Tips For Writing A Novel


The NZS.nz Write Your First Novel article contains information about writing your first novel, creating great characters, and staying motivated in NZ.

Writing a novel is something many people wish they could do. However, most people who do try get bogged down and find it difficult to get beyond a few chapters. This guide is full of simple advice on helping you write your first novel.

The biggest key to completing your first novel is to stay motivated. The most common cause of people stopping writing is they become discouraged and give up.

Reasons To Stay Motivated

  • Completing a novel is an impressive achievement
  • Thousands of terrible novels get published every year
  • Writing can be done anywhere – in bed, on the train, wherever
  • The more you write, the better you get
  • Writing a novel requires creative problem-solving – this looks good on your CV

Be Disciplined

Give yourself deadlines, and fully expect to exceed them. Deadlines are useful to encourage you to prioritise your novel, but feeling disappointed if (and believe me, when!) you break them won’t motivate you at all.  The key is to keep them broad and flexible.

Time Flies

Don’t underestimate how long it will take to write your novel.  Most books are between 60,000 and 120,000 words long, so even if you had your entire novel ready to go, the typing alone would take days. Keeping your first novel shorter will keep the writing fresh and help prevent you getting bogged down and losing direction.

Rollercoaster Ride

Writing comes in peaks and troughs: one day you’ll speed through two chapters, then get nothing for another week.  The key to keeping things moving is to write down any ideas you have, as soon as you have them.  They could be pieces of dialogue, new characters, plot ideas, or even just key words.

This stops you feeling like you’re stuck, and you might find some ideas come in handy at later points in the story.  Carry around a small notebook and a pen so you’re ready when an idea comes, wherever, whenever, and no matter how small.

Quite A Character

People are the most interesting part of any novel.  Make them varied, so that when they interact they have different points of view.  Your reader will feel much more engaged if they have one (or even two or three) viewpoints to identify with and sympathise with in any given situation.  Think about interesting people you’ve met in real life to make your characters feel real.

Balancing Act

Let your characters and events develop naturally, but also guide them with a strong plot.  Keeping this balance of structure and freedom is the best way to let your novel grow.  Sketch out some key events in a timeline, and try to work out how your characters might get from one point to the next.

Genres change and are not fixed.  You may start with an idea for a comedy that ends up being a tragedy, or a horror, or all these things – don’t be afraid to let the theme of the novel change if it seems natural.  Remember that some of the best novels blur the boundaries between traditional genres, such as Catch-22 by Joseph Heller.

Also whatever the style, don’t forget that a little humour keeps readers interested; if you don’t know any good jokes, get a character to say a bad one like real people do. Remember that their motives , worries and desires of engaging characters will all be the same whatever genre you choose. From space opera to crime thriller, greed, love, fear, dreams, insecurities, and more can feature in the characters of any genre.

Who Is Reading?

Who your audience is will affect how your novel is written.  The wider your target audience, the less creative freedom you have with certain topics – for instance, including children in your readership will rule out swearing, sex, drugs or violence.

A Matter Of Style

Your writing style will depend on the genre of your novel and the place in the story.  Short punchy sentences will speed things up, while lengthy, flowery descriptions will slow the pace right down.  Be careful not to overuse one or both because this can exhaust the reader. Find a suitable balance for most of the writing to allow yourself some extra expression when you really need it.

Patience And Persistence

Remember to give yourself plenty of time and not to underestimate the task – it’s considered an achievement for good reason.  Everyone has the creativity to write a novel, it just requires persistence and a positive outlook.

Follow these simple guidelines, stay motivated, and your novel will write itself in no time!