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How to Turn Your Simple Idea Into an Unforgettable Novel

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You’re on the verge of writing the next, great American novel. The only problem is that you don’t have a clue on how to turn your idea into a novel. Writing a novel seems like a huge undertaking and you’re overwhelmed. How do you even begin, and what do you do next?

Well, you’re in the right place. Begin here. In this guide, we’ll help you transform your simple idea into a substantive and rivetting tale.

Flesh Out Your Idea

You’ve arrived at this guide because you already know what you want to write about. Good for you. That’s the hardest part. Now it’s time to explore that idea and see where it can go.

Let’s start by saying that ideas are not the same as plots. We’ll discuss the plot in greater detail below. But first, here’s what you need to know about ideas:

Your idea defines what your story is about. It's the main point that you're hoping to convey to your reader. Closely tied to the idea is the story’s theme. The theme is the big message that you want the reader to take from your story. We’ll also discuss this below.

When exploring your story’s idea, ask yourself these questions:

  • Who is the story about? Who are the main characters?
  • What happens in this story?
  • When does the story take place?
  • Where does it take place?
  • Why should you tell this story? (What’s the main message?)

You should be able to summarize your story’s idea into one or two sentences. Here’s an example: This story is about a poor, beautiful, and compassionate girl who, despite her circumstances, finds wealth and true love.

Remember the Reader

How to write a novel

If you really want to tell an unforgettable story, you’ve got to remember your reader. Your reader is all that matters.

Storytelling harkens back to the ancient oral tradition where an audience would gather around a narrator as they shared a captivating tale. A story simply won’t captivate your audience if you’re not thinking about them as you write.

Many writers forget this essential component.

Many writers forget this essential component:

You’re telling a story to someone. Keep this in mind as you’re turning your idea into a full story.

  • Can the reader relate to the main character (i.e. the protagonist)?
  • Can the reader understand the villain’s motivations?
  • Does the reader root for the protagonist?
  • Have you given the reader enough information to imagine the world in which your story takes place?

Repeat after me: Always focus the reader. This is the only person who needs to believe your story.

Develop Your Plot

As I teased earlier, let’s talk about the plot.

Defined simply, the plot is a sequence of events. Each event is related and the events build on each other, forcing the protagonist to make increasingly harder choices.

Whereas your idea is what your story is about, your plot is what happens in the story. It’s how the story unfolds.

Plots commonly follow a structure known as Freytag's pyramid.

In this five-point structure, the first part of the plot introduces the characters and establishes what's normal. This helps readers identify what's not normal, which happens rather quickly in the next plot point.

The inciting incident occurs in the second part of the plot. This is where you create conflict and force the protagonist to act. A series of conflicts push against the protagonist until they reach the next plot point.

The third plot point is known as the climax. This is the biggest conflict in the story. Everything’s been leading to this moment. During this point, the protagonist meets the villain and struggles against them for dominance.

Falling action is the fourth plot point. Here, you show the consequences of your main characters' actions— both the good and the bad.

Resolution is the fifth and final plot point. In this stage, you establish the main characters' new normal.

Your plot is the beginning, middle, and end of your story. It’s how you act out your big idea.

Create Main Characters to Tell Your Story

Speaking of acting, you need characters to carry your story. Otherwise, you’re just telling instead of showing (which is a no-no in creative writing).

It’s important that you create characters who can explore the nuances of your theme. If your theme is rags to riches, your character may be similar to Aladdin— a character that your reader will root for because of his pluck and growth throughout the story.

You can use relatable characters to whom the reader becomes sympathetic. You can also use characters that make the reader recoil in fear or disgust.

The goal is to write characters that elicit strong emotions in the reader while also acting out your story.

Think About Your Story's Theme

We’ve talked about ideas. Now, let’s talk about the theme.

The theme is one of the five elements of every story (the other four being character, setting, plot, and conflict).

As I mentioned earlier, your story’s theme and idea are related. Think of the theme as the moral of the story, or the main message you want to share. Your story’s theme is important because it gives meaning to the story and humans (of which your reader is one) desperately search for meaning.

What you think of when you recall the story of Cinderella? Rags to riches, the importance of kindness, and good triumphing over evil?

These are the themes of Cinderella— the point that the storyteller wanted to convey by sharing her story.

What would you like for the reader to take from your story?

Create a Rough Outline

This is probably the most controversial tip in this guide. Why?

Some writers are pantsers. That means they like to fly by the seat of their pants and not plan their stories in advance.

While I appreciate that method, I can’t do it. I couldn’t even do it with this guide. I’m working off an outline right now.

I’m assuming you’re here because you’re like me. You have an idea but you can’t just start writing because you don’t know where to start. That’s why you need an outline.

Outlines are for those of us who need a starting point. They can be as detailed or as basic as you need.

Some writers prefer the free-flow nature of a mindmap. A mindmap helps you brainstorm ideas or create plot points and see how they relate to each other.

Other writers prefer a more detailed approach where they use bullet points to define what happens in each act, chapter, or scene. You can use good, old fashioned paper and pen for your outline or you can take it to the walls with post-it notes.

One major benefit of outlining is that you can use it to eliminate writer’s block. Writer’s block occurs when you don’t know where to go with your story next, but with an outline, you know exactly where to go.

A Word About Editing

How to write a novel

Editing is an important part of storytelling, but it must occur after you write. Editing while writing not only slows the process, but it also frustrates you.

The first step in writing a quality novel is to just get everything on the page— The good, the bad, and even the ugly. This is known as your first draft and it’s supposed to suck. During editing, you’ll refine your story.

Editing is a multi-part process. The first step is to self-edit after writing your first draft. You may edit and re-write your story multiple times.

The next step is to share your story with others. Instead of asking your family or friends to critique your story, I highly recommend that you ask a fellow writer. Join a writing community and then get help and a different perspective from another writer.

Then revise your story accordingly.

Finally, submit your work for a professional edit. This may be a three-part process:

First, you'll submit for a manuscript critique, which helps with your story's structure, consistency, character development, and theme.

After making the necessary edits, you may wish to do an in-depth treatment of your manuscript. This is known as the comprehensive edit.

The final type of edit is one that takes care of errors in spelling, grammar, and punctuation. It also tackles continuity errors. This is the type of edit you'll want only after your story has first gone through a critique and comprehensive edit.

Editing is where you fine-tune your simple idea and turn it into a grand novel.

You can learn more about our editing services here.

Next Steps

This guide is only the beginning. Here’s what to do next:

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