How To Write Your First Novel: Writing The Story

Part 2 in a 3-Part Series

Using typewriter

Now that you've succeeded in finding your story, it's time to write. Novel writing software can help you on your way.

  1. Keep track of the length of your story. I suggest that you decide to have 20 chapters and that your first novel be about 200 pages or less. It is not considered a novel if you have less than 50,000 words, so try to produce 70,000 to 80,000 words. Ernest Hemingway, who lived up the road a piece from here, tried to write one good page everyday. That is about 400 words. In 100 days, he had 40,000 words. In 200 days, he had a novel.

    You don't have to quit your day job to write a novel. I wrote Bull in airports from London to Tokyo.

    If you use a word processor, you will be able to look at the properties of your document and it will tell you the number of words and a lot of other things you might find valuable like the average number of words in a paragraph, the number of words in the shortest paragraph, and the number of words in the longest paragraph.

  2. Remember: Variety is the spice of life. That last sentence is a cliche. I meant that you should vary your sentence and paragraph length.
  3. Edit cliches out of your document.
  4. Write the way you talk. Well, if that is what Aunt Harriet always use to say, okay.
  5. Your spell checker will help you with your spelling if that is a problem for you. But watch for homonyms, words that sound the same like wear, ware, and where. Your spell checker can’t tell the difference. Watch for words like than and then:
    • Right: Then the horse jumped over the fence which was taller than the Empire State Building.
    • Wrong: Than the horse jumped over the fence which was taller then the Empire State Building.

    Another set of such words is there and their. Again, your spell checker will accept either word. It will also accept ether and either. In this case you may have just misspelled a word that your spell checker accepts.

    Am I putting you to sleep?

    Since I'm right-brained, I always use find and replace to look for homonyms when I edit a book or novel. Your grammar checker might help you or might just confuse you. Does your high school English teacher still live in town? How about your talented sister-in-law? Just because you can’t spell and think grammar is your grandmother, doesn’t mean you shouldn’t write, does it? Buy one of those little grammar books.

  6. Another problem for new writers is called point of view. Who is telling this story, anyway?

    I suggest that your first novel be written in first person. That means that everything is seen through your eyes. You only know what you see and hear. You can not read the thoughts of your characters. You can say what you think they are thinking. But you are the person telling the story.

  7. One other problem of new writers is narration. If you are writing in first person, the narrator is you. Don’t start lecturing or pontificating. Just tell the story. Long descriptions are boring:

    Sally wore a blue dress with white buttons. Her hair was a mess because she never combed it, not once in a blue moon. The dress was the same one her sister, Emily, wore to the prom three years ago. Sally had no stockings so she wore none. Her shoes, she wore only on Sundays to save the shoe leather. Her aunt Peggy wore those shoes to her high school reunion six years ago. Blah, blah, blah…

    It is usually better to let certain details to come out in dialogue. Sally pushed her unkempt hair out of her eyes and said, "I’m ashamed of this dress. You know that my Aunt Peggy wore it to her high school reunion six years ago."

    When you are a bit more experienced you can let all the action be seen through the eyes of your protagonist. I like this form best as do many writers, but it depends on the story. Robinson Crusoe could only be told in first person. He was the only survivor. Only he could say what he was seeing and thinking. However, most stories can be shown through the eyes of the protagonist:

    Jack Armstrong lowered his eyes and thought, "I am the All American Boy."

    All of a sudden you know exactly what the protagonist is thinking. That can be good, but you, the writer, must write only what the protagonist sees and hears and thinks.

  8. Don’t use the television camera see it all from above point of view. You will bore your audience to death if they are still around. There is a knack to switching into and out of the minds of multiple characters. Most writers can’t get away from it. Can you?

    Harry was thinking that Mary was thinking... But Mary was thinking of...

    It can get so confusing. I suggest that you pick up a few of those novels you have around the house and read the first page. What is the point of view?

    I have purposely left out the terminology used for point of view like Second Person Subjunctive. Just answer this question: Who is telling the story?

  9. Another problem for new writers is dialogue. Mark Twain (Samuel Clemens) knew many dialects used by the people who lived on the banks and waters of the Mississippi River. He was able to capture that in his novels. That is an unusual talent.

    I place my novels in real settings and I often talk to people and entice them to say the exact words that I need in my novels. I watch their actions including body language. For example for my detective novel, In No Way Guilty, I talked to an old timer and asked if someone were hiding out in the mountains near Roosevelt Lake in central Arizona, where would he go? I wrote what he said on a pad of paper and used his exact words in my novel.

    The scene in the book that talks about a bar where the urinals are "six feet high" is a real place. A local wrote a song about the too high urinals and I got his permission to use the words of his song in my novel. The owner said, "A tornado went through this place and did $100,000.00 in improvements." I used those words in my book. I gave him and the owner of the bar a copy of my book.

  10. Do your research. If your novel is set in the 1600s in Outer Mongolia, you will have to do one heck of a lot of research. For my detective novel, Bone China, I used Lancaster County in Pennsylvania as the setting. Despite the fact that I had lived in the area for five years, I still had to go back and study the setting. Much of In No Way Guilty takes place in Atlantic City. At the time, I lived only a few miles from the city.

    The backdrop for In No Way Guilty is compulsive gambling. I had to carefully research the traits of compulsive gamblers. Nowadays, research is much easier because of the Internet. Do your homework.

  11. For starters, write what you know about. Many first novels are actually about the life of the writer.
  12. Find good writing software. There are software programs that will help you to write your novel by outlining the content of chapters, defining places, artifacts such as clothing, characters, etc.

    If you go to my website,, you will see a short novel I wrote in a couple of sessions using a software program. I wrote the novel for demonstration purposes. It is bare-boned and not fleshed out. Download it free and take a look at it in terms of the software used.

Now that you know how to write your novel, continue onward to the final step: how to self-publish.


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I have read some articles before but this one made it clearer and simpler for me. Maybe, just maybe, I can try writing one.

By Mary Norton

Helpful, straightforward information. Thanks!

By Elizabeth Grace