The Easy Way To Start Writing A Novel

Jim Woods by Leighann Renee on Unsplash

Contrary to popular belief, writing a novel isn’t all that hard to do. If you’re reading this, you can likely do it. Let’s break it down one step at a time.

The First Thing You Need To Do

You have to start somewhere. I like to go to what I call Story seeds. What’s a story seed? It’s an idea. A thought. In many cases, it’s a question like… what if? (This is one of Stephen King’s favorite Story seeds for sure.)

You need to explore a bit and think about what kind of book it is you want to write. What’s the genre? Each genre has its own set of rules and expectations. Sure, you could combine genres, but I recommend you don’t. If you’re going to write a western, you need to know those rules. If you’re writing a thriller, there are some specific rules for that genre as well. Don’t over analyze this one; just pick your genre and move on.

Think A Little About The Big Picture

Is it a series or a one-off? There are pros and cons to both approaches. Personally, there are clear benefits to writing a one-off as a beginning writer. You’ll have more freedom, and you won’t have to treat your story like a chess board thinking of things you have to do in future books.

A Bit Of Honesty As You Dive In

For many writers, the writing isn’t the hard part. The editing and revising is the hard part. I can definitely attest to this myself. But each writer is very different. I recommend following your gut for the writing or drafting process.

Editing is much more analytical and uses another side of your brain. When drafting a novel, the best idea is to do whatever you possibly can to just put words on the page. Don’t worry about the editing process yet. Focus on the task in front of you.

But how do you tell a story? Telling a clear, compelling story can be difficult. Why? There are a ton of different ways to tell a story. There are usually two different approaches.

Storytelling Approach #1

There’s plotting — or outlining — which is often based on a specific methodology like the following: Save The Cat, Story Grid, Story Maps, The Snowflake Method, story beats, and many, many more. Plotting writers often swear by this approach and love that with this approach you know the ending before you write your book.

Storytelling Approach #2

There is also pantsing, which is essentially making up the story as it comes to you. In most cases, you don’t know what is coming next until you write it.

When I did the Finish Your Book Summit in 2018, I was surprised to learn that the majority of writers I interviewed were pantsers. Many, many prolific writers use this approach and there is even a book about this called Writing Into the Dark.

The Much Easier Way

But storytelling can be made EVEN simpler. How does three words sound? No, I’m not talking about beginning, middle and end. You already know those are a critical part of storytelling.

Drum roll please… here it is… no “and then.”

What??? Yep. No “and then.”

Of course, this also makes me think of this scene from this cheesy movie. courtesy of Giphy

Okay, let me explain. Stories have to be interconnected to work. There has to be causation.

If there is not causation, you have one action scene or set piece leading to another like in many Michael Bay movies.

That’s not a story. Is it entertaining? Sure. But it’s not a story.

If at any point in your novel, screenplay, or even blog post you find yourself going “and then” you’ve got something that isn’t very good.

What you need is the following words: therefore, because, or but.

One of these words fits right between each scene or chapter. You could even say those three words guide decisions.

Luke Skywalker went with Obi-Wan because his uncle was killed and there was nothing for him on Alderaan.

Where Things Get More Complicated

The word but is also really important because it shows that there is a complication. Let’s look at an example with Jaws.

Several people turned up dead and/or missing in Amity, therefore Sheriff Brody decided to close the beach.

But the mayor didn’t want to scare off any tourists, so he kept the beach open.

Therefore Sheriff Brody was on lookout and unable to relax while he was at the beach. (Cue the buildup of major suspense.)

Here’s a brief 2-minute video where the creators of South Park explain this approach further. I hope you enjoy it.

The Takeaway

To start writing your novel, I recommend you give this storytelling approach a shot. It’s so simple that you can put it into use today. Don’t delay. You’ve got a story to share with the world and other people need to read it.

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Stories are powerful. That's why I write.

Akron, OH

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