typewriterSo you want to write a novel. You have been throwing around ideas for a while now, but you don’t know where to start, or which story you should invest your time in. You’ve hit a wall and want to get going before your idea becomes stale and your attention drifts to other, less important things. Well there are techniques to getting the ball rolling and I am going to share what works for me. I am not promising miracles or even suggesting that this will work for you, but I am sharing what works for me. So give it a read and maybe a try…

First, and foremost, write your ideas down. If you have them rolling around in that cranium of yours they will likely dissipate, vanish, or morph into something less organic. Don’t write out the whole story just yet, it is far to infantile to jump that far ahead, simply jot down a one paragraph summary. Then sit on it for a day. Run it by friends, family, the guy at Starbucks and see if they think it sounds interesting.

Once you have found the story that connects, calls to you and owns you, map it out from beginning to end. Don’t worry about perfecting anything, nothing is set in stone. You just need to create a skeleton of what your manuscript might become, but don’t structure it. At least not yet. This may sound idiotic, but be creative. Don’t get bogged down in the minutia. One way to achieve this is to form story clusters of plots and subplots that connect to a major theme, similar to brainstorming. By doing this, you aren’t stuck on formatting and your imagination runs wild. You might find your subplots are more intriguing than your original idea and that is okay, great in fact. This means your story is taking on a life.

Now that you have your story elements in place, it’s time to straighten out the mess. Draft an elementary outline that takes those main ideas through to the end. Again, don’t worry about the small stuff, think macro, focusing only on major and minor plot points.

Here is a Narrative Guide:

1.    Conflict

                     a.     Determine events of the narrative

                                              i.     What is tearing your world apart?

2.     Rising Action

                     a.     This builds from the conflict

                                              i.     Characters try to resolve the conflict

3.     Climax

                    a.     Desperation, futility, hopelessness, drives the protagonist to action

                    b.     Everything comes to a head, it’s do or die at this point.

4.     Resolution

                    a.     The fork in the road – which way to resolve?
                    b.     Self-reflection
                    c.     Change in thinking

                                              i.     Solutions to the originating conflict

Now you have a solid narrative outline. Next week I will discuss creating a Writers Handbook.

Sara O'Connor
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Sara O'Connor

A dreamer, a writer, a critic, an avid reader and the endless seeker of enlightenment through education. Basically, that translates to a girl who loves to read and discusses what she is reading and writing with anyone who will listen so that she doesn’t have to think about her obscenely large student loan debt. She holds a BA in pre-law, a Masters from Northeastern University in Communication Management with a focus in Social Media Marketing and Personal Branding and is currently working on an MFA in creative writing, but believes she has learned the most from writing…lots and lots of writing. She is also the owner of the literary and lifestyle business marketing an management firm, Voir Media Group.
Sara O'Connor
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Showing 4 comments
  • Ned's Blog

    Excellent advice, Sara! Before writing a mystery novel many years ago, I first read several books about novel writing techniques. By far the best was Barbara Norville’s “How to Write a Mystery,” which outlined many of the same general techniques you mention. It works really, really well and, like you said, frees up the thinking process and makes way for creativity to flow. I remember walking around the house with a note pad, talking through all the scenarios from different characters’ perspectives. I looked like I had Multiple Personality Disorder, but the result was a series of plot points and twists that I hadn’t expected — and may not have discovered if I hadn’t mapped it out first.

  • Valerie

    Thank you for this! I have written a summary but never followed a narative guide. Love the suggestion – will do!

  • Valerie


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