How to Write a Novel and get Published: a Step-by-Step Guide

The Novel Factory Roadmap is a complete step-by-step process for writing a novel.

  1. Write a Premise
  2. Develop a Plot Outline
  3. Complete Character Introductions
  4. Write a Short Synopsis
  5. Expand that into an extended Synopsis
  6. Establish a Goal to Decision Cycle
  7. Carry out detailed Character Development
  8. Research your Locations
  9. Complete Advanced Plotting of subplots
  10. Write Character Viewpoints
  11. Do your Scene Blocking
  12. Write your First Draft
  13. Think about Themes
  14. Edit, edit, edit
  15. Polish your Final Draft
  16. Submit to agents or self-publishing platforms

 

Note - The best way to use the Roadmap is in the Novel Factory 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.

Overview

How to write a novel and get published - a step by step guide

What is the novel writing roadmap?

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
  • subplots
  • drafting
  • editing
  • the current landscape for publication

Each of the sixteen 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
  • Description
  • Examples
  • A clear, manageable task

Skip straight to the Roadmap steps, or read on.

Who is the roadmap for?

New writers

New writers

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

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.

Planners

Novel writing for Planners

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.

What are the limitations of using a step-by-step guide to write a novel?

Using a formula stifles creativity (or does it?)

Photo credit: Cakes and Cupcakes Mumbai

(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

Free your creativity

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.

How should you use the roadmap?

Guide to writing a novel

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 – or else!

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.

Preparing to become a writer

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

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!

 

The Roadmap: How to write and publish a novel in sixteen steps

 

Step One: The Premise

How to write a premise

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?

Learn more about each of these elements and how to combine them into a single sentence that describes your core story idea - your premise.

Read the full article on how to write a premise

 

Step Two: The Plot Outline

How to write a Plot Outline

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.

Read the full article on how to write a plot outline

 

Step Three: Character Introductions

How to create characters

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 ansering key questions about your lead characters, you can start to build your cast.

Read the full article on how to write character introductions

 

Step Four: Short Synopsis

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.

Read the full article on how to write a short synopsis

 

Step Five: Extended Synopsis

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.

Read the full article on how to write an extended synopsis

 

Step Six: Goal to Decision Cycle

How to write novel scenes

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.

Read the full article on goal to decision cycles

 

Step Seven: Character Development

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 fulfilment.

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 bu 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.

Read the full article on character development

 

Step Eight: Locations

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.

Read the full article on developing locations for you book

 

Step Nine: Advanced Plotting with Subplots

Advanced novel plotting

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.

Read the full article on advanced novel plotting

 

Step Ten: Character Viewpoints

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.

Read the full article on character viewpoints

 

Step Eleven: Scene Blocking

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.

Read the full article on scene blocking

 

Step Twelve: First Draft

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.

Read the full article on writing your first draft

 

Step Thirteen: Theme and Variations

Once your first draft is complete, its a good idea to take some time to let it settle - even though you might be raring to get onto redrafting right away.

During this time, read it over and see which themes emerge. Think about the beating heart of the story and the message you'd like it to give.

Develop and enahnce these for greater depth and emotional impact. See where there might be opportnities to add foreshadowing and hints at these themes.

Read the full article on theme and variations

 

Step Fourteen: Editing

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 charcaters and plot.

Read the full article on editing

 

Step Fifteen: Final Draft and Feedback

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.

Read the full article on editing

 

Step Sixteen: Getting Published

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.

Read the full article on getting published

 

Recommended Further Reading:

Books:

Techniques of the Selling Writer - Dwight Swain

Getting into Character - Brandilyn Collins

Self-editing for fiction writers - Renni Browne and Dave King

Blogs:

Cracking Yarns - Screenwriting Advice from Allen Palmer

The Better Novel Project - deconstructing bestselling novels

Writers Helping Writers - lists and other resources

 

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