Fundamentals of Novel Writing – Part 1

There are some things that every writer should get right before any thought of publication (either through self publishing or traditional). With the onset of self-publishing, especially, there is a tendency of complacency (and lack of writing ability) in so much that a writer can write however they wish, because there are no ‘rules’ to follow.
While this is indeed true, it is also misleading. There is also no quality control with self publishing, so if writers do break those ‘rules’ then the result will be a terrible, unreadable mess. Fact. That is why there are guidelines in place, to ensure a writer produces a quality written piece of fiction.
If you want to write a novel then you have to know the fundamentals. If you ignore the fundamentals, then you’re not going to achieve much as a writer.
The Fundamentals:
Planning – a little planning goes a long way. A lot of planning goes even further. The less prepared you are to embark on a novel, the more problems you will encounter. So plan your novel - sketch out the chapters, make sure all your important characters are well defined, know a rough ending and know where the story might go.
Length – have some idea of what the length your novel will be and try to stick to it. Anything less than 60,000 words will be a novella. Any more than 110,000 words will end up being a saga (and probably a huge bore for your readers). Average length novels run from 80,000 to 100,000 words.
Plot – what is the plot? What, essentially, is the story about? What is the point of the story? What will it achieve, what is it trying to say? Make sure your plot is as tight as it can be, otherwise readers will pick out the holes, the obvious plot flaws, quite easily. If your plot isn’t watertight, then the rest of the story will fail.
POV – there are certain guidelines for this, and there is good reason for it. Too many writers believe that there is nothing wrong with jumping from one POV to another, mid scene. This is not a good idea, and it’s another classic error made by beginners. And those too arrogant to want to accept any different.
The general rule for POV is that viewpoints should not shift until there is a new scene or a new chapter to introduce them.
The reason for this ‘rule’? Try reading a novel with viewpoints all over the place. It’s hard to figure out whose point of view it is and whose story is being told. It’s confusing and difficult to read. If there is no clear viewpoint and it’s not clear whose story is being told, then the story has failed on a major level.
If authors can’t get these basics right, then they have no place writing.
Characterisation – A good book always has great characters. Lack of characterisation makes for a poorly written book. Make sure your characters are interesting, dynamic, but ultimately flawed. Make the reader care about them. And make sure the reader can root for your protagonist. There’s nothing worse than a hero we all hate.
More importantly, whose story is it? Many authors make the mistake of letting secondary characters take over. The main character’s story becomes lost. This is a classic mistake made by beginners.
Conflict – where is the conflict? What kinds of conflict will it have? A story without conflict isn’t a story.
Conflict usually takes the form of good guy versus the bad guy; it is the fuel of any good story. But conflict can come from different things - the environment or surroundings; it can be internal conflict from your main character. It could be conflict between secondary characters or with companies or even authorities. Whatever the conflict, make sure it works as part of the overall story.
As with every aspect of fiction writing, don’t force it.
Structure – The importance of structure shouldn’t be overlooked. But what exactly is structure?
When we talk about structure, it means the construction of the novel. In other words, are the scenes set out properly (do they flow instead or do they stutter and jump from one thing to another?). Is the dialogue structured properly? Are the chapters clear? Are POVs correctly done? Does the whole thing move the story forward in a logical manner? Do you have a tight plot in place, with clear subplots and themes to underscore the story?
Above all, does your story make sense?
All these things working together make up the overall structure of a novel, and if one of them is lacking or flawed, then the structure isn’t working and the story won’t be as strong as you may want it.
In part 2, we’ll look at more fundamentals for writing a novel, such as the beginning and ending of the novel, dialogue structure and exposition.

Next week - Fundamentals of Novel writing – Part 2


  1. This is great!! I was brought here from Googling a question on novel chapter size and started reading through other posts. Your blog is amazing! This post was really helpful too - I'm heading into some major revisions and your comments on POV made so much click with both my POV jumps and chapter structures. I think I'll be spending some serious time hear on your archives :)

    1. Thanks, Kilyra, I'm glad the blog is proving so useful for you.


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