Ask a Book Coach: How to Start Writing Your Novel
Welcome to my Ask a Book Coach blog series! If you ever wanted to pick the brain of a book coach, this series is for you. In this series, I’m sharing the answers to the tough, fun, and sometimes random questions I get from my writers.
This week we are tackling the question:
Hey, Ashly! I want to write a novel, and I have a great idea, but I have no idea where to begin! Where do I start?
So glad you asked!
There are a lot of places you can start, but I’ve found these three exercises to be the most important and the most foundational. Start with these three and your story will be well on it's way!
Step One: Figure out your why and your point
Answer these questions:
Why do you want to write this book/tell this story?
What point do you want to make?
This might seem obvious or like busywork, but it absolutely isn’t. This is one of the most important steps you can take: Get clear on why you want to write this story and what point you want to make. This will keep you focused and help you sort out what belongs in your story and what doesn’t. It will also keep you going when the going gets rough.
Pro Tip 1: Your point will probably sound cliche. It might be something like “love conquers all” or “Strength comes from inside” etc… This is completely fine! By the time your story is done, your theme will be more elegant and unique. Start with the simple, cliche, universal truths and trust the process.
Pro Tip 2: Make sure to dig deep with your why. For more on this, read this blog post by Jennie Nash.
Step Two: Write a novel overview
A novel overview is basically just a long, detailed story summary. Here’s how to do it:
Brain dump all you know about your book
Look at what you wrote and make sure that it’s connected to your point. (e.g. Is your point that love conquers all? Make sure the plot and character you are writing about are going to make that point.) Tweak as needed.
Next, dig for more specifics (but don’t get too carried away or stress out--have fun with it). What does this mean? Say you wrote “My main character Natalie has some daddy issues.” Great! What kind of daddy issues? Look for any vague language and make it more specific. Some specifics you won’t know yet. But by digging a bit into specifics, your story starts to take shape—and specifics always beget more specifics!
Step Three: Figure out your main character
The three most important core parts of story are character, conflict, and theme. We already addressed theme (that’s your point!). Now it’s time to address character and the very individualized conflict your character will go through. Begin by answering these questions:
What is your character’s driving desire/goal during the course of the novel?
Why do they want it?
What is standing in their way externally?
What is standing in their way internally? (fear/misbelief)
Pro Tip : Make sure the character’s internal struggle and ultimate resolution of that struggle will make the point that you want to make with your story.
Pro Tip 2: For more about building a misbelief for your character, check out Lisa Cron’s book Story Genius.
And that’s it! Those are the three steps I coach my writers through when they are starting their novels! One last note:
Remember that novels are written in layers.
You don’t have to get these steps perfect before you move on. This is a path forward and you can revisit these as often as you need to. I revised my what if and character misbelief several times as I wrote. In fact, as I revise I’m fine tuning it even further. Words are hard, stories are hard, but trust the process. Trust that even when words fail you and the misbelief is a little off and the driving desire doesn’t match up once you start writing that your story is still getting out there and taking the shape it’s meant to take.
Love this blog series?! Wish you could ask a book coach questions that are specific to YOUR work-in-progress? Working with a book coach is one of the most fun, most satisfying, most effective things you can do for your writing life. A current client of mine recently said this to me:
“I had this moment a month ago, when I thought, ‘I'm not really going to hire literally the first book coach I've ever heard of without at least getting quotes from other people, too, am I?’ And then that's exactly what I did, because I just felt like the way you spoke on your blog and in your Insta lives was exactly the kind of voice I needed in my head while I'm writing. And that was a 100% excellent decision.”
But wait—Just who am I? How can you trust me? After all, everyone’s an expert on the internet ;)
Hold on while I take huge slurp of coffee…
Hi! I’m Ashly! I serve writers who want to write an extraordinary story and who are eager to grow as a writer and storyteller. I believe we aren’t born knowing how to write a good story, but have to learn it (just like Yo-Yo Ma wasn’t born knowing how to play the cello). I believe in the power of stories (especially stories in the fantasy genre) to bring hope and life into dark places. I’m an Author Accelerator certified book coach and I’ve been coaching writers in various genres for two years now. I’m honored to be part of the creation of so many beautiful stories (see my testimonials page if you want to read about some amazing writers!!).
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