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How to Write a Fiction Novel Step by Step
So, you want to be a writer. Books are big and the task can be quite a challenge. But you are decided you want to do it. Amazing! Here I am going to guide you to the step by step on how to write a fiction novel.
What I am NOT GOING to tell you here on how to write a fiction novel?
There are millions of guides out there teaching you how to write a fiction novel, and honestly, a lot of them are really bad and generic. ‘Consider your characters’, ‘think about your conflict’, uh, duh. Of course! This only makes you feel lost and confused. You don’t know where to begin because it feels like there are just so many resources and so many things in different places you simply get very confused.
Worry no more! Here is the complete and ultimate guide that I use to create on how to write a fiction novel from the very first beginning until it has become a full book.
If you’d prefer to watch this on video, here it is:
I will be following these steps through this guide to teach you how to write a fiction novel step by step:
1- Inspiration: where to get it and how to decide on your story’s theme with a method;
2- Outline: how to write a novel outline from the pre-outlining phase until you have it almost ready.
3- Detailing, deciding on the main aspects and creating amazing characters.
Now, let’s begin learning how to write a fiction novel.
How to write a book? How to write a fiction novel step by step?
Although there is a phase prior to the outline, which is when you get your idea and decide on what to write, the secret to start and finish on how to write fiction a novel is to outline it.
This is because outlining means that you are going to know the path you are going to follow from page one to the last page. It is also the secret to (almost) NEVER having a writer’s block.
What is outlining in writing?
Outlining in writing is creating a path from the beginning until the end of the story so you know what you are going to do. This allows you to see the bigger picture.
When you are at the beginning, sometimes you don’t know how it is going to end.
This can ruin your message.
Outlining allows you to see your whole story from the beginning until the end, scene by scene, so you can know what to write, when to write, and create an amazing story that both MAKES sense and PASSES the message you want to pass.
Really, you guys, it makes writing SO MUCH easier, because I KNOW how you feel. There are millions of ideas, plots, subplots, scenes, romantic interests, dragons, adventures, drama, everything that you want to put in your book.
BUT WHEN are you going to put it? IN WHICH scene? How you are going to make it organized enough that you can write everything you want in an AWESOME way that the READER WILL STAY WITH YOU until the end?
I know we write because we want to fulfill our passion, be heard and all these kinds of things. HOWEVER, if you want to be an AUTHOR, you will NEED READERS that actually read your book and enjoy the story.
If you just write everything that you want to write without order or structure, it will be just a confusing mess.
EVEN THOSE WRITERS THAT WRITE IN AN APPARENTLY CONFUSING WAY FOR THE READER KNOW WHAT THEY ARE DOING.
The reader doesn’t understand anything of the structure, but the writer does. He knows WHEN to put THAT element that WOW the reader.
As a writer, in order to do that YOU NEED to STRUCTURE the book.
You need to outline it.
And I am going to show you how to do it step by step here on how to write a fiction novel.
You are going to make a STRUCTURE to help you.
Does it mean that I will have to have a twelve-year-old orphan with superpowers to make my story successful? Or a… (don’t say it, don’t say it, I can’t handle) LOVE TRIANGLE?
No, baby. You can write about ANYTHING you want. However, every story needs a structure. IT DOES NOT NEED TO BE THE ‘HERO’S JOURNEY’ structure (I would never do that to you, alright?).
Isadora Who? I still don’t believe you! You are no NY Best-Seller Author!
You might be asking yourself: Isadora Who? You are no NY Best-Seller Author! I don’t believe you! How do you know all these things? Why should I believe you?
Don’t believe me? That’s totally fine! I get it, I get it.
But, then, believe these multiple times best-sellers and amazing authors: Neil Gaiman, Margaret Atwood, Malcolm Gladwell, and many, many others.
I took their classes and I learned so much with them!
I always mix my own developed techniques with their teachings here. That’s why I know so much: research + 15 years practice.
Disclaimer: This post contains affiliate links to products. I may receive a small commission for purchases made through these links. Now I’m passionate about sharing the products I love with my audience, that’s why I decided to go for their affiliate program. If you buy through this link, you help me keep making these articles for you without ANY extra cost for you. Thank you!
Do I HAVE to outline? Can’t I just WRITE? Do I HAVE to create a structure?
The short answer is: you don’t have to begin by outlining the story.
And I suggest that you actually don’t.
Because FIRST, you need to know what your story is ABOUT.
How are you going to outline something that you don’t even know the GENRE or you haven’t decided if your main character is going to be a little girl or a lemon?
(A lemon? Does anyone like Adventure Time?)
But I want to write everything without a structure and then come back and try to make sense of what I wrote.
Where could I outline?
I hope that I have convinced you that you could benefit from outlining your story.
However, I do believe that there’s a phase BEFORE that.
The phase where you FIND OUT WHAT to write about.
The million dollar question is: where to get inspiration?
But here is one of the main techniques I use when I have no idea:
1- Choosing the main theme: what this story will be about after all?
Compost Heap Technique: How to find WHAT you are going to write about
This is not actually MY CONCEPT. It is Neil Gaiman’s concept.
I study a lot of writing from experts and I take my influences from them.
This is what he teaches on his AMAZING Masterclass:
“I think it’s really important for
a writer to have a compost heap.
Everything you read, things that
you write, things that you listen to,
people you encounter, they can all
go on the compost heap. And they
will rot down. And out of them grow
beautiful stories.” (Neil Gaiman’s Masterclass)
This is the phase when you have a blank page and THAT feeling of wanting to write. Actually, that feeling of desperately NEEDING to write.
Have you ever felt it?
But you don’t know WHAT you are going to write about.
Do I want to write about a girl in his early teens fighting with her mom? Or do I want a dystopic world where the only thing that could save Earth is on a volcano? Should I write a thesis on human emotions in a Kafka style?
This is where the Master teachings come. Neil Gaiman says that inspirations come from every interaction that we have. Music, images, maybe a quote you saw on Instagram. Your dog digging a hole in your garden, your cereal’s box, people talking in a restaurant.
If you have NO IDEA what you are going to write about, get a piece of paper and write your Compost Heap, which is a bunch of details, small scenes that you paid attention to, emotions, that music on the radio that makes you feel special. Get really poetic here. Dump everything here. Let it fertilize.
Get every influence you have during your day, small details, and write it down in your Compost Heap, a Neil Gaiman’s concept. It can be bits of music, overheard quotes, your kitchen smell, your dream. Let things mix, let things come together and you will know what to write about.
Can I write about anything?
Yes! However, you must know that in order to FINISH that story, it would be really useful if you read this article here where I talk about why you can’t finish a story.
If you don’t LOVE and OBSESS over what you write, most likely you won’t finish it. Why? Because a story is very long! It can be YEARS of your life. You have to choose literally the topic that interests you MOST IN your life. Not the second thing that you like most. Not the third. It has to be what you LOVE THE MOST EVER. If you haven’t already, go read that article and come back here. I will wait for you. Otherwise, everything that you read on how to write a fiction novel might not be that useful.
You already know the THEME you want to write about, what now?
2- Deciding the basic settings of the story:
You need to decide about four main things if you want to know how to write a fiction novel:
2- Public (age, who they are, who is going to read it);
3- Main Characters;
For instance, my newest romance is about:
2- Middle Grade (ages 7-14);
3- A girl aged 10;
4- Earth, but in a fantasy school;
1- Write the specifications of the genre.
Okay, it’s fantasy, but which kind of fantasy? Which tone are you going to give the story? Will it have a dark ending? Will the characters die in a tragic way? Or your goal is to make people laugh?
In my case, in the example here, my genre is comedy and I am writing for kids. So, I want the kids to see themselves in the characters and laugh. Also, I don’t want them to cry or to feel deep emotions like uncertainty and things like that. Then, I want them to have a great time reading and to relate to these characters. I want them to look at Libby, my main character, and think: wait a minute, this is me! And then laugh a lot.
2- Write the specifications of the public.
Okay, you want to write young adult, but WHO is your reader? Or you want to write new adult, but is your reader a mom with two kids or a young entrepreneur?
Also: who is going to BUY the book? If you want to write for kids, the parents will buy it to give to them, so you have to think about ways to attract parents. If you want to write, for example, erotica, who is going to buy it?
So, it is basically, a) who is going to read it; and b) who is going to buy it.
In my case, I am writing Middle Grade.
a) Who is going to read it: kids aged between 7 to 14 years old, however, anyone can enjoy it, their parents, adults that still like silly books like this to relax and have a laugh, grannies with a sense of humor.
b) Who is likely to buy it: although anyone can buy it, I will market especially for parents. They will buy it to give it to their children because they want to support reading and because they think it’s a light reading, that will make them laugh but will also teach them important things.
3- Specifications of the main characters:
This one is the MOST IMPORTANT part of the romance. It is one of the most important things you are going to read here on how to write a fiction novel.
You don’t have to know right away who your characters are. HOWEVER, you have to know the following:
What makes a great story are the characters.
You can write about literally anything.
Get the fairy tales for instance.
They are about the weirdest things, like ants and grasshoppers, and frogs, scorpions, talking trees, babies in the size of a pea. But they are the stories that lived through CENTURIES.
Because the characters are human even if they aren’t. They are extremely relatable and well-constructed. You see yourself in that ant or that grasshopper.
But HOW? How do you create amazing characters like this?
This is basically the most important part of my method and I have a post only about it here.
However, I am going to teach you briefly here the secret of creating amazing characters:
Uh, duh. I already imagined this. Can you ACTUALLY help me?
Yes! Imagine yourself and list 5 areas that you have interest in. It can be the most varied as possible, the more different the better.
Myself: crochet, writing, dolls, languages, and cooking.
Now you are going to imagine someone you know very well. It can be your mom or your best friend. Now image all the different areas of their lives. My brother, for instance, studies computer science, but he loves old cartoons and he wants to learn French to travel to Canada one day. My mom, she is very Catholic, loves hairstyles, her favorite shows are horror on Netflix and she has a passion for golden retrievers.
You can get anyone you know and do this.
Characters MUST be like this. They have to be multifaceted. Forget about ‘constructing things that only matter to the story’ here. Your characters must feel real and for achieving that, they must like many different things and have a lot of details.
A quick example of developing an amazing character:
Charles is a guy in his early 20s. He is very confused about life (as everyone at this age).
Now think about something a guy in his early 20s might be interested in: maybe football and beer. So, his favorite thing to do is go out on a Friday night to the pub in his street and grab a beer, watching football.
Now think about something a guy this age might not like, something that would be a bit weird for him to like: but he also loves to sew teddy bears for young kids at the orphanage.
When his girlfriend asked about why he has so many teddy bears, he told her that and she was mesmerized. However, he doesn’t give away every teddy bear. He keeps many of them because secretly he just loves them. And his sewing abilities are improving every day.
So now you think: he knows how to sew, so I am going to make him own a teddy bear store.
BUT THAT’S where you are mistaken. No, he doesn’t own a teddy bear store. He works with digital marketing at a company. He also loves to travel and secretly he wants to go to India and write poems. And his favorite drink at Starbucks is frappuccino, but he always ask for it without sugar, so he can feel less guilty of eating bad things.
SEE how well you know Charles? He is a normal guy, works with digital marketing, loves to travel, loves football, beer, has a girlfriend, sew teddy bears and loves frappuccino.
Charles is MUCH MORE INTERESTING than getting a stupid archetype like: he is the hero, a normal guy who works with marketing and one day he is going to find out that he will save the world with some stupid calling.
This is bland, this is boring, no one relates to it.
But what sewing teddy bears have to do with anything in the story?
Maybe nothing, but EVEN if you don’t write A THING about this, YOU are going to know that even if Charles turns out to be a supervillain, he is sensitive enough to sew something and give it to sick children.
THIS WILL MAKE ALL THE DIFFERENCE IN THE WORLD.
Your character is not only the hero that will get strong and save the world. He is Charles; he is Joe, a boy that dreams about playing guitar, secretly hates to read and learns Karate; she is Mary, a girl that is very sure of herself, likes to eat sushi and really wishes she knew how to draw.
This is how to write a fiction novel: details and details.
This was only a brief explanation. Read more about character creation here since it THE MOST important part on how to write a fiction novel. Also, here you can learn how to actually put all these details in the story so it’s not only in your head in a way that nobody will ever find out but without losing the focus.
You can make each character in a different slide of the PowerPoint planner if you are using it.
4- World building
This is very complex, but you can write general things now, like if it will be in a whole different world, if it will be on Earth, etc.
Literally, I can’t resume world building, because you are deciding in all the laws of a different universe. In my case, it will be on Earth, but fantastic things are going to happen in the main character’s school.
Don’t worry too much now. It can take literally years for you to build a whole universe. If you are stuck with it now, you will never begin writing. Just begin and then things will start to make sense. Remember, actually writing is the best way to find out how to write a fiction novel.
Now that you’ve decided all these, you can begin to actually outline the story:
WHAT?! I thought it was ready!
Calm down, calm down. You have come a long way, but now you are going to actually decide on scene one, scene two, scene three and, etc.
I have a sheet that can help you with it so you can see the bigger picture. I promise you, when you finish writing this, you will feel SO RELIEVED and ready.
Because I know how it feels to be absolutely stuck without knowing how the story will go on.
With this, you literally will never have the writer’s block, because you’ve already decided beforehand what to do.
And I PROMISE you that if you do it NOW you are MUCH LESS LIKELY to GIVE UP because you will see how much you like this story, all the contradictions that already exists, if the road you chose makes sense, etc.
Download it with my resources.
This is a suggested format of a three-part story.
THIS ONE DOES NOT apply to every kind of story.
BUT YOU CAN EDIT IT TO MAKE IT WORK FOR YOU!
Maybe you want to make a 5 part story, a 10 part story. But with any format you choose, you might want to separate the parts, write the main goal of each part, separate the chapters and write a brief summary of each chapter. I will make it clear: I do not believe in ‘one shape fits all’ kind of story, however, EVERY story has structure, even the craziest of crazy stories. The reader might not know the structure, but the writer did when she or he was writing, so you must too.
I will do it here as an example for you:
You finished the basics of outlining! Now get back to out PowerPoint planner and you are going to fill everything else to learn how to write a fiction novel.
I swear to you that if you do this, you are going to finish this story. Actually, you are much further than most writers get. However, you don’t need to do it before starting to write. It can take a long time to finish this part, so build it while you are building the story as well! Avoid getting stuck! The best idea to learn how to write a fiction novel is simply by writing it.
On chapter 1, Libby will meet the magic school recruiter, who is going to tell her that she has a place at the school. She is going to smash the door at his face and scream to her mom. Her mom will invite him to enter. After he explains everything, she tells him to get out or she will call the police.
This was the summary.
Now you are going to write EVERYTHING that will happen at the chapter with details, paying attention to the following: Ambience General, Ambience Details, Characters, Smells, Feelings, Thoughts. This is for the scene in general, but you can specify moments in the scene when everything changes. Just note it down and you will soon see how to write a fiction novel.
For instance, let’s begin:
1- Libby is on her computer when the door rings. She is texting her friends, saying that she misses them because it is Summer.
2- Doorbell rings. She runs downstairs to get it. The stairs are made of wood. They crack when she jumps on it.
3- She gets the door. It is a tall man, he looks kind of weird. He is fat, wears the school uniform, which is a black coat and a red tie. Libby gets really confused by who he is and the feeling is of estrangement. She wonders what he is doing there.
4- He asks her if he might enter. She asks him who he is. He presents himself as Kwan Gellert and explains that he is a recruiter from and a magical school, in which she just got a scholarship.
5- Libby stares at him and smashes the door at his face…
And so on.
Don’t forget to write what the purpose of each chapter is.
After you’ve done the basic outlining, this should come easily to you. It is basically just making it bigger and bigger until you realize that it is already a chapter!
If you want to read more about outlining, I have an article only about that in here.
And that’s it! Now you know how to write a fiction novel
You’ve decided the general theme, the basic settings, you’ve detailed each setting, you’ve done the basic structure and the basic outlining, and now you’ve done the outline core. You basically have your story ready now.
Things to remember:
1- Do I have to do this all in one?
No, please, actually don’t. You need time to let the story grows in your mind. It can take a long time to make it all, especially to finish the outline core.
Do it bit by bit, piece by piece, with calm. If you have a new idea, write it down. If you figure it out the perfect ending, complete the ending bit at the outline, even if you don’t know how to begin. It will make it easier to go until the end and find coherent ways to get there.
2- Do I have to wait until I finish the outline core to start writing?
Please, don’t. Write everything you can as often as you can even if it doesn’t make sense. Then you can organize it afterward. But, inspiration came? WRITE IT, FAST!!! Don’t wait until it’s perfect otherwise you will never begin. The main tip about how to write a fiction novel is: write it!
3- I found it all amazing. I really learned how to write a fiction novel and now I want all the resources and I never want to miss an update!
Also, now it is your turn. Tell me below if you applied these techniques and if you outline your novels, what are your favorite tips and everything else. I really want to know!
Also, don’t forget to pin this content so you won’t lose it!
If you have any doubts about how to write a fiction novel, contact me!