4 Things to Consider Before Writing a Novel

Image Credit: https://thetermaganttarleisio.files.wordpress.com/2011/11/hand_writing.jpg

Image Credit: https://thetermaganttarleisio.files.wordpress.com/2011/11/hand_writing.jpg

1) Characters

Establish your characters. It can be a quick profile to a two-page-long character history. Understand their backgrounds, how their histories shaped them and put them into your narrative, what their purposes serve. Don’t hesitate to cut one if you find that two characters are serving the same purpose (all the friends in a social circle, for example, can usually be condensed into one or two people, unless they’re specifically set as foils to each other).

2) Setting

Know exactly when and where your story takes place. You might just want to write a generic 19th century Gothic novel, but time and place matter. The dark forests of Italy give a different connotation than the swarthy heaths of England, and neither are quite as exotic (or potentially cliché-ridden) as a crumbling castle in Romania. Grounding your novel in a time and place gives it specificity, which gives the readers a concrete understanding of the world that your characters are in. It may be that the characters are used to dreary heavy clothing or terrifyingly sublime views from cliffs, but the readers are not. Familiarize them.

 3) Plot

You don’t have to know exactly how a conflict will resolve, or how it will arise, when you start writing. Often, the plot changes as you write. But you should have an idea of where the character will be at the end of the novel, so that there is some loose structure and an endgame in sight. Some people story board their entire novels; some people just start with a character in a setting and a first line.

4) Writing What You Know

It’s a general truism that writers only really succeed when they write what they know. Drawing on your life experiences in the plot and characters is inevitable. Actively pay attention to the miniscule details in your life, too. Those will help ground your settings and characters; small disappointments in everyday lives, the way some people pick up pennies on the street but not others, the fresh smell of a farmer’s market or the look and feel of a snow-heavy sky—details like these make the background feel real.

Also be careful of drawing too much from “what you know.” Pulling circumstances from your latest breakup or family tragedy is great for details. Being too emotionally invested in your personal reaction rather than the characters’ can easily devolve into rants and references that only really make sense to you. Leave some time when it comes to something that hurts.

Sidebar: For example, a character profile I wrote while I was feeling uninspired: Evelyn Mercer, the unintentional protagonist. A minor character in the fashionable set of Bright Young People in London, Evelyn works for the Special Operations Executive in Baker Street, passing and copying messages in the main office of the branch. The least political of her friends, she would prefer to pretend that there is actually no war; this is just how life is always. She lives in a flat with two roommates near Baker Street.

By Robin Yang

Robin Yang was one of the Campus Clipper’s publishing interns, who wrote an e-book on how to write a novel. If you like Robin’s writing, follow our blog for more chapters from this e-book. We have the most talented interns ever and we’re so proud of them! For over 20 years, the Campus Clipper has been offering awesome student discounts in NYC,  from the East Side to Greenwich Village. Along with inspiration, the company offers students a special coupon booklet and the Official Student Guide, which encourage them to discover new places in the city and save money on food, clothing and services.  

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