So You’ve Decided To Write A Novel – Here are 7 Tips To Get Started

[Throwback Thursday: Just as true as when I first posted. And? Those placeholder names are still in that rough draft I’m scared to touch.]

7 Tips for Preparing to Write A Novel

For Pantsers AND Plotters and #NaNoPrepMo

Whether you’ve just decided it’s finally time to write that book you’ve been thinking about on your own or you’ve been bit by the NaNoWriMo bug, starting a novel can be intimidating!

It doesn’t matter if you’re a pantser (writing by the seat of your pants), a plotter, or something in between, there’s still stuff you can do to prepare yourself before you start writing.

Plotters, you have your to-do lists, but even you can get stuck. Here are some things that may be on your list, and a few things that might not be.

Pantsers and plantsers? You might not want to do all the planning that the plotters do. You might be just along for the journey to see where the story takes you. BUT! That doesn’t mean you have to be left out of writing prep!

That said, here are my top 7 writing prep activities.

1. Outlining

Clearly, the plotter’s first choice and the fear of every pantser, but outlining can be as extensive — or as sparse — as you want it to be.

– You can have 10 pages of notes for every chapter
– A basic “[Main character] wants [objective] but [obstacle] stands in their way.” statement
– Just pre-write a query letter!
– Even most pantsers find having a starting point and an end target at least moderately useful.

(Here’s my level of outlining)

2. Beat Sheets!

The cousin of outlining. These help you check your pacing — whether you’re going for a 3 act, 4 act, or another sort of structure.

Jami Gold has a great collection of Beat Sheet Worksheets to help you plan out your story’s emotional arcs AND plot arcs.

OR — save the beat sheet and use it when you’re pantsing to decide what to do next!

3. Mood Boards

Gathering together pictures that suggest your characters, your settings, your wardrobe, and your world.

You’d think this would be most helpful for those writers who are more visually oriented — literally helping them see their story. But, my imagination isn’t very visual, and I say that mood boards can be INVALUABLE for those of us whose imaginations are more conceptual.

If you have a vague idea in your head of a character’s look or the settings, you can google image search until you have something that works for your story — then you can use that image to help describe your people, places, and things to your readers.

4. Character Sheets

It’s official. I’m a geek. I’ve been playing D&D and its cousins since 2000. But even if it’s not a true ‘character sheet’, writing out your characters strengths, weaknesses, and personality traits is very helpful when you’re deciding during the story how your character will react.

You can use things like Myers-Briggs designations, star signs, or zodiacs to help flesh out your character and keep them consistent.

5. Creating a List of Names

I can spend weeks picking the perfect name for a main character. During NaNoWriMo, I’ve definitely lost hours of writing time trying to come up with names for characters, places, and my magic system.

Two NaNos ago, I decided to save a lot of time by just giving everyone placeholder names: Alice, Bob, Carol… I went through the entire alphabet and ended up naming the enemy country Canadia. It helped me accomplish a NaNo-and-a-half, but it had consequences (yep! 75k!). The editing this is going to require has me scared off starting that rewrite. Don’t make my mistake.

This year? I intend to have a list of at least 20 random names that fit my story and world that I can grab-and-go with once I start writing. So far I’ve got 6.

6. World Building

Is your story happening in the real world or a made up one? Do the laws of physics work the same?

Having a good idea of how far apart places are, the transport times, and key landmarks is super helpful.

I spent a couple hours last NaNoWriMo figuring out how far it was from Loxley to Nottingham. And the number of times I’ve redrawn my fantasy map because of average pilgrim walking paces versus bicycle paces… is more than twice.

I also have 2 moons in one of my worlds, so I keep an eye on the tides and the moon fullness in regards to the aforementioned travel times. It can get tricky!

7. Minimize Real World Distractions

I’ve mentioned this before, but for me? Having a stocked fridge, clean clothes, and straightened house when NaNoWriMo starts means I can ignore those things for longer while I dedicate more time to writing.

It usually takes a week or so after a good clean for my house to start really getting piled up.

I try to keep my calendar light, preload the Panera app on my phone for write-ins (getting hungry? Keep writing and the food will come to me), and work hard to build up momentum. Once I’ve got a good streak going, meeting that daily word target, I don’t want to break it.


And that’s it! Are you starting a new novel? Tell me about it!

Are you participating in NaNoWriMo? Feel free to friend me: morganhazelwood!

( Are you new to NaNoWriMo or an old hat? )

3 Tips for Deciding What Point-of-View to Use

Picking a POV

All The New Things

This has been a weird week for me. Between Amazon Prime Day last week, a little space in my budget, and my beginning dealings with a new story, I’ve been trying something new every day this week.

Last week, during Amazon Prime Day, I finally replaced my fitness tracker that I broke up with 2 months ago. If you’re gonna make me un-pair/re-pair every time I want to sync my tracker? AND not save any data from previous days? You’re not worth it.

So, this week has been full of reminders to get up and walk around every hour while at day-job. And me actually using the My FitnessPal App to track my meal intake. Which of course led me to put in for that standing/sitting desk topper that my work offers to get people if they put in a request. Which led me to finding a $50 elliptical on Craigslist. Which is now sitting in my sunroom, awaiting time to see if it can fit into my tiny spare bedroom of a ‘workout room’.

AND? I picked up an Instapot. A friend came over and we (mostly she) experimented. I’m still getting used to my new grocery store and I might have to switch because this one didn’t have everything I wanted. But the honey-garlic glazed chicken was AMAZING. (Plus, we finally got back to watching Grace and Frankie on NetFlicks for the first time since I moved!)

And? Remember that story I was talking about last week? That new one that I was scared to write, worried it could never measure up? Well, I’m about 900 words into it and I, for the life of me, cannot decide if I want to use 1st-person or 3rd-person point-of-view (POV).

True, I could also debate tense, but I’m comfortable in past tense and not looking to switch it up for a novel.

You’re more likely to see, “The welcoming aroma of a savory stew drifted past the cupboards and made my stomach grumble, but CHARACTER politely ignored it.”

than

“The welcoming aroma of a savory stew drifts past the cupboards and makes my stomach grumble, but CHARACTER politely ignores it.”

Morgan looks stressed and confused

POV Decision Factors

    1. What are you most comfortable with?

      Me? I’m most comfortable with 1st-person. It’s how I think, how I see my world and characters. When I’m first learning about a character and world, I make notes, but when I’m starting a story, I fall directly into 1st-person.

    2. What are the genre expectations?

      Traditionally, novels were written in 3rd-person.

      You have options in 3rd that you don’t have in 1st.

      • You can have outside information.
      • If you have more than one Main Character, it can be less confusing to the reader.
      • You can be all-knowing. OR.
      • You can do what’s known as ‘3rd-person close’, in which your story is told from basically a GoPro watching over the main character(s), that can also dip into your main character’s head and share their thoughts.

      But I write YA (and maybe MG? A chapter book? What is this new thing turning into) These days, 1st person is becoming more and more popular.

      Look at your genre’s trends.

    3. What Feels Write Right For Your Story?

      When all else fails, just see what works for your story!

      If you need to, write a chapter in one POV, and then switch it to the other.

      Personally, my 3rd-person still feels clunky, but I’d like my story to have a fairytale sort of feel to it, so I’m going to keep on trying and see if I get it right. So, this is a case of ‘wrong for me, but maybe right for the story.’

      I’ll just have to keep writing to find out if I made the right call.


***

How do you decide what point of view and tense to use in your stories?

Have you ever gotten it wrong?

Writer’s Block – Intimidated By The Blank Page

I never thought it would happen to me.

I was arrogant and short-sighted.

I thought writer’s block was censoring out bad writing (you know, like rough drafts), an inability to apply butt-to-seat, or thinking you’re going in the wrong direction but not knowing the right one.

I didn’t think the blank page could scare me until I decided it was time for me to try something new.

Now? I understand.

Searching for a story

For the past few weeks, I’ve come to realize it’s time for me to start something new.

But what? A new story in my old world? A new world? A story in the real world?

And whose story should I tell?

I’ve been rolling settings and motivations around in the back of my brain. Letting ideas flow through my head without conscious attention, enjoying the feel of the endless possibilities.

And tiptoeing around my fears.

The thoughts that intimidate me?

Hand holding a magnifying glass

Photo by fotografierende on Pexels.com

Basically all the good reporter questions:

  • Who are my characters?
  • What do they want? What’s their goal? What stands in their way?
  • When and where is this set? [Either in the real world or on a technological advancement scale.]
  • Why? Why is this my story? Why do the characters want their goal?

Behind these questions, though, is where my real fears lurk.

Maybe what I’ve already written is better than any new world. Maybe the manuscript I’m querying was just a fluke. I know that story better than this vague inkling of an idea, how could I possibly do this new story justice?

Except, of course:

Signpost

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

The Only Way Out Is Through

I’d contemplated and thought about my first world for years before I wrote it.

This new story? These new characters? This new world? They’re all so durn new to me, they’re basically transparent. I don’t know them yet, how can I even imagine I could tell their tale?

But then I remember, it took me three attempts to figure out my first world, to actually get past that 20,000-word mark and get the full story out of me. Three tries before I committed and followed the story till it was long enough.

You know what happened AFTER I finished writing 131,000 words in my then-brand-new manuscript?

After I finished and looked around is when I began to realize the theme of my story–what it had been working toward the whole time. And every draft, it becomes clearer and stronger and better plotted.

The only way for me to know for sure what story is trying to come out of me is for me to write it.

So now what?

A path through a garden

Photo by icon0.com on Pexels.com

My (Writing) Path Forward

They say every writer works differently, and that sometimes a writer’s method will even change from story-to-story.

My plan right now is to try what worked for me the last couple times.

Writing Plan

  1. Pick a setting
  2. Pick a character
  3. Do a stupidly high-level outline. Something like:
    • ch 1 – inciting incident
    • ch 2 – complain to a friend
    • … ch 19- final battle!
    • ch 20 – denoument
  4. Start at a beginning (likely 2 chapters early while I explore the world and main character) and write until I get stuck
  5. Look at the outline. Either:
    • it helps
    • or
    • I need to rewrite the outline cause I’m going a different direction

When you’re starting a new project, what’s your process?

Do you just wait for a new idea to intrigue you and start writing while it’s fresh?

Or do you decide when you want to write something new and seek out that new idea?

As always, thanks for watching and feel free to subscribe (<<<<) I’ll be back again next Thursday with more writing tips and writerly musings. If there’s something you’d like me to talk about, feel free to email me at morgan.s.hazelwood@gmail.com. See you next week.