How To Write Your First Novel: You Need a Story

Part 1 in a 3-Part Series

They say that everyone has at least one good novel in him or her. That may be true, but how do you get it out?

The most important aspect of a novel is the story. Everything else is secondary. Readers will step over the rocks in your writing road if the story is gripping. That’s what you need—a gripping story. All else, such as place, characters, etc., is secondary.

The story line is called plot, but do you really need to know that?

  1. Find the story. Here’s one way to go about FINDING a story. Take your favorite novel and write a short paragraph with a sentence that begins: "This story is about…"

    A great story is the Book of Ruth in the Bible. Take out your Bible and read it right now. It is a short story, isn’t it?

    Oh, you don’t have a Bible? Find one on the Internet in about two seconds. I suggest the old standby, the King James Version.

    Now start your sentence: The Book of Ruth is about a woman who works in the fields.

    Try again: Ruth the widowed daughter-in-law of Naomi refuses to leave Naomi to go back to her own country. She says, "Your people are my people, etc."

    Well, one more time: The Book of Ruth is a love story. Ruth, a widow, the devoted daughter-in-law of Naomi, struggles to support her family. Boas likes Ruth, leaves extra…

    Here is the version taken from the four chapter summaries in the Book of Ruth:

    Elimelech and family go to Moab because of famine—Marriages—Death of father and sons—Ruth the Moabitess, her husband having died, remains constant to Naomi—They come to Beth-lehem. Ruth gleans in fields of Boaz, a near kinsman of Naomi—He treats Ruth kindly. By Naomi’s instruction, Ruth lies at feet of Boaz—He promises, as a kinsman, to seek her to wife. Next kinsman declining, Boaz takes Ruth to wife—Ruth bears Obed, through whom came David the king.

    Take this summary and your thoughts from reading the story and write your paragraph that begins with the sentence: This story is about…

    Could you expand the Book of Ruth story into a novel?

  2. The way I start a novel is just by writing. I write until I know what the story actually is. When I know the story, I chuck what I have written and start over to eliminate unneeded characters and scenes.
  3. Remember that characters become living people (or critters) in the mind of the writer. Minor characters will demand top stage. Cut them out if they don’t help carry the story.

    In my first draft of Bull, a western epic, a character named Peter Ott dominated too many scenes. I gave most of his actions to Bull and wrote a second novel to cover his antics. It was called Revenge on the Mogollon: A Peter Ott Western.

    That shut Peter up.

  4. A scene is a block of action that covers a single event in a story. It might show a discussion between a teacher and a pupil after school. It might describe the eight seconds a bronc rider rides a bucking horse. A scene has place, time, and characters.
    • Place is where the action is occurring. It might be under the blue skies of Montana, in the kitchen, at the cemetery, etc..
    • Time is the time period such as 1830 or 1945. It might be summer, winter, spring, or fall. It might be midnight. It might be in the heat of the day, etc.
    • Characters are the players. There are more than one kind.
      • The protagonist is your hero, like John Wayne in "True Grit".
      • The antagonist is the bad guy, like Black Bart.
      • Other characters might be a sister, a horse, a skunk, etc.
  5. To make your novel "gripping" you must keep your protagonist in trouble. He gets into one jam after another. After a particularly bad situation, he overcomes all and receives his glory—or not. At the end of a detective novel, the protagonist may have some explaining to do.

    Well, you know.

    Some of us that write like to draw are characters or clip out pictures of possible characters from magazine ads. Just don’t use the names and pictures of living people in your novel.

Now it's time to move on to part two -- writing your story.


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