Novel Writing Course Online Review

Online Writing Course Review

Everyone has read the stories about John Grisham and Frederick Forsyth, two authors who wrote best sellers with their first novel. Enthusiastic writers point out that Grisham had no formal training and just wrote by the seat of his pants, without any form of novel writing course online to help him!

Forsyth, on the hand, wrote his novel ‘Day of the Jackal‘ in 30 days and we all know the rest of the story. Here’s the rub folks – it ain’t going to happen! The market for new novels in all genres is incredibly crowded today, and a new author needs all the help he or she can get.

How To Write A Book

Of course, you can go it alone, picking up all those free tips on Youtube, but a well-taught and structured approach to creative writing will lift you above the crowd fast.

Statistics show that writer’s who successfully complete a professional online novel writing course are three times more likely to eventually publish a novel. It’s a fact that 3 or 4 students out of every 100 who enrol in the best writing workshops in New York or UK become published novelists. The problem is: We don’t all live in a city and real live writing creative writing classes are prohibitively expensive.

For many people, a book writing course online is the answer and gives the best of both worlds. They are affordable and the best are taught by real authors. Not all online writing workshops are the same. Look for tutorials offered by published authors and industry professionals, preferably award-winners!

Creative Writing Courses Online Presented By Holly Lisle

Holly Lisle has a fine collection of book writing courses online and her credentials are about as good as they can get! According to her Wikipedia page, she ranks among the most prolific and successful authors who also excel at teaching their craft – a rare combination indeed.

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Writing professionally since 1991, her first novel FIRE IN THE MIST won the Compton Crook Award, which is presented in the category of Best First Novel. Since then, she has written and published over 30 books and incredibly, finds the time to create some of the best online writing workshops in general, and how to write novels in particular.

The video below is an example of her teaching style. It’s infectious, fun and entertaining, while oozing with tips for improving your fiction writing at the basic level and learning how to write a good novel.

She puts herself in the reader’s place and asks herself the right questions – am I telling the reader too much or too little? Is the main character active or passive? Does the point of view suit the story?

It’s tremendously practical and the course reviews speak for themselves. Holly has gone the extra couple of miles by providing a lively forum where writers at all level hang, exchanging ideas and offering encouragement to their peers. Of course, Holly is always on-hand to steer people in the right direction.

In short, Holly’s writing courses are the ‘real deal’ and offer a fast track to writing your own fiction and getting it published – knowing how to write a good novel is just the first phase of an author’s work! You’ll also find courses for creating book covers, publishing and book marketing. Holly Lisle writing courses are the complete package for writing success.

Creative Writing Critique by Holly Lisle

Writing Critique Example – Holly Lisle PDF 

A head peaked around my nearly closed door. I saw panic in the eyes that looked back at me. Panic and cold hard fear. Kate was back and she was in trouble. They’re always in trouble, that’s why they come to me. I’m a writer crash tester. After 17 years and 32 novels of my own, I can shake down a plot, twist a sentence like a pretzel and slam a paragraph against a wall until it begs mercy.

I take no prisoners, I brook no excuses and now I’m on the case of a fuzzy thing. Kate needed answers and she needed them fast. She handed me a sheaf of papers and said, “I want the opening to suck the reader in and I don’t think this is sucking.” So I started reading.


The first time it was a nightmare. I was seven years old and it was the middle of the night. when my dreams turned from a Queen’s banquet to a dark hazy world which was all too real. It was like walking alone at night without any light but there was something more to it. Strange intrusive beings surrounded me and I cowered in their presence.


I awoke to a wet bed shivering and alone, and although it was still early, I didn’t sleep again that night. I didn’t tell anyone. Whenever I’d tried to tell mama my dreams in the past, not that they’d ever been anything like this, she’d always laughed at me and in the bright light of a summer’s day this one seemed as silly as any of my other nightmare adventures.


The second time was much the same. I was nine when I wandered from a sunny meadow into the twisted reality of the nightmare once again, a little older but no less scared. I shrank away from other beings that approached me and longed desperately for my eyes to open to that wet bed.


This time I told my friend Alex, although not about the wet bed. Naturally, he told me I was weird and went back to showing me his wooden sword. It didn’t happen again for a while. When it did I was 13 and it happened a bit differently. I was reluctantly helping mama prepare dinner. I’d wanted to go for a ride with Alex and Kaliesha but Mama and Papa wouldn’t let me.


So there I was shelling peas with an air of great offense and injustice, fuming to myself when the world went dark. Mom’s pretty singing faded to an eerie silence. I could feel strange things coming toward me, approaching me, eagerly. I desperately wanted to get away to hide but there was nothing there, but then I was terrified, more so than before because I knew I wasn’t asleep.


Panicking, I shouted at them to leave me alone and they did. I couldn’t see them but I could feel them. They stopped as if surprised and then began to retreat. Before I had time to do anything more, I was back in the kitchen leaning heavily on the wooden table with Mama’s arm around my shoulders and her murmurs of worried comfort in my ears.


best creative writing courses ukWe walk away from this scene lost in smoke and confusion. What happened here? It raises its ugly head and it is a problem. We are told the first time it was a nightmare. We see that it was the middle of the night.

We see that it was like walking alone at night but there was something more to it. In the same sentence, or in the same section, here we have my dreams turned all too real, and the word ‘strange’.

We’ll get into why those are problems in a minute. We cannot see, hear, feel, taste, smell or touch anything. The character awakes to a wet bed. It was still early but she didn’t tell anyone because she says her dreams were different than they were in the past – ‘not that it ever been anything like this’ but we don’t know what ‘this’ was like.

Move on; what is real to the writer must be real to us. We’re told the second time was much the same but we don’t have a clear feel for the first time. We’re told about a twisted reality. This is a vague phrase.

We’re told about ‘other beings that approached me’. Beings are a vague word and move on. For an instant here we have light clarity and action, not in the first sentence. There we have it ‘didn’t happen’ and ‘it happened’ a bit differently.

But moving down into the second paragraph on the scene ‘so there I was shelling peas with an air of great offense and injustice fuming to myself when the world went dark for a moment’. Here we get a sharp view of this kid. We know who she is. We know what she’s thinking. We understand her then, it all goes away.

We are confronted again with ‘I could feel strange things coming toward me’. Move on and in the climax, the climax comes and goes, and it leaves us unmoved. She yells at the things that are coming at her and they just go away.

We have no feel for her fear. She tells us ‘I was terrified’ but ‘I was terrified’ says nothing. It requires us to believe her, to take her at her word. It does not show us.

online short story writing courseSo what we have met in this example is the monster ‘tell’ and we as writers must fear him.

Fix number one, ‘escape’ from it and other vague pronouns. The writer’s job is to make the world she imagines real to her reader. Concrete nouns give the reader something to hang on to.

Instead of the introductory sentence ‘the first time it was a nightmare’ I used as an example ‘that first time darkness devoured me and cold iced my skin and emptiness crushed the air from my lungs’. Those are strong nouns ‘darkness’, ‘cold’,’ emptiness’. We understand them.

Fix number two – kill the verb ‘to be’. You can use it occasionally but Hamlet’s soliloquy aside, ‘to be’ is not the writers friend. It tells. It says ‘this is what is because I say so’.

It does not show us anything. Strong verbs are ‘devoured’, ‘iced’, and ‘crushed’ as in my example sentence here, ‘that first time darkness devoured me and cold iced my skin and emptiness crushed the air from my lungs’.

Fix number three – engage the reader’s senses. You must be your character. Get inside his head. Breathe air through his nose and mouth. Feel his sunburned skin, the ache in his muscles. Taste the dried stale bread that’s all he’s had to eat, and bring it to us so that we are in him.

To my example here, instead of the ‘strange creatures’, I have ‘tall pale creatures surrounded me crowding, close to me like too much smoke from a fire and like a fire smoke I could see them and see through them at the same time’.

Fix number four – keep the character moving. This is a passive character. In three nightmares the only thing she does one time is yell. She does nothing else but tell us what is around her.

book writing courses onlineCharacters to whom things happen bore readers. Characters who act intrigue readers. My example from her third encounter – ‘I fought to break free of the darkness’ to force air into my lungs’ to move my frozen limbs but I could not so I stared into their glowing eyes and willed their hands off my skin.

Willed them back from me with my anger and my hatred. Back half an inch. Back an inch. Back a step, then two steps. I willed them gone and without warning they were.’

The biggest fix, however, is the fuzzy thing and this comes from the writer not knowing clearly what it is she’s writing about before she starts to write. Know what’s in your world before you write it.

Don’t describe the monster, and by monster I mean whatever it is you have to describe, or put in front of your reader on page one but describe it to yourself beforehand so that you know your monster inside and out.

Strange is not a writer’s word. My example here – ‘smoke’, ‘dense body 10 feet tall’, ‘glowing eyes’, ‘suckers on palms of clawed hands’, ‘no mouth’, ‘speaks telepathically’, ‘exudes fear’, ‘exudes cold’, this is the way you describe the thing on the paper to yourself before anybody ever sees it. You don’t put this in front of your reader, as such, but you know it’s there, so that you can use it.

In the case of the fuzzy thing, you’ve seen a vague noun crash leaning on evasive pronouns like it in an attempt to heighten mystery. A weak verb crash – telling with is rather than showing with active verbs. A sensory deprivation crash – forgetting to figure out what the writer would do and feel and see and think and hear in a similar situation.

An action crash – the character watches without acting and a visualization crash – not knowing the monster well enough. Crash tests – I do them because all writers make mistakes. Working writers learn how to fix them. Learn to crash test your own writing. From me, Holly Lisle novelist, writing teacher, writer crash tester.

Novel Writing Course Online For Beginners With Alessandra Torre

I’ve researched several novel writing courses delivered over the internet, and the tutorials offered by Alessandra Torres stand out. I particularly like the fact that she is a New York Times award-winning author, so she really knows how to put a novel together.

In this short video below, you can see a preview of her course ‘How To Write A novel’:

It’s a general rule that a writer’s job has a 50/50 split between actually creating a novel and then getting it to the readers. Alessandra Torres understands this aspect very well and also offers much sound advice on this important aspect of the craft.

Online Novel Writing Workshops & Beyond!

An editor talks about the mistakes hat new authors regularly make:

I wanted to talk about something a little bit different today. Most of you know that I have a book editor background and some of you seemed kind of interested in that, so I thought we’d have a little bit of an editor discussion.

I kind of wanted to talk about three common mistakes that I see in fiction generally with new authors. These are minor things and honestly, I’ll probably continue talking about this maybe make a few other videos, because I think these really small things can help with the pacing of the novel.

They can help tighten up the language and ultimately help you connect with readers. Before we dive into that I did want to address something, and that is the misconceptions that people have of book editors. A lot of people tend to think of editors as these snobby mean monsters with their red pen, going on a mission to crush your dreams and cackling at their computers.

Fixing all these grammatical errors – monsters, monsters. You think we’re all monsters but I want to tell you that I could not be further from the truth. In fact it might go off on a little bit of a tangent, so this might be a two-part video. We’ll see what happens but really book editors. Editors who care are not in it to rip up your manuscript.

Yes there may be some uncomfortable things that, you know, you might have to address as an author, but you have to think of your editor as a partner. You have to think of your editor as like that friend who will let you know if you have lipstick on your teeth. Like we are here to help you. Ultimately, we’re here to help you connect with readers.

We’re here to watch a better product emerge, to help you with your revision. I just want that to kind of be like the underlying theme of this video. It’s important that you know that I don’t take lightly the fact that authors hand over their manuscripts to me. That is a very durable thing. Your manuscript is your baby. It’s precious. I get that.

I don’t take that lightly and so I really can’t stress that enough. You created something. You sat down and you wrote a book, and that’s something to be celebrated. So just know that before we go into this. And also I want to say that I understand for first-time authors that it can be frustrating to work on something and to know where you want to go with your work.

You have the idea. You have the vision. You have the good taste. Hugh Glass talks about this. He talks about it, he calls it the gap. I’ll try to link it down below if I can find it, but he basically talks about that gap between knowing what you want to create, and just not being there yet, because practice makes perfect .

You have to work hard with any creative project to get to kind of where you want to be, and I know it can be frustrating sometimes. You have to create that terrible first draft, or that second draft, or that third draft that just is bad. It’s not useless. It’s your doing the hard work. Your revising and revising takes courage.

It takes courage to write a book, to really put yourself out there and entrust your manuscript with someone like me, so I respect you. I find it incredibly brave. Who could do a whole video on that? We’re gonna keep trucking along here. So the first common mistake that I see a lot in fiction, kind of the overused words or techniques that I see.

These include masking emotions with strong verbs. So many writers are able to show readers what’s happening with a character but often when it comes to emotions, it’s really really easy to tell us what’s going on instead of show us. You’ve heard ‘show don’t tell’. I’m sure if you’re a writer you’ve heard it, but this is a really overused technique that kind of creates the illusion of a powerful scene or a powerful emotion.

creative novel writing course online freeWhen you take a closer look, you realize that it doesn’t really tell the reader anything. Examples: fear slammed into her sadness, strangled him, anger shot through her doubt and fear rose in her chest. These are not bad sentences but they are masking emotion. At first they seem like really solid strong sentences but they’re actually more abstract.

Rather than writing these ambiguous sentences, ask yourself if you can show how a character is confused or scared during. Ask yourself if it shows how a character really is. If it doesn’t convey the physical and mental associations with that emotion. then it’s a telling sentence.

I want to take a second here to recommend a resource called the emotion thesaurus, the writers guide to character expression. I’ll link it down below. It is the best resource if you struggle with conveying body language or just really showing what’s going on with the character rather than telling.

Number two mistake – using unnecessary words, such as started to, or began to, or begin to, or start to. This seems like so minor it’s almost not even worth mentioning, but I promise you that if you keep a look out for these words, you will tighten up your language. You will improve the overall pacing of your novel. Keeping an eye out for unnecessary words is the best thing you can do.

Now what do I mean by empty words? When someone starts to do something, they’re already doing it. When she starts to walk down the driveway, she is walking. If he begins to cook dinner, he is cooking dinner. I think a lot of writers tend to use empty words to build tension or suspense. but really it’s not helping with the pacing. As with all writing guidelines, don’t go eliminating every time you see this word, but just ask yourself ‘can I remove this?’ If it’s not adding value, it’s gone.

Online Writing Workshop - TorresThe third one is kind of a few issues combined and that is over explaining, or insulting the readers intelligence. Now, this isn’t something that I experienced just as an editor. I’m sure you as a reader have seen this in novels. When they just kind of like dump all this information on you and it’s something that could have easily unfolded naturally in the story through dialogue or descriptions.

I’m not saying that readers need to be confused on what’s going on in the first chapter or whatever, but play around with how you reveal certain information. Can you reveal it naturally through dialogue? That’s the info dumping, part the over-explaining. Insulting our readers intelligence has to do more with kind of using unnecessary words again. There’s nothing worse for readers experience when the author is watering down what’s going on.

Here’s an example of what I mean:

“I don’t understand why you did that to me,” said Molly, with a confused look on her face.

So, is that dialogue tag necessary? Not really, if it’s clear by the dialogue that Molly doesn’t understand something, it’s probably safe to say that you don’t have to tell the reader that she has a confused look on her face. If it’s not necessary slows down the story.

Those are my three teeny tiny bits of advice. Just common overused words and techniques that I see in fiction generally with first-time authors. Again these are things that we all do. These are things that I’m sure I would do if I wrote a book, and I think practice makes maybe not perfect, but you’ll get there. You will improve and hone your craft.

Anyway, I would love to know as readers, or maybe your editors and writers out there, what are some pet peeves of yours, or what are some common mistakes that you find in your everyday reading experience. I would probably be making more editor talk videos like this. If you guys enjoy, it you’d like to get into that, leave a comment. I love to nerd out about this kind of stuff, and yeah, I will talk to you soon . Bye.

Avoid Author’s Mistakes With An Novel Writing Course Online

Video Transcript:

Hi community of awesome! I’m Ava Jae, and this is Bookishpixie. So as I think I’ve mentioned here before, I was really young when I decided I wanted to be a published author. Like, pre-high school, eighth grade young. And when I decided that that was my life goal, I dove right into it.

It was a 100,000-word YA Fantasy, even though I hadn’t really read YA, except for ERAGON and HARRY POTTER, but…we’ll get into that. What I’m leading up to is I made a lot of mistakes as a young writer. Which is understandable because I was totally new to the whole thing, but I want to share with you some of my mistakes so that you can hopefully avoid them.

best novel writing course onlineSo here we go. First, I set a time limit to reaching my goal. Because I was a just-turned teenager teen, I decided that I wanted to be published *as* a teen. The title in my mind was “Bestselling Teen Author.” Aaaand…that didn’t exactly happen. I did not get my book deal as a teen, I didn’t even get my agent as a teen. And yet, by the time I’d graduated high school, I had written five books.

But I had put *so* much pressure on myself to get published by a certain age. And so it became harder and harder for me as I got older and started realizing that the teen author thing wasn’t going to happen for me, and honestly I just made it so much more difficult for myself than I needed to. It was really hard for me to let go of the expectation of getting published as a teen.

But as I’ve said before, it takes time to hone your writing skill, and it takes some people longer than others, and that’s okay. I was on the way longer end of that scale, and I don’t regret one second of it. So don’t put the pressure of a time limit on yourself. You’ll get there at exactly the right time for you.

Second, I didn’t use critique partners…yeah. I’m almost embarrassed to admit this, especially because I now know how important they are and I can’t even imagine trying to move forward with my writing career without my amazing critique partners, but um…yeah, I didn’t at first. I didn’t really know that I wasn’t…sort of?

Because I had family members read it, and I thought that was good enough. But it was *so* not good enough. You need to work with critique partners who are a) not related to you, because people who are related to you are too nice to you, and b) who are writers. I’ve done an entire vlog already on the importance of critique partners, so I’ll link to that below.

But basically don’t skip them, seriously. You need critique partners. Learn from my mistakes, you guys. Third, I didn’t read my category or genre. Like I said, there were a couple exceptions to this because I had semi-recently read ERAGON and HARRY POTTER, which…is middle grade at the beginning, but anyway, that was my knowledge of kidlit and fantasy.

book writing course onlineAt the time that I was writing my first book, I read a ton of Ted Dekker books, and he’s still one of my favourite authors, but he does not write in the category and genre that I write in. So…I really should have been exposing myself to other voices…and I wasn’t. I’ve also done a vlog on why writers must read, so I’ll link to that below. And fourth, when I finished my first draft, I immediately jumped into line editing.

Yeah. Your second draft is not the place for line edits…at all. When you first start your revisions, you want to be focusing on big picture issues, like plot, and character, and pacing, and those kinds of things, but line editing needs to be saved for your later drafts when you’re nearly done.

Why? Because if you do it early on you’re probably gonna have to redo it toward the end again after you’ve made your bigger changes. And I mean not only did I jump into line editing, that was the *only* editing I did. When I first started editing my own work, I thought that editing meant changing commas here and there, and making sure things were grammatically correct, and changing words here and there to make it sound prettier and flow a little better…and that was it.

But there’s so much more to revisions and I’ve already done vlogs on editing, so I’ll link to those below. So those are the mistakes I made, and I hope that you guys will see this video, and not make the same ones. Good luck. So that’s all I’ve got for today! If you liked what you saw, don’t forget to subscribe and comment, and I’ll see you guys next time.


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How To Write A Good Novel – Outline & Structure

Writing instruction and courses

Knowing how to write a good novel brings into play a balanced combination of creativity and structure. The first is inspirational, while the latter hints at craftsmanship.

All structures need to be build on solid foundations and the outline for a novel is no different – if they are wobbly, your readers will feel it and the story will suffer for it.

New Writers, Like Fools, Rush In

Like many aspiring authors, I wrote my first story by the seat of my pants, feeling sure that all would come together as the manuscript progressed. Although I did actually finish (and publish) the novel, it was painfully obvious to me and my readers that it wasn’t as good as it could be. The plot, prose, dialogue and characterizations were decent, but there were structural issues that reduced its impact. It just didn’t sparkle.

As authors, we need to ask ourselves important questions before we put pen to paper, or fingertips to the keyboard. The first important question is about understanding what the reader wants from your novel. I’ll give you a clue – it has nothing to do with the technicalities of writing plot, subplots, setting, dialogue or any of the other important element that make up a great read.

What Happens Next In The Story?

What Happens Next?If the reader is to finish the book then its vital that he always wants to know what happens next. It’s the core of every novel and a huge part of the writing process is to make sure that the reader does on thing – have a burning desire to know what happens to the main characters of the story and keep turning those pages!

I can’t emphasize how important this point is. Without this need to know, your book will not be read at all and a year of your blood, sweat and commitment will have been wasted. Planning an outline and building a strong structure reduces this possibility drastically.

In the video below a well-known author, John Grisham, describes his writing process:

Video Transcript:

I normally start writing a novel on January the 1st of each year, that’s kind of my ritual, with the goal of finishing the book in six months, and being done in July. And that’s been the schedule for the past probably 10 or 15 years.

When I’m writing, which is usually that time of the year, I get a lot of writing done in January, February and March, for obvious reasons — it’s a good time to write. When I’m writing it’s five days a week I start around seven each morning in my office. The routine rarely varies — it’s pretty structured. It’s the same spot, the same computer.

So the office is a separate building with no phones, faxes or Internet, because I don’t want the distraction, and I don’t work online, I keep it offline. It’s the same cup of coffee, the same type of coffee, the same everything.

And the hours between seven and ten are, you know, that’s the best time of the day for me, it’s very productive. On a good day I’ll write probably 2,000 words, a slow day is probably 1,000. There aren’t many slow days, because by the time I start a book I have a very good idea of where it’s going.

I don’t start a book — I don’t write the first scene until I know the last scene. And that’s a rule I’ve kept for 25 years. I just don’t start something unless I know where it’s gonna go. So once I do start it, there aren’t many down days.”

Story Structure Definition

Creative Writing - Beginning Your NovelSeveral story structure elements need to be in place when writing your masterpiece, and building an outline or template is the best way to ensure that everything is in place. Not only that, but in the right place! The basic building blocks are found in the principles of the Story Arc and Character Arc. Don’t worry – both concepts will be covered in later posts, but suffice to say that the process tends to grow from the broader ideas to the more detailed.

Some basic elements of a great novel outline are:

Genre – define the type of story you are presenting. For example, Romance, Sci-Fi, Thriller, Cowboy, Horror among many others. Each main category can be split into sub-categories and also combined with others to create split-genres.

Theme – every story has a message, whether in written or movie format. Examples might be ‘Is it better to be rich or to have friends?’ or ‘Can love conquer all?’

Setting – define the period and the location. Example: 19th Century, Vienna.

Narrative Style – who is telling the story?

Story Arc – this timeline notes the events that bring increasing conflict and tension to the hero, and also the conclusion.

Character Arcs – main characters are complex and three-dimensional. The events in the story impact and change their ideas and outlook. These changes are essential if the characters are to succeed in their quest. These changes are collectively described as the Character Arc.

Backstory – the early part of a novel that describes the lives and situations of the main characters. It sets the scene of normality before an event arrives that changes everything.

Plot – the sequence of interrelated events defined by the author to tell the story.

Characters – normally one, or a few, main complex main characters and any number of passing support characters.

Dialogue – designed to tell the story and drive it forward.

Prose – the result of writing simply and conversationally, expressing description and meaning effectively but adhering to (mostly) universally accepted rules of grammar and syntax.

Not Convinced? The Purpose Of Planning

Planning A Book

The biggest take-away and advantage from all the hard work that goes into writing a novel outline can be summarized like this:

  1. The template can be used as a planning tool, or a road-map to clearly show the writer where he or she is going. If the destination is clearly in sight, together with diversions and side-roads, then it will be so much easier to steer the story.
  2. The planning phase becomes more detailed as it progresses, exploring the plot and the characters in greater depth. By the end of the process, which doesn’t really have an end until the novel is complete, you will know your story and everything in it intimately.

Editing Your Manuscript

When your novel manuscript is finished, then the arduous task of editing begins. If, like me, you can’t afford the services of a professional, then its necessary to learn how to do it properly. Self-editing is the only option left to you. The process happens on different levels and each step has a purpose.

As you might guess, it involves a bit more than just spell-checking and correcting simple errors in grammar. Later posts on this site will explore each level and provide a good grounding in the requirements.

Publishing – The Final Step!

Finish the book

Publishing your novel is the crowning glory of all your hard work, which on average takes anywhere between six months to a year to write, and three months to edit. This time may be extended if the editing process reveals serious structural problems, in which case a partial re-write would be required. You have to be dedicated to the craft and really want that book to see the light of day.

In the past, when the traditional publishing process was all that there was, this was indeed a painful experience. Authors could wait for months for a simple rejection slip, perhaps with no notes for manuscript improvement. Luckily, the emergence of the inernet and platforms like Amazon have changed all that. Self-publishing is simple and best of all, free!

In the next post I’ll be looking at the Story Arc.


Novel structure and planning


How to write a novel in 20 steps – Caitlin from Ink and Quills:

Video Transcript

Hey everyone, this is Caitlin from ink & quills and today I’m going to be walking you through my step-by-step process for writing a novel. So – if you’re new to writing you might be confused about how to go about writing your first novel, or maybe you just have no idea where you should even begin

Maybe you’ve gotten started but things aren’t going quite as smoothly as you’d hoped. The thing is, since you’ve never written a novel before, you don’t know what this process looks. Like you know what the end result looks like because you’ve read lots of published books, but you don’t know how to get there yourself.

How are you supposed to learn to do something if you’ve never seen an example of how it’s done? It’s like being handed a bunch of ingredients and being told to bake a cake without the recipe. That’s why I want to take you behind the scenes into the creative process of writing a story.

One of the best ways to learn how to do something you’ve never done before is by seeing an example. You probably know the ingredients you need for your story, like plot, character and setting, but you also need to know the process used to combine all these ingredients into a story.

Today I’m going to show you my personal writing process which I’ve developed over years of trial and error, but I want you to keep in mind that each writer has their own process and methods that work best for them so feel free to tweak this outline to fit your personal preferences.

I’ve also created a free checklist for this process and I’ll include a download link for that below the video. All right, so let’s get started. The first thing we need to do before we can start writing is to find an idea for our story. Personally, I draw a lot of inspiration from history and mythology, but one of the best ways to come up with an idea is to just let yourself daydream, and ask questions let your imagination have some fun.

One of my favorite questions to ask is ‘what if’ because it creates so many possibilities. For example, what if Hitler had won World War two, or what if we discovered life on Mars, or what if we began cloning humans in the future? Asking ‘what if’ questions like these creates interesting scenarios that you can then build a story around.

Once you have an idea that you like, and you’re excited about, it’s time to start expanding on it. This means thinking about your setting and time period, who your characters might be and what might happen in the plot. Now at this stage you’re not developing your plot and characters in depth.

You’re just exploring and gathering ideas, and you might also end up discarding or changing a lot of these ideas down the road. These are all tentative details that you’re considering for your story. I also want to mention that brainstorming is something that I actually do throughout the entire writing process.

I’m constantly collecting and layering ideas as I develop the story. Your story really is something that’s in a constant state of evolution, so allow yourself the creative flexibility to change your mind and explore new ideas throughout the writing process. After you do some brainstorming, the setting, time period and genre of your story should start to become more clear, but you might want to ask yourself if changing any of these details could make your story more interesting, or help it stand out more.

So for example, what if you changed your setting to Japan instead of America? Or how about setting your story in the 18th century instead of the 21st? Or what if you turned it into a fantasy instead of historical fiction? Consider different options before you make your final decision.

Now before you get too far, you’re going to want to figure out just who it is you’re writing for. Is this story for adults, teens, children? Do you want to appeal to a certain demographic, like military families, or single moms? Your audience is going to affect how you approach the story, so it’s good to know who they are before you start writing.

When you have a specific audience in mind it also helps you feel like you’re writing for someone and not just writing into the void, hoping someone out there somewhere might be interested in your story. This is also going to help make your book easier to market which will make you more appealing to agents and publishers.

So in short, it’s easier to write a story for an audience rather than trying to find an audience for your story. So now that you have some basics taken care of it’s time to start going into more depth. This is where you’ll start getting to know your main characters your villain and your secondary characters.

Start thinking about who these people are, what they’re like, what happened in their past and, most importantly, what they want. You need to figure out the goals of both your hero and your villain. Your hero’s goal is basically the focus of the story, and the villain’s goal creates opposition and conflict.

So for example, in the Lord of the Rings Frodo’s goal is to destroy the One Ring while Sauron’s goal is to steal it back. Once you know what your hero wants and what’s standing in his way, it makes it a lot easier to start outlining your novel. But before you start outlining, you need to decide on your story’s point of view.

Are you going to tell this story in first person or third person? Will you follow one character or split the story up between the points of view of two or three characters? Ask yourself what will work best to tell this story. Now you don’t have to decide right away and you can always change your mind later, but it’s definitely something that you want to be considering as you work on developing your characters and plot.

Once you’ve figured out the goal of your hero and villain, you can start outlining your plot. Basically, a story is all about the journey a hero goes on to achieve a goal, so without one it’s going to be really hard to plot your story. The beginning of a story introduces the hero and their goal.

The middle is filled with the obstacles the hero faces as he tries to achieve that goal, and the end reveals whether or not the hero succeeds or fails. Personally, I prefer to plan out my plot in as much detail as possible before I start writing, but this doesn’t mean that everything in our outline is set in stone.

As I continue to develop my story, and even after I’ve begun writing, I might decide to change things. Sometimes, I’ll find an idea that works better than something in my original outline, or I might discover that what I had originally planned won’t work, or that there’s a plot hole. Basically, I don’t want you to get hung up on getting your plot outline perfect.

Think of your outline like a rough draft and stay flexible. Like I said before, I always view story as something that’s constantly evolving throughout the writing process, until I have a final draft I’m happy with. So now that you know more about your plot and characters, and can see what shape the story is beginning to take, it’s a good idea to start doing some market research.

This means researching if there are any books already out there that might be similar to your story. So for example, if you’re writing a Cinderella re-telling, you’ll want to look at other authors who have done the same. Or if you’re writing a steampunk story, you’ll want to look into other steampunk books.

First, you want to read some of these books, so you can see what’s already been done, so you can avoid cliches or similarities. This will help you write a story that stands out, even if there are similar ones out there.

Second you want to read the reviews of these books and take note of what the readers liked and didn’t like. That way you can avoid any mistakes the author might have made. Once you’ve finished your research, you’ll need to look back over your plot outline and possibly make some changes based on what you’ve learned.

So for example, if you find that stuff several of the Cinderella re-tellings you read follow the same basic story-line, you might want to add a plot twist or two to yours, to help it stand out. Next you’ll need to start developing your setting. Think about the key locations where the story will take place and flush them out with details to make them feel real and interesting.

So for example in the Harry Potter series you have lots of memorable settings like Hogwarts,and platform 9 and 3/4. If you’re writing a fantasy story you’ll need to build a believable world from scratch and if you’re writing a story set somewhere you’ve never been ordering historical time period you’ll need to do research.

Even though for fantasy you make most things up, you still might need to do some research on things you’re not familiar with, like swords and bows, or castle life. This is also the point in the writing process where I start researching anything else I might need to know about, like police procedures, mountain climbing, the Italian mafia or whatever else might play a role in my story.

Once you’ve finished developing your setting and doing all your research, you might need to tweak your plot outline again. I found that when I start diving into my story’s world I usually end up getting more ideas which I then add into the outline. Sometimes
my research will make me realize that what I had originally planned isn’t going to work so we’ll need to make changes to the outline.

One last thing you need to do before you start writing is to decide on a theme for your story. Some writers might do this at the beginning stages of the writing process but for me it’s easier to weave in a theme once I’m more familiar with my plot and characters. I like to look at the conflicts in my story, whether it’s a conflict between characters, an internal conflict within the hero, or conflict within the society and then see what themes are might be able to draw from there.

A theme is basically like a theory you set out to prove or disprove with your story. It adds more depth of meaning and it’s shown through the actions of the characters in the plot. A theme usually explores or reveals something about the human experience. Think about what you might want to say about humanity in your story and how you could say it through your characters, then adjust your plot outline to show your theme.

After doing all that prep work you’re finally ready to actually start writing your story. I know it might be tempting to just skip ahead to this step, but trust me writing your first draft is so much easier and goes so much faster, and you’ve got all of those details taken care of. You know where you’re going.

When you write your rough draft, you want to focus on getting the story out of your head onto the page so you can mold it into something beautiful later. Give yourself permission to write crap but don’t beat yourself up about it. It’s easy to feel like a crappy writer when you’re writing crap, but you have to remember that the first draft is supposed to be terrible.

After you’ve gotten your story laid out on the page you can start editing and working some magic. In your second draft, you’ll want to focus on fixing any major issues, like plot holes, details that need more research, or scenes that may need to be altered or rearranged. Once you’ve got all that hammered out, you can then focus on smaller details, like dialogue, character descriptions and more choice.

In your additional drafts, you’ll probably end up with at least three drafts, and my average is usually three or four, but it’s not uncommon for a writer to have more. It all depends on how many drafts it takes to get a story you’re happy with, and feel good about.

After you’ve finished editing, it’s a good idea to let someone else read your story before you release it into the world. Preferably somebody beside your mom. I highly recommend asking other writers to read your story and give you feedback, even though it can be terrifying. I know I was nervous about letting my beta readers read my story, but the feedback I received was so valuable.

Beta readers can help you point out your story strengths and weaknesses, which means you’ll end up with an even better story than what you originally started with. Addressing any issues early on is going to help you increase your chances of getting published and also raise the odds of readers enjoying your book.

Once you’ve finished revising your final draft with your beta readers feedback, it’s time to begin the publication process. If you want to be published traditionally, this means looking for literary agents and sending out query letters or if you decide to self publish you’ll need to look into a publication platform like Amazon’s Kindle direct publishing.

For self-publishing you’ll also need a hire an editor and cover designer format your book for print and create a marketing plan and that’s it. Once your book is in your reader’s hands there’s nothing left to do except sit back and catch your breath.

As you can see, there’s a lot of work involved with writing a story. This entire process can take anywhere from months to years. It might seem overwhelming at first but I promise the more books you write and the more familiar you become with how this all works, the easier it becomes.

It may still take forever but you do get better at it, and if you have the driving passion for writing that I think you do, you won’t be able to stop yourself from doing it over and over again. Don’t forget to grab your free checklist of this process and the link below the video and also if you would like a more in-depth look into what goes into a story like plot, and character, and how a story works, I have a free ebook to help you with that as well.

It’s called ‘Writing 101’ and it includes over 100 pages of information and exercises to help new writers master the basics of writing a novel if you’d like to download a free copy of the ebook just click link below the video thank you so much for watching and good luck with planning your first novel.

They have their own objectives. They have their own dreams they have their own ambitions, their own needs. They’re just trying to be for themselves and what they’re doing and everything that pushes the plot to its conclusion is the dynamics that will create very convincing characters.

Again, working with your story outside of just writing it. If you can, have a piece of paper and draw lines marking out when and in the story certain important things happen with each plot.

When exactly the conclusion happens. What is the transformation at the beginning of each plot? What is the status quo and at the end what has changed? How is it how are things no longer what they were before?

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