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The Novel Factory Roadmap is a complete step-by-step process for writing a novel. Here is a summary of the steps, which are described in more detail below, with links to comprehensive articles for each one.
- Write a Premise
- Develop a Plot Outline
- Complete Character Introductions
- Write a Short Synopsis
- Expand that into an extended Synopsis
- Establish a Goal to Decision Cycle
- Carry out detailed Character Development
- Do your Scene Blocking
- Write your First Draft
- Research your Locations
- Develop subplots
- Write Character Viewpoints
- Redraft and Edit
- Final Polishing and get Feedback
- Get published
Note - The best way to use the Roadmap is in the Novel Factory Online software (which you can try completely free), but if you don't fancy that, all the steps are available completely free and in full below.
Introduction to the Novel Writing Roadmap
Before we get to the steps, we'll explain a little about how the Roadmap is intended to be used. If you don't want to read the introduction you can jump straight to the descriptions of the steps.
The Roadmap is a step-by-step guide to writing a novel, which takes you from initial idea all the way to seeking publication with your completed manuscript.
It’s based on established theory relating to:
- key story elements
- plot structure
- character development
- effective pacing
- the current landscape for publication
Each of the steps builds on the previous one and it works by starting with your basic story idea, then building on it in a systematic way by developing plot, characters, settings and more, until you have a complete, polished manuscript.
Each step is explained in an article which includes:
- Theory and background
- A clear, manageable task
Skip straight to the Roadmap steps, or read on.
The primary intended audience for the Roadmap is new writers, who have a hunger to write a book, but find the idea daunting and bewildering.
We’ve been there, and that’s exactly why we created the Roadmap. To try to create some order from the chaos of creativity.
There are an overwhelming number of resources available on the art of writing a novel, including books, blogs, online courses, magazines, local courses, writing groups and more. It can be confusing for a new writer to know where to start, and you might accidentally end up learning all about dialogue but not having a clue about structure. Or you might become a master prose writer, but not know how to move a plot along.
The Roadmap attempts to distil and order all of this information into a manageable process that gives you exactly the right information at exactly the right time.
Pantsers (people who prefer to write a book without doing any planning) have been in touch with us in the past to let us know that despite their preference for complete inspiration, they too have found value in the Roadmap.
Some enjoy just taking a few of the steps to ensure their first draft is a little more structured. Others turn to the Roadmap after writing their first draft to retroactively strengthen the key novel elements and discover where there may be weaknesses in the manuscript.
Established Planners (novelists who like to meticulously plan their novel before beginning to write) have a natural affinity with the Roadmap.
Planners are more likely to have already established their own personal writing process, but many find steps and techniques of the Roadmap useful in supplementing and enhancing their own practices.
Using a formula stifles creativity (or does it?)
(Photo credit: Cakes and Cupcakes Mumbai)
Some writers are concerned that the use of processes stifle creativity, and result in books that are all the same.
But a process is simply a way of consistently achieving a particular result – in this case around 90,000 words that excite and engage a reader.
A hundred people could follow this Roadmap and end up with novels so different from each other that it would be impossible to tell they even followed the same steps.
That’s because our novels come from our experiences, and no two of those are the same.
One writer couldn’t write the same book as another, even if they tried.
Having said that…
Sometimes you have to give the muse the reins
The Roadmap should never be slavishly followed at the expense of your inspiration.
It provides a framework to help you harness and guide your creativity, but at the end of the day writing is an art, and if your heart or gut is begging you to do something, then set aside the steps and follow your instinct.
Conciseness and comprehensiveness must be balanced
In order to create a guide that is useful in a meaningful, practical way, it is not possible to include every piece of useful writing advice and guidance that could benefit a new writer.
The Roadmap is a distilled version of the key points, as gleaned from dozens of books on writing, hundreds of articles, decades of writing, years of research and analysis and a heavy dollop of personal experience.
Therefore, we encourage further reading to support and deepen your knowledge of the principles laid out in these steps.
Every writer is different, and every writer will find their own method of writing their book.
Therefore, the Roadmap is not intended to be a strict set of instructions that must be followed to the letter.
Not at all.
It’s a just a suggested route for getting from A to B, where A is where you are now, and B is having a completed novel in your hands.
But there are many roads, modes of transport, diversions and scenic points along the way that you may wish to intentionally deviate to.
You may wish to skip some steps and come back to them later, or ignore them altogether.
So if you’re on step four but you’re itching to get started writing your first draft – then do it! The best writing comes from the heart, so listen to yours.
We hope the Roadmap helps writers take steps towards achieving their dreams, and like all good mentors, it is happy to eventually stand aside and watch proudly as the student spreads their wings and soars on their own.
There are a few things you can do to help create the right conditions for successfully writing a book:
Intend to have a daily writing habit
In an ideal world, you will be able to write every day, for a reasonable amount of time.
For many of us with busy lives, this is an unrealistic dream.
The best we can do is carve out a few minutes from our busy schedules.
If possible, try to schedule in a set time every day, reserved for writing.
But if that’s simply not possible in your circumstances – or if that kind of routine doesn’t suit your personality, then just stick to this one simple rule:
Write every day.
Having a target of writing every day – even if it’s just a single sentence - will make a world of difference.
Have a ‘safe space’ for writing
Writers can write anywhere. In cafes; with their laptops balanced across sleeping babies; in a cupboard, in the garden or even in a dedicated office (my personal dream is to have my own writing turret one day).
The location itself isn’t important, but the sanctity of the space is.
This means that when you enter your writing space, you should be free from distractions and interruptions. These distractions may be family members, chores, mobile phones, emails, the Internet, or anything else that will take up your brainspace and time (the only allowable exception is cats – who must be given their due respect, even when walking on the keyboard or cleaning themselves directly in front of your monitor).
Do your best to establish and be ferocious in protecting your safe space.
Speaking of which…
Don’t apologise for taking time for writing
A common habit of unpublished writers is to feel guilty for time they take to write.
They feel that they ought to be doing something ‘more productive’ like doing the laundry, going to the gym, feeding the toddler, etc etc.
Of course, you must fulfil your duties as parent, worker, householder, whatever – but you are a person too, and you also deserve to spend time doing what brings you joy.
And if writing brings you pleasure, then it is wise and mindful to allow yourself some personal space to enjoy it.
Of course there is some sensible judgement involved here – if you lock yourself in a room for fifteen hours a day and refuse to converse with your children until the first 100,000 words are complete, then perhaps its time to reassess the balance. However, people who behave in this way rarely suffer from complicated feelings such as guilt.
No, in most cases, the people who feel guilty about taking time to write are the ones who are already giving everything of themselves to others, keeping their families and colleagues afloat, and barely have time to sit down for five minutes with a cup of tea.
If that sounds like you, then give yourself permission to nourish yourself doing what you love.
The first part of taking care of others is taking care of yourself.
If this resonated with you, then tweet us and we’ll reply with some words of encouragement to boost your resolve!
Now - let's get started writing a novel!
This article is available in video format!
The Novel Writing Roadmap
Before you start writing, you need to make sure your story idea contains all the essential elements of a complete story.
Who is your main character? What is their situation? What do they want? What's stopping them getting it? What disaster is going to up the stakes of your novel?
There are a tried and tested story structures that resonate with audiences, and becoming familiar with these will help ensure your novel and direction and pace.
When creating your plot outline you can start with some basic plot templates to ensure you're covering all your bases.
Most plot outlines include setting up the scene, an inciting incident, progressively harder challenges and conflict, and a climactic ending.
Characters are the most important part of your novel. This step offers a method of drawing key characters with broad brushtrokes, then filling in the detail to make them memorable and unique.
By answering key questions about your lead characters, you can start to build your cast.
Describe the setup, major incidents and resolution of your story in a single page.
The short synopsis gives you a clear overview of the basic structure of your story, ensuring it's not meandering or stalling.
Start to develop the bones of your story, adding detail and expanding on each of the sentences in the short synopsis.
This step allows you to let loose a little more and let your imagination start filling in the detail of the basic plot outline you've come up with.
The goal to decision cycle is a very helpful tool to ensure the actions your main character takes feel logical rather than erratic or out of the blue.
Breaking down the action into six parts: Goal >> Conflict >> Disaster >> Reaction >> Dillemma >> Decision also gives you visibility of the pace of your novel. It is easy to identify if your novel potentially contains too much action without breaks, which may fatigue the reader, or too long stretches of pondering, which may cause them to drift off.
Of course the balance and application of this technique largely depends on the type of story you're writing, and the effect you'd like to achieve.
Delve deep into your characters, really learning what drives them, what they need to learn about themselves and how they need to change in order to reach fulfillment.
There are a range of options in this section for developing three-dimensional, memorable characters.
We consider Voice, which includes not only what they say but how they say it, and the influences that have made them that way. We also look at their inner-self, including their motivations, flaws, greatest fears and more. And of course we consider each major character's background, including their childhood, family background, most influential experiences and more. There is also an extensive character questionnaire to help prompt a wide range of details about each character.
Before you start writing your first draft, it's really helpful to outline each of the scenes.
This outline loosely blocks out what happens in the scene, including 'stage directions', key snippets of dialogue and anything else relevant.
It's finally time to start writing your first draft.
With all the preparation in hand, your first draft will fly from your fingers in no time and be many times stronger than if you'd just started writing from scratch.
When it comes to writing a first draft, our recommendation is to let loose and steam through it as fast as possible. This is not the time for reflection, editing or perfection. Making the prose tight and effective comes later, during the editing process - what's important now is getting the story out.
This can be the most exciting part of writing the novel, as your creative juices are free to flow - and because of all the planning work that's in place, writer's block is unlikely to be a worry.
Also because of the background work you've put in place, your first draft is likely to be so much stronger than otherwise, saving a lot of reworking in future drafts.
Locations are more than just places for your characters to walk around in.
Great locations will influence the story, and their atmospheres will change depending on the plot and internal character arc.
Use the five senses and other tools at your disposal to develop locations that add atmosphere and theme, and enhance your story.
This is the time to weave all your elements together and make sure there are no major holes. See how locations affect characters and how the characters move the plot.
Think about subplots, such as romances, items and political and cultural influences. Consider how each character's background will impact on the story and their relationships. Think about what clues you need to lead up to your final conclusion, and the best place to hide each of them.
This technique can help add depth and texture to your novel.
It involves watching the action, or telling the story from the point of view of each of your major characters. In this way you can avoid the danger of having characters who only seem to exist in the scenes they appear in, then pop out of existence at other times. Knowing what key characters have been doing while your hero has been progressing their arc can greatly enrichen the story and make it feel more grounded and real.
And seeing what they think about the major events can help you ensure they all have unique and contrasting motivations and objectives.
Furthermore, completing character viewpoints can also help you identify plot holes and story flaws.
According to many writers, redrafting is the real part of writing.
This is where you take the sand you shovelled into the box of your first draft, and turn it into sandcastles (thanks to Shannon Hale).
Editing will include high level structural edits, adding and deleting entire scenes, and sentence and word level polishing, making sure every single word contributes to the progress of your characters and plot.
There may be many more drafts before the final draft, but eventually you'll find you're only making small edits. Congratulations! You're on your final draft.
Once you feel you've made your novel as perfect as it can be, it's a really good idea to get feedback from other writers. The 'other writers' part is important - you need constructive criticism, not a pat on the back, or worse, uninformed discouragement. Other writers willing to give feedback can be found in local writers' groups or online communities.
Now you've got your novel, it's time to put it out into the world. This section gives advice on how to approach a publisher or agent (note - the Online version of the Roadmap now includes information on self-publishing).
When approaching an agent, the key things are to: research and find the right shortlist; carefully read and follow their submission guidelines; be patient and persevere. Submitting can be a disheartening business, but know that every rejection you receive is a badge of honour and a step towards your eventual success.
Self-publishing is by no means an easier route, and it's important to ensure you understand the business side of the industry before letting your brainchild out into the world. Launch day is the most important, and you should make sure you have a solid marketing plan in place right at the start.
This article is available in video format!
Recommended Further Reading:
(some of these are affiliate links, but we never link to anything we wouldn't recommend regardless)
- Techniques of the Selling Writer - Dwight Swain
- Getting into Character - Brandilyn Collins
- Self-editing for fiction writers - Renni Browne and Dave King
- Cracking Yarns - Screenwriting Advice from Allen Palmer
- The Better Novel Project - deconstructing bestselling novels
- Jerry Jenkins Blog - writing advice blog of 21 time NYT Bestselling author
- Writers Helping Writers - lists and other resources
- Live Write Thrive - website of C. S. Lakin
- Well-Storied - website of Kristen Kieffer