping authors chase their dreams. Let me help you with your book!

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