Writing Tips

How To Plan A Novel: From Idea To First Draft

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Planning a novel is an enormous task that requires a lot of work and dedication.

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Once you have a story idea and you’re ready to work on it, here are the necessary steps to take.


The first step to take after getting your story idea is to start planning. Planning a novel does not always suggest detailed outline and descriptions of characters, settings or scenes. There is no planning approach that is known to work for every writer, but all you have to do is know what works best for you. You may decide to painstakingly plot your novel  step-by-step or go free writing. Either ways, you need to organize your own ideas.

  1. Create your protagonist

In every novel, a protagonist is as important as the idea itself. To establish a strong character development, you must give your protagonist desires that will influence their actions and choices all through the story. These desires must be strong enough to drive your protagonist.

  1. Determine the central conflict

There are several types of conflicts, and they fall under external and internal conflicts. Conflicts should be obstacles as strong as your protagonist, if not stronger. Antagonism can come from other characters, the society, or nature. Not every story requires internal conflict even though it has a way of developing characters. Your novel should focus on a central conflict.

  1. Decide on a suitable setting

You have succeeded in weaving a wonderful story idea, now it’s time to focus on this huge element. Setting is crucial in every story, and it requires a lot of research especially when it includes real life locations. Although you can get ideas of how your settings looks like from Google, visiting the place in person will be of great help in igniting your senses. However, before deciding on your setting, you should ensure that it suits the genre, influence your characters and also strengthen your conflicts.

  1. Sketch your ending
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Many writers have a pile of unfinished projects because of this step. Having an idea of how your novel would end will surely help you from getting stuck midway. Starting and ending a story is one of the most difficult things for writers. In such situations, it is advisable to begin a story from the middle and then go backward or forward. When deciding on an ending, writing twists is not always the best option. Some readers do not enjoy open ended stories, but a conclusive ending to give them a sense of completion.

  1. Pick a writing style

After mapping out other elements in your story, think on the technicality and decide on the approach with which you would love to execute the story. Decide on the story structure, timelines, tense and POV. Once you have choosen a writing style, do not deviate from it in the process of writing the novel.

  1. Go over your plan

At this stage, a good foundation has been established for your story idea and you are ready for your first draft. However, before you start writing, be sure to familiarize yourself with the narrative arc, characters and settings. Lastly, It is advisable to delay your first draft for a week after planning. Within this time, you may decide to tweak the previous plans.

Writing A First Draft

A first draft is a rough sketch of a piece of writing. It is the first version of writing that is usually done to develop central characters, conflicts and also to flesh out the plot of the story.

Ernest Hemingway once said:

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“There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed.”

In actuality, transferring story ideas into pages is quite difficult for some writers. Before I share some tips that can help in getting your first draft done, know that every great book out there you admire began with a first draft. You can try as much as you can, but the first version doesn’t come out perfect. You would need to go over for editing, so do not expect too much from it.

  1. Create a routine

Scheduling your writing time will help you in staying disciplined through your writing journey. Commit yourself to it and do not engage in other activities when it is time to write. Try blocking out your social media and stick to the routine. Setting deadlines while creating your first draft is also helpful.

  1. Find a conducive writing space

Find a location that will not disturb your creative time. Try different places, it may be a quiet spot down your street, a cafe, a library, a spare room or anywhere you can focus on your novel. Turn your phone to the airplane mode and get to work.

  1. Set writing sessions

This is hard for many writers to do. But, if you value writing and you have a desire to create, you will make time for it like you make time to eat. You can do this by setting timers, focus and write for some minutes then take a break. If you cannot handle long writing sessions, take scheduled breaks.

  1. Write in any order
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When writing your first drafts, do not be afraid of starting from anywhere. You don’t have to do an end-to-end writing. Usually, starting from the middle helps in discovering new informations. If you’re stuck, jump. The time to rearrange will come.

  1. Keep perfectionism out

Perfectionism is a huge obstacle when it comes to the first drafts. At this point, don’t worry about the poor use of words. Stop rewriting your first draft over and over again, you may not finish it that way. Focus on the most important thing, which is getting the ideas on paper. The second draft and editing process will take clean up the mess.

  1. Track your progress

Tracking your progress in your first draft will help you to be consistent because you have defined your goal. You may not be able to meet up with every deadline, so it is important to keep your progress in check. You can track the number of words per session on a spreadsheet or in an app.

After executing these steps, you will have your first draft ready. Make sure that everything in your story is written in it and there are no scenes to add. Next up, is the editing process.

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