There are two sides to novel writing: either you’re a planner or a seat-of-the-pants-er. This article is primarily directed at the planners out there because, well, seat-of-the-pants-ers just sit down and start typing without plans, right?
They may have an idea of where their novel is going, but they’ll only figure out how to get there by sitting down and writing. We’ll call this the Headlight Method of writing, thanks to E.L. Doctrow, who said:
"Writing is like driving a car at night. You can only see as far as the headlights, but you make the whole trip that way."
More power to you.
Now let’s talk about some methods for planners.
Randy Ingermanson is called “the Snowflake Guy” for this novel writing method that came about from publishing six novels, winning dozens of awards, and teaching at writing conferences. Ingermanson was a software engineer for many years, and found the creation of a perfect snowflake using a computer an interesting process of layering on basic shapes.
Here’s what a snowflake looks like on a computer screen:
How does a computer generate that intricate shape? Here’s the process:
Layer after layer. Ingermanson says you start small and build until it looks like a story. His method has 10 steps that are fairly nuanced. If you’re interested in how this works, check out his website, AdvancedFictionWriting.com.
2) The 30-Day Method
Karen Wiesner has published over 90 books and won numerous awards. Her book, From First Draft to Finished Novel: A Writer’s Guide to Cohesive Story Building, was published by Writer’s Digest Books. It’s a fantastic read that starts with an outline, and each subsequent step builds upon the previous one until you have your first full draft of a book.
The basic premise of this method is an outline that you continually adjust and edit to reflect what you’re learning through the process of writing each stage of your novel. Each step in the 30-day method adds another layer to the outline until at the end of 30 days, you have a complete rough draft of your novel that just needs to be fleshed out.
Wiesner says, “Without robbing you of the joy of your craft, this guide will teach you how to become a systematic, self-disciplined, productive author—no matter your genre or level of experience.” It’s definitely worth the read.
3) The 5-Step Method
This method from the fantasy writers’ blog Mythic Scribes, is less structured than the previous two methods. You start by summarizing your idea in one or two sentences. If you can’t get your main concept down to two or fewer sentences, your story may lack focus.
Then you write a synopsis that covers the main elements of plot, offers insight into characters, and speaks to their motivations. This should be a three- to five-page treatise.
Next you take your synopsis and outline your story. Whether you choose to go the old school route with Roman numerals or just write a paragraph on index cards for each scene, chart out your story in a way that inspires you.
Step four is the meat: writing with abandon. Here’s where the creative muscle is flexed. You have your outline to use as a road map; now you can fill out that skeleton with all of your great ideas.
The final step is to revise your completed manuscript. Read more about the 5-Step Method here.
4) Write From the Middle Method
James Scott Bell, who has been instrumental in helping hundreds of writers craft amazing stories, wrote the book Write Your Novel From the Middle. His contention is that there is a “mirror moment” in all of fiction where you discover, truly, what your novel is really all about.
It’s a moment in a scene in the middle of your story that clarifies the entire story. Bell uses a movie example to help you pinpoint the mirror moment. In Casablanca, Ilsa comes to Rick after closing time to explain why she left. The scene is tense because he’s drunk and says some derogatory things to her, and she cries and leaves. Rick has a mirror moment where he wonders what kind of man he wants to be. The rest of the movie covers his quest to become the kind of man he wants.
Bell’s method asks you to be intentional about what this moment is in your own manuscript. He says if you can pinpoint that “ahah” moment, everything else will be illuminated for you. Here’s great guest post that Bell wrote for Writershelpingwrites.net in 2014.
5) The 5-Draft Method
Jeff Goins uses this method for all of projects, products, and books he writes. It starts with Draft #1: The Junk Draft. He says he “vomits” everything out on paper without editing or revision. Just get it down.
Draft #2 is the Structure Draft where you look at how your story is structured. Does it flow? Will people understand the order it’s in?
Draft #3, the Rough Draft, is where you have an actual work-in-progress that you start to polish line by line, chapter to chapter. This is followed by Draft #4, the Surgery Draft, where you start cutting out anything and everything that extraneous.
Draft #5 is the Last Draft, your finished manuscript that you may tweak, but this is the one you send out to beta readers and editors to review.
Read more on Jeff Goins’ blog here.
6) The Novel Factory Method
We previewed this method last year in our post: A Novel Writing Formula. It’s one of our most popular articles. Let’s do a quick recap.
You start with the backbone of any story: the premise. This is one line that details what your novel is about, including character, situation, objective, opponent, and disaster. From there, you begin to create your novel one step at a time, with each step building upon the previous one.
There are 15 steps that lead you from the premise through character introductions, synopses, goal to decision cycle, locations, advanced plotting, and more. The most intriguing step is when you go through each scene from the viewpoint of each of your major characters. This can add depth and realism that you wouldn’t otherwise have.
If you’re interested, The Novel Factory has an excellent software program that automates each one of these steps in an easy-to-use format that will help you write your novel seamlessly and quickly. Have a look at our full review of The Novel Factory.
So What’s the Best Method?
The best method is the one that speaks to you. It’s the one that you’ll commit to and use to start writing your novel. But more importantly, it’s the one that will help see you through to the end.
Only you can decide what’s the best method for you because every writer is different with different needs and motivations. Choose what works best for you. Or experiment with different methods to find the one that helps you be your most productive ever.
And then stick with it until you have a finished manuscript.
If you enjoyed this post about writing a novel, you might also enjoy these articles from our archive:
- How to Construct a 3D Main Character
- Are You Ready to Draft Your Story Arc?
- How to Create Your Story’s World
- How to Create a Compelling Character Arc
- Are You Ready to Draft Your Plot?
- 4 Plot Pitfalls You Need to Avoid
- Map Out Your Character’s Transformation Using the 9 Enneagram “Levels of Development”
- The Four Drafts Your Novel Needs (and Why You Probably Won't Use a Single Word of Your First Draft!)