Storytelling: How to Plan and Write Your Novel

Write your novel by making a plan and seeing it through. The world’s full of unfinished books shoved in cupboards and under stairs: make sure your book doesn’t join that pile. The secret is in careful planning

Don’t rush it. After all, it took Donna Tartt ten years to write “The Little Friend”, her second novel. Non-fiction is quicker, so long as you know your topic inside out and you can undertake any necessary research efficiently; so if you’re in a hurry, why not stick to your own subject for your first literary steps.

If you’re really keen to write that novel that you know you have in you, here are a few ideas to get you started.

Follow the rules

Every type of book has a set of rules governing its structure. Read plenty other books in your genre so you know your book will fit the pattern. Whether you want to write a crime story, a romance, a ghost story, a children’s book or a comic novel, it pays to find out how others have done it.

Decide on one typical reader for your book, and write very specifically for that person.

Plan carefully

Start with your main character. Write down what he looks like, where and when he was born and what his main characteristics are. What would strike you first about him if you met him? Maybe he has some distinguishing characteristic, like eyes that are different colours, or a beautiful voice. What does he wear: eat: do in his spare time?

Make him someone you find interesting, and avoid creating a monster you come to hate: Agatha Christie heartily disliked her detective, Hercule Poirot, after a few years of writing about him. Arthur Conan Doyle went so far as to kill off Sherlock Holmes, only to have to bring him back due to popular demand.

Describe your book’s setting in detail; then begin to plot the whole story. A time line will help if you’re a visual type, showing every important event. Write a note for each new chapter, and whenever a new character appears, write a description. Keep your characters lively.

Get creative

Use mind mapping to help your creative juices flow. Take a blank sheet of paper; write your book’s theme in the middle of the page and think of any and every idea to take it forward. Write them all down, around the page, linking them to the centre. When you’re exhausted, look again and pull out the best ideas. Write each of them in the centre of a new sheet of paper and repeat the process.

First draft

Now that you’ve planned out the whole novel, you can finally start that first draft. Avoid becoming bogged down in the task of crafting those opening lines. Just remember to come back to them later. The first few lines are vital as a hook to get your reader interested and make her want to read on further.

Keep writing, until you’ve gone through the whole story. Don’t worry about grammar and spelling in this first draft, just get the tale down on paper.


When it’s all there, however roughly, you can start to revise. Allow plenty of time for this, as you’ll probably rewrite most of the story. Your last and final revision will cover spelling and punctuation and eliminate typos.

Don’t rely on your grammar and spell checker, but check everything yourself. Your word processor will let ‘here’ and ‘hear’ errors through. Try reading a sentence at a time starting at the end of each chapter. This will help you to forget the story and to concentrate on checking for spelling and grammar errors. Draft in a willing friend or family member to look over your novel, to spot mistakes that you missed.

Take a last look at the opening sentences, give them a final polish and congratulate yourself on planning and writing your novel.