I’ve known from the time I was a kid that I was born to be a writer. I might not have known to classify myself as such, but I was always the kid carrying around a notebook and pencil. I often wish reading had been more encouraged in my house, but such is life. It’s never too late to start adopting the habits you always wanted to, but for whatever reason didn’t. I now read a lot, write a lot, and am at a place where I’m ready to take it more seriously.
I know I have writing ability, and a strong desire to write a book. But what type of book should I write?
The first step in writing a novel is deciding what type of book you want to write. You’ve got to pick a genre and stay with it! I’ve gone back and forth so many times. At various times, I’ve wanted to write a family drama, a mystery, children’s books, and even forms of nonfiction. Recently, I’ve settled on YA despite being about to turn 50 in August (2022). My reasons are simple. First, I want to write something that brings lightness and fun into the world (it’s dark enough without me writing on heavy subject matter). Second, I want to write something my avid reader 3-year-old granddaughter can enjoy someday when she’s older. Even though I’m not the “target audience” for young adult fiction, I believe any age can enjoy a good YA story. I’ve seen reviews for Eleanor and Park written by people in their seventies and eighties who were deeply touched by the story of first love.
5 Questions to Ask Yourself Before You Write a Novel
- WHAT DO YOU LIKE TO READ? I’m sure you’ve heard this advice before. Kind of the whole write what you want to read type of suggestion. It’s common, though, because it’s true! Why write a murder mystery if your bookshelves are primarily stocked with romance? Now, I would go a step further and suggest you pick not only a genre you enjoy reading but also find an author or two whose writing style (chapter length, narrative voice, dialogue) matches with something you can visualize yourself writing. That way, you have something of a template to follow, even lightly.
- WHAT LEGACY DO YOU WISH TO LEAVE BEHIND? If we do it right, our novels will be around much longer than we will. If you’re young and single, consider that someday you may have a spouse, children, and even grandchildren. What will they think of your work? Because once it’s out there, it’s really out there! Does it bother you to imagine coarse language in your novels being read by your relatives? The same question applies to sexual references, violence, and anything else that’s dicey to talk about at the Thanksgiving table with Grandma Alice. Some people don’t mind at all, but that’s something you’ll have to consider for yourself.
- WHAT NARRATIVE VOICE DO YOU FEEL MOST COMFORTABLE USING? There are the obvious “first-person” and “third-person” points of view. There are also books such as The Sun is Also a Star and Eleanor and Park that have dual POVs. I always feel it would be a little trickier for my first novel to be written from a dual POV perspective because you’re basically telling two stories. Also, do you like stories that go back and forth in time? One chapter is in the here, and now, the next is thirty years ago. Then, we jump to two years before the present day. Or do you prefer stories told from a linear perspective? These are all important things to consider before getting started on your novel.
- WHAT’S THE MAIN IDEA I’M TRYING TO CONVEY? What is the moral of the story, so to speak? Pinpointing your overarching message before even starting chapter one will help you write your novel without ripping your hair out. Everything you do or say will always point back to that main idea. If your theme is, “Money doesn’t buy you happiness,” then no matter what happens to the protagonist, things need to wind up pointing back to that message. This is a great way to pump your ideas into the world. So, what matters most to you? Animal abuse? Human trafficking? Betrayal? Pick your platform, and then build on it by coming up with your biggest, boldest statement regarding that topic.
- WHAT ADDITIONAL INFORMATION DO I NEED TO GET STARTED? If you haven’t started your novel yet or are partway through and stuck, I suggest you make a list of what you specifically need to proceed. If you need more historical or scientific research on a topic, figure out what resources you’ll need. If you need help with dialogue, get a book, read some articles, or watch some videos on how to strengthen your dialogue writing. Maybe you need a deeper understanding of the three-act story structure. Well, there’s plenty of information readily available on that topic. But there’s no need to research everything. It would eat up too much time, and I’m guessing you’ve eaten up enough with fear, procrastination, working another job, personal responsibilities, and so many other time eaters. So, narrow in on specifically what’s stopping you from moving forward, and for now, only bone up on that topic.
Now it’s time to get serious! Once you’ve answered the five questions above, you’ll be better equipped to write your story. If you’ve answered these questions and are still stuck, read some of my posts on overcoming your writing fears (because that’s most likely why you’re still stuck!).