How To Write A Novel When You Don’t Know How Or Where to Start

By Ruth Barringham

No matter what writing project you want to start on, regardless of how long or short it is, staring at a blank page feels like the first step in procrastination.

So the best way to begin is with small steps.

In David Allen’s productivity course called, Getting Things Done, he talks about understanding the difference between tasks and projects, and that each project is made up of separate tasks.

So we need to understand that we can’t do a project, but we can do the tasks necessary to complete it.

So in this case, a novel is a project, while the steps necessary to complete it are the tasks we need to do.

There is a really great book about this called The Snowflake Method, written by Randy Ingermason.

In this book he likens a novel to a snowflake because if you look closely at a snowflake, you’ll see that it’s made up of smaller snowflakes all stuck together. It starts with one in the centre and it branches out from there with more and more little snowflakes added to it.

So in order to make a snowflake, all the little flakes must be joined together in the right order.

And so it is with a novel.

You begin with one little snowflake - your idea - and keep fleshing it out and adding things to it until you have a complete story.

So, for instance, you might begin with the idea of wanting to write about life in a haunted town.

Then you decide how is it haunted? Is it the people? A certain house or street? Or is it something creepy that only happens at night?

Next you add your characters and decide how the haunting affects them individually and collectively.

Stories are always character driven, and love them or hate them, the readers have to care about them.

Each major character must want something and the main character usually has a flaw that the on-going problem exacerbates.

There is also a crisis that must challenge the flaw so that the character can overcome it.

And you need to know all your characters well and write a personal bio of each one, plus a timeline of what happens to each of them.

There should also be at least 3 crisis happen to keep the story interesting.

At the end of the book there needs to be a change, either physically, emotionally or both.

But the whole things starts with just one idea.

Then expand it by asking questions and inventing characters, plots and sub-plots.

Fleshing a story outline like this could take a while. Sometimes a day or two - or more, depending on how intricate your ideas are and how entwined they are.

But to start with, just get one idea of what you want to write about.

And remember, to begin with, you don’t have to know how things will happen. Only that they will.

And that’s how you start writing a novel.

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