5 Things You Should Know about Writing a Novel

Even though I have not yet published a novel, I’ve written several full first drafts of novels. For the fantasy trilogy that is my current main project, I’m working on the third draft of the first book. Since I’ve completed more than a few full first drafts, I do feel qualified to talk about the work that is entailed in writing a novel from beginning to end.

So if you’ve started a novel, are thinking about writing a novel, or are wondering what the difference is between a novel and a short story, then I believe these five tips can help you:

Your NaNoWriMo novel is not ready for publication in December. Nor is any first draft ready for public consumption. See the first paragraph of this post for reference. Notice that I mention that I’m on my third draft of a novel. Even the best writer in the world goes through several drafts and rewrites. Also please note that tidying up a few spelling errors and run-on sentences does not qualify as a rewrite or second draft. If you want your finished novel to be publication-ready, then get feedback from some good critique partners or beta readers, go through several full rewrites, and then send it off to an editor. 

A novel is more than just a long short story. If you’re a master at writing short stories, then be prepared for an entirely different experience with writing a novel. Even if the core of an idea could work for either a short story or a novel, there’s a lot more to it than just padding out the word count of a 20,000 word short story to make it into a 80,000 word novel. In a novel, a plot can be much more complex, there are usually one or more subplots, more characters can be used, and there needs to be a greater variety of pacing. Also, even if you’re a pantser, writing a novel usually requires a bit more planning and outlining ahead of time than a short story might.

Know Your Genre. Yes, there are some wonderful cross-genre stories out there, and everybody wants to invent a new concept or spearhead a new trend. But if your book doesn’t have a clearly defined genre, you’ll have trouble finding your ideal readers, and book stores and ebook sites will have a hard time listing the book properly. Your genre can be something broad – fantasy, mystery, literary – or something very specific, like YA urban paranormal, historical cozy mystery, or women’s fiction. But pick a category, so that both you and your potential readers know what you’re writing.

There’s no “one right way” to do it. No, I’m not contradicting my previous three points. Some people outline out every scene before they get started, some just have a loose kernel of an idea and discover the story as they go along. Some write every scene in order, some jump around during the first draft stage. Some people use Word, some use Scrivener, some use pen and paper. Find what’s comfortable for you. If you’re not enjoying the process of novel writing, it will be that much harder to finish.

It’s a big commitment. This is perhaps the most important point of all. Whether you’re a NaNoWriMo winner who’s pounded out a full first draft in 30 days, or it’s taken you years to finish a draft, writing a novel takes commitment and dedication. Always remember that if you want to write a novel, no matter what your writing technique is or how long it takes, your goal should be to finish. Finishing takes guts, no doubt about it – but it’s something that anyone can do.

Would you add anything to this list?

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4 thoughts on “5 Things You Should Know about Writing a Novel

  1. I would add that it is important to know what message you are trying to tell your readers. If you can get their attention for as long as it takes to read a novel, you need to give them something meaningful to think about.

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