Have you ever had an idea that you'd love to turn into a novel? If you're new to book writing you're probably brimming with enthusiasm and ideas, but not quite sure where to start. The good news is that you've already started! All stories begin with the spark of inspiration. But being inspired alone is not enough to turn your idea into something more. You must develop your idea into an actionable plan in order to prepare to write your novel. While you can approach a novel willy-nilly, you'll soon find out that your enthusiasm will turn into confusion and frustration. To avoid roadblocks and give yourself the best possible approach, we've put together a roadmap to writing that can help guide you through the process.
Okay, so you've got an idea that you'd like to pursue. Now it's time to brainstorm.
Brainstorming is the art of layering more ideas onto your original idea. This is where you let your imagination run wild and all things are possible. Here the objective is to generate as many possibilities as you can, like shoveling sand into a pile before turning it into a castle. These will be collectively sorted through later on in the book-building process.
A great way to organize this information is by using a book map. Undoubtedly you've used one of these before. It's a simple bubble map, where you put a main idea or concept in the center and branch out with any relating ideas in bubbles tied by lines to the center. You probably remember seeing this format back in grade school when your teacher had you plan out your book reports or essays. This familiarity makes this process easy. You simply take the same approach and apply it to your book idea. The main goal of this map is to trap all of your ideas in one place and allow you to generate more. This will all be useful once you start writing, as most of the ideas you've mapped out in this stage are the beginnings of the material within your novel.
Below is an example of what a book map looks like and the type of information you might store there.
After you've generated your thought bubbles, it's time to organize them into a way that makes them easy to refer back to in the future. Before any further development can occur, it's important for your information to be in one place. This grows increasingly more vital once true development begins, as you don't want to misplace an idea or forget a key detail.
The best way to move from your bubble map into an organized format is with a story details list. This list is exactly what it sounds like. Using your bubble map, you're going to pull your individual ideas out and organize them into lists under different relevant topics. These topics should be things like: setting, characters, worldbuilding, plotline, themes, magic, etc. You can make as many categories as you'd like. The purpose here is to group your ideas together with other like ideas so that you can begin combining them in the next stage.
Here is what your story detail list for characters might look like:
The next step is to ask yourself the hard questions on your discovery sheet. Like a journalist or an amateur sleuth, you've got to ask yourself (and your characters by proxy) the who, what, when, where, and why. This is the first time you'll be pulling from your brainstorming ideas and digging deeper. Here is where you'll discover what your setting and world look like, gain a clearer understanding of who your characters are, and develop what your story is really about. You can have numerous pages of discovery sheets. If the ideas are flowing, the more the merrier.
**Bonus Tip: Still having trouble getting into the details of your story? Take a break and redirect your thoughts for an hour.
You can try several things to gather your creative energy. Feeling restless or scatterbrained? Yoga will help you center yourself and your thoughts. Coffee got you jittery? Go for a walk or do a few household chores. Feeling unmotivated or stuck? Maybe journaling or warming up with a writing prompt could do the trick.
The process of brainstorming is a personal one. You don't necessarily have to follow what we've written here but rather use it as the starting point to help you build your own routine. You can use notebooks, colored pens, washi tape, bullet journals- the options are endless!
What comes after brainstorming? Why, development of course!
There are many different areas of book writing where development is necessary. While authors often disagree on how much development is needed, it never hurts to do a bit more. That's why we're walking you through our development process in this section.
Character Development is our favorite part of the development process. We have several articles that we've written on the topic from types of characters, to archetypes, to motivations, how to build relationships, how to make your characters unique, and how to write dangerous women who aren't cliques. These will help you flesh out your characters once you've got the basics down.
For the purpose of this article, we'll be focusing on the basics: Developing Character Traits.
Personally, this is one of the best parts of writing. Delving into the essence of your characters can be so much fun! That being said there's a lot of groundwork to be done in order to develop characters that are well-rounded, realistic, and appealing to your would-be readers.
Here is our favorite template for character development.
By answering the questions in our template, it will allow you to get to know your characters in a more complete way. You can do further development by figuring out how your characters interact with each other or how they would react in different situations by using writing prompts. It's never a bad thing to know more about your characters. There's also not a right or wrong time to develop them. If you prefer to start writing and discover their personalities along the way, that's fine! You can always use this template when you feel stuck or when you need more insight into why they make the choices they do.
Worldbuilding is the process of creating the world through which your story takes place. It's where you develop backstory, landscapes, historical events, societies, magic systems, religions, types of beings that live there and how they live, how their government functions, etc. Like character development, you can do as much or as little as you think you need. The more you know about your world the more you have to pull from when you write your story and the more realistic and inclusive your novel will feel to your readers.
The trick here is to not get obsessed. Endlessly creating can lead to an acute lack of non-writing, so you do want to eventually limit yourself in some way. Decide from the start what your boundary of knowledge will be. How much do you need to know? Where do you draw the line between necessary information and interesting background facts that will never make it into your novel? By determining this before you start you lessen the risk of wasting your time and creative energy.
While it's true that you'll only use about 10% of what you develop here in your novel, you don't want to skimp on this stage of development. It's like the iceberg theory. While your readers can only see the tip above of the water, they know there's lots of details underneath. They can tell because of how you spread out the information you do share in your story's descriptions, how the characters interact with their world and what basic knowledge they have about their "normal" reality, and how things change over time. They need to understand how your character thinks about their world and thusly how their quest will change said world. To do that, you as the writer must first know what the world looks like and how it works to be able to show this to the reader within your manuscript.
There is a lot of information to cover under this topic, so instead of making this post unnecessarily long, here are the necessary resources you need to fully develop your story's world.
An Introduction to Worldbuilding
Worldbuilding 101: Where do I start?
The Do's & Don'ts of Worldbuilding
How to Find Your "Right" Approach to Worldbuilding
Worldbuilding Part 1: Natural Topics
Worldbuilding Part 2: Societal Topics
Worldbuilding Part 3: Governing Forces
Worldbuilding Part 4: Advanced Topics
The Ultimate Worldbuilding Questionnaire
Setting is not the same as worldbuilding though it is related. Setting is worldbuilding on a smaller scale. It is where your story will take place in specific scenes- think Hogwarts and the places within or around the castle where the Harry Potter adventures happen. The world at large is the wizarding world. The setting is Hogwarts and the specific areas within.
Hopefully through your brainstorming you've come up with a couple of events that take place within your story. Now it's time to revisit those and develop the settings through which they play out. Below is a worksheet detailing the aspects of setting you should know before you begin writing. Use it to help you develop each scene you know will be in your story and refer back to what you write here once you start writing.
Need further help? Here are more resources to guide you.
Building Setting: The Elements of Setting
Building Setting: The 2 Types of Setting
Building Setting: Ways to Introduce Place in Your Story
Building Setting: The Do's & Don'ts of Writing Setting
You've got your world and your settings down- now what?
Research is crucial. The amount of research you have to do depends on what genre you plan to write. Historical fiction or romance set in 1800s England requires an immense amount of factual research. Sci-Fi requires technical knowledge of space and Sci-Fi gadgets. Even Fantasy novels need a background details about magic, lore, and interesting cultural practices/legends. It's also an excellent way to fight off writer's block during development or even as you're writing.
Think about what your story needs. Every story has something about it that gives it pizazz, whether it's a fantastic setting, charming characters, or quirky story lines. When you have a good grasp of what your story is about you'll then be able to create a list of ways to make it more unique and interesting.
Google interesting facts about your story's world. Think about ways that you can incorporate mythology or lore. How can you strengthen the core beliefs of your characters? All this and more can bolster the overall appeal of your work. Break it down into smaller pieces. If your setting is a real place, look at the street view on Google Maps. Research every aspect of everyday life in the time period your novel is written in. Find out what it would really be like to work the job your protagonist has or the hobbies they enjoy.
Anything you find is going to be worthwhile information that you can then incorporate into your overall setting/worldbuilding. However, this should be another activity with boundaries set before you start. It's all too easy to spend hours researching and procrastinating from writing so be wary of that.
From brainstorming your idea to developing your characters, world, and setting there's a hefty amount of work to be done. If you take your time and work at it you'll find the results will set you up for a successful novel.
**Join us for Part 2 of this post next Tuesday March 2st.**
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