worldbuilding

Worldbuilding in a Novel: A Guide to Creating A Believable World

Writing a novel requires more than good writing chops and fancy literary devices…you need solid worldbuilding in order to craft a realistic image for our readers.

Worldbuilding, or ‘world building’ as it’s sometimes referred to, is being discussed a lot, especially in association with the science-fiction and fantasy genre.

No matter what type of book you’re writing, worldbuilding should be one of the first steps you do, even before outlining your book.

In this post, we’ll walk you through how to world build in your novel with tips and questions to make sure your book is well-rounded.

Here are the elements of worldbuilding:

  1. Physical appearance
  2. Inhabitants & people
  3. World history
  4. Society Rules
  5. Religion & customs
  6. Fantasy worldbuilding
  7. Magic systems
  8. Scifi worldbuilding

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What is worldbuilding?

Worldbuilding is the process of creating a fictional world within your novel that offers an entirely new and unique location with exotic creatures, societies, religions, and governments.

Worldbuilding gives the writer a clear understanding of what their world looks and feels like. It’s completely up to the writer what they want their world to be.

The imaginary world serves to establish where the story takes place. Its purpose as the setting of the story is to anchor the reader into the book by giving them a concrete location.

When a writer makes the decision to half-heartedly world build, it shows. The world they create lacks authenticity and leaves the reader wanting.

Worldbuilding is a chance to capture the imagination of your reader. Once the reader is immersed in your world, they will be able to suspend disbelief and fully engage with the entire story structure to enjoy a full experience.

But, how does one go about achieving this?

Worldbuilding might seem daunting, but it can be broken down into simple steps that will make the process thorough and fun.

It is important to think of how the world you are creating is going to be unique to your story ideas. However, it is just as important to keep in mind how your world will serve the plot and affect the characters. 

Four general questions to ask yourself before you start building your world are as follows.

How to Worldbuild in a Novel: Questions & Guide

Worldbuilding can be intimidating OR your favorite part. It can change depending on your personal preferences with writing and storytelling.

We’re here to make it better no matter which camp you fall in.

Here are some of the core areas of worldbuilding to tackle, questions to answer, and guides to help you create a rich world every reader wants to step foot in.

#1 – Physical Appearance

The physical appearance of your world makes a big difference. Because you have to describe the story setting, you need to know what that looks like.

Here are some questions you can use to do this:

  • Is it a small dense area, or a vast world full of different environments?
  • How much of your world are you going to need to show in order to support the story?
  • How does the terrain influence the story?
  • What is the weather like regularly as well as when it’s severe?
  • What does the landscape look like? (Hint: this will influence transport and clothing)

Are the characters going to be concentrated in one area like a small town, or inside a labyrinth?

If so then all you need to world build is that location and focus on elements such as: is this location safe and what is the social structure within this location?

However, if the cast is going to be traveling within your world, then things get more complex, and you may need to create multiple countries or planets.

Creating multiple countries means analyzing how they will be different from each other.

Here are some questions to get this part right:

  • Where do the borders lie?
  • What are the languages spoken?
  • Are the natural resources? What are they?
  • What are the various cultures and cultural practices? 
  • If you are creating multiple planets, how do they differ from ours? Are there seasons? Is there more than one moon/sun? What life forms exist on these planets?

Knowing these details upfront can also help you shape the cultures and customs around the world itself as we have done in this world. Your worldbuilding will appear more natural this way as well.

Here’s an example of how you can use the very first opening scene of your novel to introduce the worldbuilding:

worldbuilding first chapter example

This example works for the world’s physical appearance for a few reasons:

  1. Right away, we get a feel for the environment: sandy, brown river
  2. We learn there are two suns
  3. We know the buildings are made of polished stone
  4. Overall, it paints a vivid picture of what this world looks like

#2 – Inhabitants or People

Think of your main cast. Since your characters drive the story, it’s important to be clear on every type of person involved from the start of the story to the end.

Answer these questions for worldbuilding your inhabitants:

  • Are they human, alien, or hybrids?
  • What is their population?
  • How did they get to be a part of this world?
  • Is there a class system among inhabitants?
  • Is the class system defined by wealth or some other factor?
  • What of gender, race, and species?
  • How do the inhabitants of the world you are building get along?
  • Are there natural alliances between particular groups?
  • Are some of the inhabitant’s oppressors towards the others?
  • What resources do the inhabitants have?

Knowing these details can not only help you shape the plot, but being able to slide in these details will make your world appear more lifelike and therefore, more entertaining for your readers.

#3 – History

History is important, it tells of how things came to be the way they are. Your fictional world, just like the real world, is going to have to have a history—and this history can often be very influential to plotting your novel. Therefore, you have to know it.

While it is not vital for you to know every minute detail in regards to the history of your world, it is crucial to know what are some of the important events of the past.

Here are a few aspects to consider:

  • Who have been the major rulers?
  • What key events took place during their reign?
  • How did their reign change the governments? 
  • How did the countries or settlements arrive at the state they are currently in?
  • Is there a recent historical event of note?
  • What are the religious and political historical events that are impactful to your plot?
  • What have been the major environmental disasters? Famine, plagues, flooding?
  • How have these impacted the land and the people?
  • Wars – what nations have been at war with each other in the past? What nations are still at war?
  • Have there been any civil wars?

This can be the most fickle and influential part of your worldbuilding ventures.

The more you know about your world’s history, the more opportunities you have for foreshadowing, plot twists, and a more comprehensive story in general.

An author who excels at weaving history into his storyline is George R.R. Martin in his Game of Thrones series.

worldbuilding example - history

#4 – Society Rules

Every society has codes of conduct, a set pattern of behavior expected to be followed.

Having rules in place will give an understanding to character actions and reactions as well as the overall character development process. Ask yourself what the guidelines in your world are, who enforces them, and how these will affect the plot.

Here are more questions for worldbuilding your society:

  • What is the political structure of the world?
  • Who holds power, influence, or authority?
  • Is it an individual or a group?
  • Is there a ruling monarchy?
  • Or is it a form of totalitarianism, authoritarianism, or a democracy?
  • Are characters going to be breaking or bending the rules, or will they be the ones administering them?
  • Are the rules considered fair and just, or is the society at large frustrated by the rules imposed upon them?
  • How are inhabitants punished if the rules of society are broken?

This is a great starting point for crafting the mood and general vibe of your book, not to mention building your main character and others to fit these standards.

#5 – Religion & Customs

Readers and critics generally frown upon worldbuilding so unimaginative that it contains only one race of people.

Creating a society filled with inhabitants of different races means there will be a variety in the traditional practices from one particular cultural group to the other.

A well-developed world will have its national/religious holidays, dress customs, cuisine, and linguistic characteristics.

How will this affect your characters? What are the legends and fairy tales that serve as a means of entertainment or education for inhabitants?

Here are more religious and social customs worldbuilding questions:

  • What is the religious belief system?
  • What gods, if any, exist?
  • Do the gods play a tangible and active role in the world, or are they entities people believe in?
  • Are there religious services attended to at a house of worship?
  • How much does religion play into the daily life of the layperson?
  • What is considered sacred?
  • Are particular symbols revered?
  • What are some rituals or customs related to religion in your world?
  • How many inhabits believe in the religious system?
  • Are there any quarrels between different religions?
  • Are there any specific festivals or celebrations that occur?
  • Do people work all week?
  • Are there holidays?
  • Do people celebrate their birthdays?
  • How do the various social classes behave?
  • What customs to they adhere to?
  • Gender roles are how they are defined?
  • How do families, marriages, and other relationships operate?
  • How is death handled – are services held, and do loved ones mourn?
  • Is procreation done out of love or duty?
  • Do people get to choose their own partners?
  • What behaviors are generally considered to be improper or immoral?

While there are a lot of questions for this section in particular, these are some of the most important, as they have the power to shape motives, societies, and characters in full.

Even if you decide to create a society that is a monolith – where the entire cast is of the same race or religion, you still need to clearly state what the customs unique to your world are.

Worldbuilding for Science-Fiction and Fantasy Specifically

These book genres are among the most important for worldbuilding. So much so that we created an entire article about worldbuilding for fantasy, but we’ll still cover the basics below.

From the halls of Hogwarts, to the Starship Enterprise, to the Seven Kingdoms of Westeros, a captivating and unique world is what sets the SFF genre apart from the other genres.

When it comes to science-fiction and writing fantasy, there are some key worldbuilding elements to consider in addition to the above.

Worldbuilding for Fantasy Questions

Fantasy is a genre that includes magical elements or a supernatural humanoid races/species such as elves, vampires, dwarfs, and fairies and that means it needs a set of worldbuilding criteria that differs from the above.

Magic Systems

Magic systems need rules, regulations, and overall, its own set of worldbuilding.

Here are some worldbuilding questions for your fantasy magic system:

  • How does the magic system operate?
  • Who is able to use it and where does it come from?
  • Are some individuals more adept at magic than others?
  • How are magic users grouped and perceived?
  • How do people hone their magic skills and become stronger?
  • What is the general attitude towards magic,
  • Are people accepting of magic, weary of it, or both?
  • Any limitations and rules of the magic?
  • What happens when these rules are broken?
  • Are there any exceptions to these set rules and how are they possible?

Supernatural Humanoids

These creatures run rampant in both science fiction and in fantasy, but we’ll touch on fantasy right now.

Here are some worldbuilding questions for supernatural humanoids in fantasy:

  • How are they received in society?
  • How ethnically and culturally diverse are they within their own species?
  • Did they evolve or migrate from somewhere?
  • Where do their powers come from?
  • Generally speaking, are they a friendly species?
  • Who or what do they worship?
  • What languages do they speak?
  • Are there any cultures or customs distinctive to what they are specifically?

Worldbuilding for Sci-Fi Questions

Science-Fiction is a genre that typically deals with futuristic concepts: advanced science/technology, artificial intelligence, time travel, space exploration, and extraterrestrial life.

Because of all these elements we don’t experience in our day-to-day lives (yet, in some cases), you have to be diligent with ensuring the world makes sense.

Here’s some help with world building for science fiction.

Advanced Science and Technology

Because this is the backbone of what makes a novel belong in the sci-fi genre, you should spend a great deal of time in this area.

Here are some questions to help you world build for sci-fi technology:

  • How developed is the tech?
  • How does this affect day to day living?
  • With what and how does communication work in your world?
  • What ones are used for entertainment?
  • Technology is used to travel?
  • What is weapons technology like?
  • Who can afford the technology and how does technology affect social structure?
  • Who created these technologies?
  • What are some up-and-coming technologies?
  • What technologies cause the most issues in your culture’s society?
  • Which technologies are the most helpful?

Artificial Intelligence

This is another hot and ever-growing topic in the sci-fi world. Because artificial intelligence is so significant right now, you have to remember to include it and ensure it sounds natural in your world.

Here are some questions for developing artificial intelligence in your sci-fi book:

  • Who created the artificial intelligence?
  • How does the artificial intelligence operate?
  • Are they self-aware?
  • What form do they take?
  • Are they easily identifiable?
  • How do they communicate with each other in order to complete tasks?
  • Are AI considered a lower caste? If so are they assigned roles of caretakers of the world?
  • How have humans managed to sustain supremacy over the artificial intelligence?
  • Do artificial intelligence feel the need to break out of their assigned roles?

Time Travel

Another common practice when writing a sci-fi novel is to include some sort of time travel.

While not all sci-fi novels have this concept, if yours does, it’s helpful to get clear on some details to avoid plot holes later in your writing journey.

Here are some worldbuilding questions for time travel:

  • Who can time travel?
  • What is the time travel paradigm?
  • Can people meet their past/future selves?
  • How far back/forward in time can one travel?
  • What are the repercussions of time travel?
  • Does the time traveler physically change upon returning?
  • Does time travel have effects on mental health?
  • How is time travel viewed in society?
  • What happens when the laws of time travel are abused?

Space Exploration

Many science fiction books include space exploration or travel at one point or another.

Here are some worldbuilding questions for space exploration:

  • Who was the pioneer of space exploration?
  • Is this a new undertaking, or have multiple worlds been aware of each other and living as a large community?
  • How many planets and how many solar systems does a galaxy comprise of?
  • What is the system of travel between worlds?
  • How is the language barrier between worlds solved?
  • Who regulates space travel?
  • What sort of documentation is needed for space travel?
  • Can anyone space travel or is it reserved for specific individuals?
  • What is the purpose of space exploration and travel?
  • How was space exploration made possible in your world?

Extraterrestrial life

Aliens are a natural part of space exploration so if this is in your novel, you may want to work on worldbuilding this particular bit as well.

Here are some questions for worldbuilding with extraterrestrial life:

  • How were they discovered?
  • Are they friendly or antagonistic?
  • What are their goals/motivations?
  • How does their presence affect the community?
  • What do they eat?
  • What are their weaknesses and strengths?
  • How do they communicate?
  • Does the public know of their existence?
  • How long has their presence been known for?

Final Steps for Worldbuilding in a Novel

Worldbuilding can be as simple or as complex as the author chooses. Keep in mind, even though you will be developing your world from scratch, not every single element of your world needs to be revealed to the reader. It is important to not overwhelm your audience, and avoid the dreaded info dump.

Elements of your world should be sprinkled in slowly, the details woven into your story in a manner that is enjoyable for the readers instead of dropped all at once in exposition.

Your imaginary world will naturally grow and develop as you write. When done correctly, worldbuilding can be a wonderful way to enhance your story. 

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character development

Character Development: 12 Steps, Arcs, & Guides [Worksheet]

The character development in your story is vital for its selling.

After all, people love and rave about books not always because of the story itself…

But because of the characters they fell in love with.

However…this is actually much harder to accomplish as a writer than it seems, even if writing and self-publishing a successful book hinges on it.

In fact, it’s specifically because someone fell in love with the characters and care so much about them and their journey that they’re willing to follow them through the entirety of it.

As we often say, a bad plot can be saved by amazing characters, but the best plot in the world will not save a book with bad character development.

Here is your 12 step guide for good character development:

  1. Download a Worksheet
  2. Create a background for your character
  3. Give your character strengths and weaknesses
  4. Create nervous ticks for your character
  5. Avoid making a “perfect” character
  6. Give your character realistic motives
  7. Give them a unique feature
  8. Develop a wide variety of character personalities
  9. Create an impact of your character’s past
  10. Make secondary characters foil types
  11. Give each character a unique voice
  12. Create a diverse character cast
  13. Avoid character stereotypes

Stick with us through this post and you’ll learn exactly how to accomplish character development in a way that will make readers think about your characters as if they were real people.

Once you nail all of these, you’ll be writing strong characters in no time.

Get Your Character Development Sheet

Sometimes it’s worth it to have a character development sheet to keep track of your characters. Not only will you be able to keep track, but you can zoom out and better see if you’re creating two character archetypes who are too much alike.

Are you ready to get started right now? Download your free character development sheet to keep track of each , character you write.

Character Development Cheat Sheet [also printable!]

Fast track your character development in HALF the time.

Keep your characters feeling REAL and organized at the same time with a fully customizable and printable character development worksheet designed to make your characters shine!

Where should we send it?

What is Character Development?

Character development is the process and execution of creating a fully rounded, complex, and lifelike character within your fictional writing with the purpose of making readers invested in them and their life or journey.

Think of character development like the paper of your book. Without it, you simply don’t have a book at all—you just have a mess of ink smeared between two cover.

But before we get into the extensive details, I’m going to cover what constitutes a well-developed character as well as the different types of character development you may consider.

What is a Well Developed Character?

A well-developed character needs a full backstory, personality traits reflective of it, realistic actions and emotions, along with being highly relatable to the average reader and as complex as a real person.

If you can’t imagine your characters as a real-life person, they’re not quite complex enough to be well developed. The key with character development is crafting your characters to feel as if they’re people you know who just live far away.

Get comfortable with thinking of them as real and you almost always will have a well-developed character.

Types of Character Development

When it comes to learning how to write characters – and write them well – you have to understand which type of character you’re dealing with.

These are the different types of characters to write:

  • Protagonist
  • Antagonist
  • Secondary
  • Static
  • Foil
  • Stock
  • Dynamic/Round

Don’t be alarmed if you think this is a lot of different types of characters. After all, we all have people in our real lives who would fill these character “types” and that’s why it’s important for your book to include them.

Without them, you can’t go through with character development and expect a captivating cast.

But let’s help you understand what each type of character brings to the story.

With this information, you can better understand which character development to focus on with each of the fictional people you create.

Character Development: 12 Steps, Arcs, & Guides [Worksheet]

Now that you know which type of character you’re focusing on here when writing your book, let’s dive deeper into the character development methods you can use and exercises to help you get it right.

#1 – Create a background for each character

Our realities are shaped by where we’ve been, where we are, and where we want to go.

That being said, the one with the most influence on our lives is where we’ve been – our past.

The same is likely true for your character. Based on what their life was like prior to the start of your novel, they’ll have different interests, quirks, fears, and more.

Your job is to fill out what their life has looked like up until the beginning of your book.

Character Development Exercise:

Fill out a character development sheet so you can understand your characters as full-fleshed people instead of just two-dimensional beings you created. Cover these main ideas when crafting your character’s background:

  • Their childhood (good, bad, poverty-stricken, spoiled, etc.)
  • Their parents (divorced, never married, one missing, both missing)
  • Their friendships
  • Their hobbies and interests as a kid versus now
  • Their motivations for feeling the way they do about any given situation
  • Their personality type and how it affects their actions
  • These are some basic elements you should understand about your character in order to shape their personality, opinions, and actions that appropriately fit their background.

#2 – Know your characters’ strengths and weaknesses

One of the biggest means of influence over your characters will be their strengths or weaknesses.

We, as humans, constantly face our strengths and weaknesses on a daily basis, even in the smallest of forms.

What your characters are good at and what they’re not great at will affect how they perceive different events, what actions they choose to take, and can affect their overall character arc (which we’ll touch on later).

If your character’s strength is talking to strangers and gaining their trust, this might be an asset for them throughout their journey. However, if that is your character’s weakness and they’re forced to do so, it can cause conflict for them.

These strengths and weaknesses will shape your character arc and the plot as a whole, so know them well before writing.

Character Development Exercise:

Create a list of 3 strengths and 3 weaknesses for your characters. Make sure these play into the plot in order to cause conflict and gain sympathy from readers who can relate.

#3 – Create nervous ticks or habits

If you’ve paid attention to humans for long enough, you’re aware that we all have certain habits we don’t even realize we’re doing when we’re nervous.

Me? I pick at the skin around my nails. It’s a pain (literally) and I never notice I’m doing it until later.

This can be a key characteristic that will make your characters feel more real and help make them more relatable to your readers, which will make them want to give you those 5-star reviews.

Character Development Exercise:

Make a small list for each of your characters. Write down 2 odd habits for each of them and decide which is their go-to (the one they do without even thinking about it) and which is made worse through nerves or anxiety.

#4 – No character can be perfect

It can be really hard to write your favorite fictional person as having flaws. After all, we want people to love them, right?

But a “perfect” character is not lovable – they’re hateable because it’s not realistic. These are often called Mary Sue characters.

The more you try to make your character “flawless,” the less readers can relate and therefore, they’ll like them less. You have to build flaws into your character just like we all have drawbacks in real like. You need to let your characters fail.

Character Development Exercise:

List 3 major flaws your character has that can actually become problems within your plot. Think about any bad habits they have, situations they dislike, or even personality traits that aren’t seen as “good” in order to craft these flaws in a realistic fashion.

#5 – All characters need realistic motives

No matter which character they or what they want in your story, they need to have a real and valid reason for feeling this way.

Take He Who Shall Not Be Named from Harry Potter for example.

Voldemort (woops!) wants to kill Harry. That much we should all know – even if you’ve never read or seen the movies. But if he was just trying to kill Harry Potter for the sake of murdering a child, it wouldn’t’ make sense.

Yes, he’s evil, but he also has a valid reason for wanting him dead, right?

He has to kill Harry Potter because he’s the only person who was able to defeat him before – and because the prophecy says so.

If your characters – no matter how minor they are – don’t have a motive that makes sense, readers will be pulled out of the story and end up questioning what’s happening, and not in a good way.

This is largely how plot holes arise so in order to avoid them, stick to this character development method.

Character Development Exercise:

When coming up with your antagonist’s motives, list at least 2 ways in which they’re valid. For Voldemort, it would be the fact that Harry can kill him and that he wants to rule the wizarding world. Your bad character has to have at least 2 strong reasons for opposing your protagonist and they should make sense given their history.

#6 – Give each character a unique feature

This is particularly for those of you writing Game of Thrones-esque novels with a large number of characters, but it’s important for others as well.

When writing a book, you want your readers to easily visualize and differentiate the cast. You want each character to stand out as individuals.

A perfect way to do this is to give each person an identifiable feature.

For example, let’s use Harry Potter again because you probably know what the main characters look like.

Harry has glasses. Hermione has buck teeth (up until she has them shortened a bit too much – and this is only in the books for those of you about to argue), and Ron has flaming red hair.

These are very distinct features that can help you picture them as wildly different characters.

Now, you don’t have to give each and every character some crazy hair color or style, but try not to have your entire cast look the same.

If you have a main character with brown wavy hair, have the next with blonde curly hair, etc.

Keep in mind that siblings can certainly look similar!

Character Development Exercise:

Create a spreadsheet or other document that lists all your characters and document their features. If you have two characters who spend a lot of time together in your book and you see they look similar, alter their appearance until they’re differentiable.

Take my own spreadsheet for my work in progress below as an example.

character development chart example

#7 – Develop a wide variety of personality types

Meaning, don’t create all of your characters to be the “dark and sarcastic” type or the “tough guy” type.

You have to have a wide variety of personalities – just like in the real world.

You can even back up their personality with real-life psychology. As an example, I have two characters who both have a tragic background.

However, they don’t process that trauma in the same way. One character takes on a very withdrawn approach while the other hides his pain with humor. This gives them very different personalities despite having similar histories.

Character Development Exercise:

Reference your character’s backstories and do a little research into possible coping mechanisms and how that can affect their personality. Develop it from there in order to have realistic personalities that differ.

Character Development Cheat Sheet [also printable!]

Fast track your character development in HALF the time.

Keep your characters feeling REAL and organized at the same time with a fully customizable and printable character development worksheet designed to make your characters shine!

Where should we send it?

#8 – Match your character’s history with the effects of it

This is when some research will come into play, which should be required anyway. Looking into some psychological effects of trauma can help you accurately and realistically dive into character development.

Now, not all characters go through trauma, but there are other big life events that can shape how they behave.

If you have a character whose parents were very strict growing up, they may be a bit of a rebel and lack the decision making abilities others have – mostly because they never learned how since their parents made those choices for them.

Character Development Exercise:

Since you know your character’s backstory, do a little research into how those specific struggles or realities can shape a person’s psyche in order to accurately and realistically craft their behavior.

#9 – Make secondary characters foil types

This is largely to help with personality contrast within your novel. Most of the time, this will happen naturally if you’re giving each character a unique personality but it’s great to keep in mind anyway.

If you have secondary characters (characters who get a decent amount of page time but are not main characters), craft their personality types to show the opposite of the main characters’.

Why? Because you want to firstly create more diversity and secondly, create some non-plot-specific conflict.

Character Development Exercise:

Pinpoint your secondary characters and development them in a way that makes them clash or oppose your main characters in certain ways. Think about what could annoy your main character the most and give your secondary characters some of those habits or personality traits.

#10 – Give each character a distinct voice

We all speak differently and that means your characters should too. Depending on where they’re from, they could have different accents, slang, and even phrases they tend to use regularly.

Think of a friend of yours for a minute. What are some specific phrases they use a lot?

It’s likely you were able to think of something in just a few seconds because it’s so unique to them and something they say a lot.

Your characters should be developed in the same way.

If you write two characters from very different areas of the world and they have the same style of speaking, your audience will be pulled out of the story because it’s not realistic. Their voices have to be consistent and not the same.

Character Development Exercise:

These tips can ensure your characters speak differently:

  • Choose a slang word each character likes to use
  • Use different wording for the same meaning like “apologies” versus “I’m sorry” or “my bad”
  • Use unique sentence structures to give each character a unique speaking rhythm
  • Make sure your more educated characters speak like it and your less educated use simpler words and phrases
  • Create phrases similar to “knee-high to a grasshopper” with unique meanings for your characters’ specific regions
  • Read their dialogue out loud in the voice you image they have and make changes if necessary
  • The point of giving your characters unique voices is to ensure your readers imagine them as real people instead of two-dimensional beings living in paper.

#11 – Create a diverse cast in every way

I’ll be honest, there is a very real problem in literature when it comes to diversity.

You can debate this all you want, but coming from someone who reads many books, it’s a very real issue that only you and other writers going forward can correct.

Your book should be just as diverse as the real world.

If you don’t have characters with varying skin, hair, or eye colors along with varying body types, disabilities, and even mental illnesses, your characters are not diverse enough.

You do not have to write a book about these things in order for you to include them in your novel.

For example, one of my main characters has high levels of anxiety. His storyline does not revolve around this mental illness, but it is there, seen, and can affect his plot.

Character Development Exercise:

Look through your characters and their appearances as well as their personalities. If there isn’t clear diversity amongst them, create it. You want to make sure you are allowing diverse readers to feel included, heard, and represented.

#12 – Avoid stereotypes

This is really a “do not do” tip versus a “must do” tip. The reason for this is because so many writers feel as though they need a “side character” (or even a main character) but is too lazy to do the real work.

Which means they create a stereotype of a specific type of person that can oftentimes be harmful without the author even knowing.

A great way to ensure you never have offensive stereotyped characters is to use a sensitivity reader or make sure you have a diverse group of beta readers who can speak on behalf of the characters you’ve developed.

What is a Character Arc?

A character arc is used to describe the inner and even outer journey, which can be physical, mental, emotional, or otherwise that a character experiences throughout the duration of the story or plot.

You thought you were done learning about character development, didn’t you?

You’re not! In addition to crafting well-rounded characters, you also have to think about including arcs for them.

How to Create a Character Arc

At the very least, your protagonist, or main character, requires a character arc for their storyline and journey to be captivating and satisfying for readers.

As an example, I’m going to use Harry Potter from that series simply because it’s widely known and his character arc even within the first novel is distinct.

Harry Potter starts the novel as an 11-year-old kid suffering from emotionally abusive relatives who care for him due to his parents passing away.

But by the end of the movie, Harry has discovered he’s a wizard, learned of his prominence in the wizarding world, and even taken on Voldemort himself (well, sort of).

This character arc is distinct in that his mental and emotional journey from start to finish is wildly different. Harry Potter is not the same at the end as he was in the beginning – and this remains true throughout each book in the series.

character development arc

When your character comes out at the end of the book as a transformed person in certain senses, it’s a character arc.

Above is an example of what a character arc looks like on paper and how you can utilize plot elements in order to further your character’s development.

Character development questions

If you’re looking for a way to further develop your characters in order to create lifelike and realistic personalities, we have a way to help.

Here are 50 character development questions to ask:

  1. What is their full name?
  2. Why did their parents choose that name?
  3. What are their parents like?
  4. Do they have siblings?
  5. What are their siblings like?
  6. Were they bullied by their siblings?
  7. What order are they in their family (first born, middle, etc.)?
  8. What do they look like (full appearance)?
  9. Do they have any quirks or nervous habits?
  10. What do they do when they get mad?
  11. What do they do when they’re happy?
  12. Do they have close friends?
  13. What are their friends like?
  14. What’s their worst habit?
  15. What’s their best habit?
  16. What’s their biggest weakness?
  17. What’s their biggest strength?
  18. What is something they want to improve upon?
  19. What’s something they excel in?
  20. Did they go to school or an equivalent?
  21. What were they like in school?
  22. Do they like to learn?
  23. Are they a rebel?
  24. Are they an obliger (people-pleaser)?
  25. Are they internally motivated?
  26. Do they look to others for help in times of stress?
  27. What is their stress response?
  28. Do they think logically or emotionally to make decisions?
  29. Are they able to make decisions clearly when emotional?
  30. What are their beliefs on religion?
  31. Do they have a strong moral compass?
  32. What do they value most in life (money, happiness, etc.?)
  33. What is something that would trigger irrational behavior?
  34. Are they introverted or extroverted?
  35. Are they a troublemaker or do they play by the rules?
  36. What’s something that fulfills them?
  37. Do they know their life’s purpose?
  38. Who’s someone causing emotional struggles in their life?
  39. Who do they go to when they’re upset?
  40. What type of weather do they enjoy most?
  41. What are their sleeping habits like?
  42. What are their eating habits like?
  43. What’s something they could change about their world if they could?
  44. Are they someone who speaks up for themselves?
  45. Are they a passive person?
  46. What are they like at their very worst?
  47. What are they like at their very best?
  48. What do they envision their life to be 10 years from now?
  49. What do they want for their life when they’re old and gray?
  50. What does the “perfect” life look like in their eyes?

Now, developing your character will be easier than ever!

Ready to write YOUR book?

Grab a copy of Published. (UPDATED IN 2022 for fiction writers!) below to get the definitive guide on “how to write a book” PLUS get access to the audiobook, advanced trainings, and additional resources to help you write your book!

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how to edit a book

How to Edit a Book: 8 Step Guide + Mistakes to Avoid

Learning how to edit a book is hard.

It just is, and editing your own stuff is even harder. It’s your baby, and it’s hard to cut and change the thing you’ve spent so long laboring over.

The fact that writing and publishing a book successfully is so important to you can make this even more difficult.

But your baby has to grow up.

That means growing pains, the terrible twos where nothing makes sense, and an angsty teenage phase where the words themselves rebel against you and you regret that drunken night so long ago when you thought you had the next great novel idea…

Thankfully, we have a step-by-step guide to make it a lot less painful.

Because all you’ve done so far is write the book, which we like to think of as building the frame of a house. Editing your book is adding walls, paint, fixtures, and everything else that makes a house a home (or a draft into a book).

Here are the steps for how to edit a book:

  1. Redefine the point of the book
  2. Do a readthrough
  3. Set editing goals
  4. Break it up to edit
  5. Dig into your characters and people
  6. How to edit chapters
  7. Editing for pacing
  8. Line editing your book
  9. Common book editing mistakes to avoid
  10. Next steps for editing your book

* click to jump to a specific section

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Before we dive into the steps for editing a book (click here if you want to skip right down to that section), we wanted to cover some frequently asked questions about editing a book to set you up correctly right from the start:

Can anyone edit a book?

Technically, anyone can self-edit a book. That said, not everyone can be a professional editor, as that requires a specialized skillset, industry knowledge, and more advanced education in what it takes to edit a quality book.

What is the book editing process?

The book editing process requires several steps, and the process can be tailored to best suit what works for you and your book.

That said, this is a typical book editing process:

  1. Be clear on the overall point of your book or story
  2. Read through your book and make notes (and compile with notes from beta reader, friends, and writing partners)
  3. Set up goals for completing the editing of your book
  4. Break up your book into sections to edit
  5. Start at the beginning and work your way through for continuity
  6. Begin with developmental edits on the first round, then move onto punctuation, grammar, and line edits
  7. Focus on editing these elements separately: chapters, pacing, characters/people, and overall story structure
  8. Do a line edit of your book (punctuation, spelling, grammar, the little things)
  9. Finally, pass your book off to a professional editor with experience in your genre

We cover all of these steps in detail below.

Do I need a professional editor if I can edit a book myself?

Yes. You need a professional editor.

The reason for this is because no matter what, you will always be too close to your work to edit it well. Sometimes we absolutely need a different perspective to help us catch and fix mistakes that we’ve gone blind to.

And if you’re self-publishing your book, an editor is mandatory if you want a quality book.

How long does it take to edit a book?

This completely depends on the length of the book, your available time to edit, and how deeply you’ll edit the book. That said, we typically recommend a month to do a full, in-depth book edit by yourself (if you’re not doing this full-time). We explore how long different types of book edits take here.

How to Edit a Book: 8 Step Guide + Mistakes to Avoid

We’ll almost never be able to write our exact vision for our book in the first draft…or second, or maybe even third. But editing a book is when the real book comes to life.

The reality is: editing a book yourself will bring it to the highest quality you can make it, so when you do pass it off to an editor, it can become even better. After all, if you wash a car before waxing it, the wax shines even brighter than if you didnt.

You might want to just hand off your book to an editor and be done with it, and that still may be a good idea as a final step, but there are decisions that no editor can make for you. 

Self-editing isn’t about just fixing some typos, it’s about turning a mess of ideas into a publishable book, and unless your editor can read your mind, it won’t be the same unless you self-edit first.

#1 – Define the point of your book

Before you put red pen to virgin paper, you need to know what your book is about. 

I know what my book is about, I wrote the fool thing,” I hear you shout at your screen. 

Too often though, I find that it is remarkably easy to finish a piece and not really know what the main point is. We can become so bogged down with all the side plots and tangents that we forget what’s vital to the story. 

What is the story really about if you trim all the fat? What is necessary to tell the story, and what isn’t?

You want a sleek, streamlined story or book. Not a bloated one, that’s so full of side plots that it’s impossible to tell what the main one is.

How do we know what the point of our book really is?

Write a short synopsis. Anywhere from 500-2000 words. Don’t just write one though. Write several synopses explaining it in different ways, from different points of view and perspectives. This will give you an extremely clear idea of what’s important and what’s not to tell your story.

This will help you focus on what’s important, and it tells you where you need to do more work.

#2 – Do a Readthrough with NO editing first (we’ll explain why)

One of the first things you should do when you’re ready to edit your book is read through it and don’t make ANY edits. This might sound confusing, but this is why…

Instead of editing right away, make notes of the edits you want to make—including feedback from others.

You can definitely add comments to the side of your book (if you’re using google docs or something that allows for this), but we’ve also found it really useful to have a different place to house notes in a bullet-list style or however you’ll understand it best.

This is also a time when you can compile any feedback from beta readers or writing partners with stuff you want to change.

From there, it’s much easier to dive in, chapter by chapter, to actually make those edits.

#3 – Set book editing goals

Just like you have to set up a schedule for writing a book, we also recommend you do the same thing for editing.

For this, there are a couple types of goals you can set: quality and timeline.

—Quality Book Editing Goals:

Your goal should always be for your writing to be clean, concise, and easily understood. 

Just because you can write a grammatically correct sentence that goes on for 3 pages won’t make people want to read your book.

In fact, it will probably send them looking for anything else to do. 

If your goal is to impress people with your technical skill and ability to write long beautiful prose that barely make sense, then you’re not writing a book, you’re creating an art piece using a book as a medium. That’s fine if that’s your goal, but that’s not what we’re doing here.

If you want the story to be the art, not the words themselves, then clarity should be your number one priority.

If you write nonfiction, here are some questions to help you identify your editing goals:

  • is this book clear and concise?
  • is it also entertaining and well-written?
  • does it solve a problem or fulfill the promised purpose (the promise in your subtitle)?
  • am I proud to put my name on the quality of this book?

If you write fiction, your editing goal questions may look different:

  • is my main character likeable, sympathetic, or capable (or at least 2 of the 3)?
  • is my opening scene strong and captivating?
  • are my chapters full-scenes themselves?
  • are my beta readers confused by anything?
  • is my climax or plot-twist too predictable?

Notice how none of those questions take into account grammar or spelling—the common things you’d expect when editing a book.

But that’s because your first round of edits should be focused on the book’s content (like when development editing) before you comb through for basic grammar issues.

—Timeline Book Editing Goals:

Next, you have to set up some timeline goals for when you want to finish editing your book. When you set up writing goals, you likely broke it down by word count. For editing, we typically recommend looking at each chapter by themselves and breaking it down that way.

For example: if you have 19 chapters in a book, and you want to edit a chapter a week, then you will have 19 weeks before your book is ready for your professional editor.

You can definitely increase the amount of chapters per week. To start, we recommend going through two chapters to get an average time it takes to edit per chapter and then set up the rest of your timeline goals from there.

#4 – Break your book up into sections to edit

If you’re starting at the beginning of a long book it can be helpful to break it up into manageable chunks. Split it into four or five pieces that you can edit one at a time—this is especilly true for nonfiction.

Here’s how you can separate your book into sections for either fiction or nonfiction:

Fiction – break your book up by Three Act Structure or by your 5 milestones

Nonfiction – break your book up by teaching sections, themes, or chapters

If you do this you need to be careful that you pay attention to the flow, and that all the pieces that you edited separately still fit together in the end.  

One of your final edits should always be a top to bottom read through for flow, and when editing in chunks, this step is even more important.

#5 – Focus on the characters or people

Oftentimes, the characters (even in nonfiction) will carry the book and be the main focus of entertainment. For nonfiction, your “characters” are just the people who appear in the stories, lessons, or research used to back up any teaching or education points.

That means focusing on making these strong, will help you edit your book along the way.

In every section, scene, or chapter, ask yourself:

  • will a reader find this person/character intersting?
  • will a reader think this person/character is annoying?
  • is this the best person/character to showcase this area of the book?

If a person or character doesn’t have a purpose, you need to give them one, remove them, or trim their part down so they’re not distracting from the overall focus. 

Your characters and people should all have a purpose, from major to minor.

Make sure every character serves their purpose, and none of their arcs are left incomplete. If you leave them with open ends, it can make your character development weak and therefore, uninteresting.

#6 – Editing chapters

Now you know what your story is saying, you’ve synopsized it several different times from different angles, and your characters work. Now let’s go on a level.

Let’s look at all your chapters. 

Just like your characters, every chapter needs a purpose that moves the main plot or teaching points forward.

Ask these questions about each chapter:

  • Does this chapter have a purpose? 
  • Does it move the plot or teaching point forward?
  • Does it develop an important character or person?
  • Can I continue the story without it?
  • Can this chapter stand alone outside of the overall book and still feel whole and complete?

If the chapter doesn’t do one of these things, either cut it or find a way to condense anything important into another chapter, it may not need to stand on its own.

#7 – Editing a book for pacing

While you’re going through the chapters, consider the pacing of the book as a whole. This is really important for writing a book that’s not boring to readers.

Pacing in a book is how quickly or slowly the book feels like it’s progressing. 

This can be a hard thing to explain, as it is very much a feeling, but until the climax of your book, you shouldn’t have any big breaks in the action. Little breathers can be good to set up the next scene, but you shouldn’t have long stretches where the tension drops.

Different book genres do require different pacing, and you’ll find that if you’re editing a nonfiction book that you have to work extra hard not to make it slow (which = boring).

Above all, the story should never grind to a halt.

Don’t give your reader whiplash by slamming on the breaks and then speeding off a second later.

Let your story breathe slowly. Slowly increasing and decreasing the pace like your book is taking a breath. All the while you are slowly ramping up the pace and tension until the climax.

Here are a few ways to pace your novel effectively…

Book’s Overall Pacing

Will it be faster (think horror/thriller novels), or will it be slower (think contemporary or romance). This will determine how you write and finish chapters.

You likely have a preference as an author for a fast or a slow-paced book. This is often the same as what we prefer to read.

Do you like your books to be the type you can’t put down and read in a couple of sittings or the type of book readers can pick up every night and read a chapter or two?

Certain book genres also predetermine your pacing, so keep this in mind.

Book genres with typically fast pacing:

  • Horror
  • Thriller
  • Mystery
  • Action / Adventure
  • Comedies
  • Paranormal

Book genres with slower pacing:

  • Nonfiction
  • Epic fantasy
  • Dramas
  • Contemporary
  • Romances
  • Historical Fiction

Book genres where pacing varies greatly:

  • Nonfiction
  • Fantasy
  • Sci-Fi
  • Dystopian

Pacing Within Chapters

The pacing within a chapter is also very important, and there’s a great way to manage this with your writing.

A really great way to manage pacing within chapters is to use paragraphs wisely.

Now, there are grammatical rules to follow for paragraphs, but you can also use paragraph breaks and writing chapters intentionally to slow down or increase the pacing.

If you want a fast-paced chapter: The key to faster pacing is shorter, more frequent paragraphs. Dialogue is also very useful for increasing pacing because it pulls readers farther down the page, quicker.

If you want a slow-paced chapter: Fewer paragraphs, written longer, will slow down the pacing significantly. This means more internal thoughts and more in-depth descriptions. Essentially, you’re creating more text on the page, which takes longer to read, which slows the pacing.

Putting these methods together: You can use these techniques to create a rhythm within your work. If you feel like an area is too slow, see where you can break up paragraphs or add bits of dialogue. And if a section is too fast, see where you can add more internal musings or setting/character descriptions.

Remember, if you end a chapter on a cliff-hanger, this will make the pacing for this section seem faster.

Overall Book Pacing as a Whole

It’s important to step back and look at your book in terms of pacing as a whole. It can be easy to pace a few chapters in a row slowly, only to have that section of your book feel boring to readers.

While you may have reasons for keeping those chapters slower-paced, too many in a row can create that “rut” readers often complain about in the middle of a book.

Step back and look at your chapters next to each other. A great way to do this is with sticky notes.

Use one color for a slow pace, and another for faster-paced chapters.

Line them up along your wall and step back.

If you have too may slow-paced chapters next to each other, do some digging and figure out how you can add tension there—and realize that if you have several fast-paced chapters next to each other, your book will speed by, which can often cause information overload or confusion.

You control pacing on the large scale with plot and structure, and on the small scale with sentence and paragraph structure. Short punchy sentences speed the reader along, and long, complex sentences and paragraphs slow the reader down.

#8 – Line editing a book

Now we begin my least favorite part… the line-by-line edit.

There’s no shortcut here. You have to go through your book, line-by-line, word-by-word, and consider each paragraph, sentence, and word.

You’re looking for typos, grammatical mistakes, passive voice, but largely just, how can you make this more readable?

Ask yourself this when line editing a book:

  • Would this sentence be more clear if I rearranged it? 
  • Is this sentence necessary? 
  • Does it add anything? 
  • Is this paragraph clear? 
  • If not, how can it be more clear? 
  • Is it obvious who’s speaking here? How do I fix that?
  • If i read this aloud does it sound weird?

These are the kinds of questions you need to be asking about each and every sentence and paragraph in your book.

There’s no shortcut. You just have to force yourself to sit down and do it, then hire a professional book editor.

That being said, there are some common things to look for that I’ll show you in the next section, and it never hurts to have a copy of the Chicago Manual nearby as well.

Common Book Editing Mistakes to Avoid

Not everyone is perfect and can edit a book perfectly the first time. That’s what book editors are for, after all.

However, handing over a manuscript littered with these mistakes can not only make the editing more expensive, but it can also hinder your book’s final product because, well, the better version you send to the editor, the better final product.

Here are a few things to avoid when editing your book.

#1 – “Keep it simple stupid”

KISS, the old Navy saying is a good one to live by when you’re editing. Shorter and simpler is almost always better. 

If you can say it in fewer words, do it.     

If a shorter word will work, use it.

If you can say that whole beautiful monologue in a sentence, guess what? Shorten it.

There are always exceptions to the rule. If you have a good reason, breaking this rule can make a section stand out. Exceptions can be for characterization, mostly. If you have a character who is long-winded and this serves a purpose, writing dialogue that’s long-winded and wordy can likely stay.

If you’re ever unsure, though, stick to simple.

#2 – Avoid redundancies

It’s very easy to do because it’s often how we talk. In writing though, it’s unnecessary, and it can actually make your point less clear as the audience tries to figure out why you just repeated yourself.  

Don’t just say the same thing you did another way to make sure the point got across.

Don’t drone on and on because your words are too bountiful a crop to cull, and the audience should marvel at your use of words…. 

You see what I did there?

Don’t do it.

Your audience is smart, and will usually pick up what you mean the first time, Even if they don’t, guess what? It’s a book, not a Snapchat, they can go back and reread if they need to.

Give your audience credit, they’re often smarter than you think.

This brings me to my next point.

#3 – Don’t preach

It’s one of the things I struggle with the most. I’m just itching to have a character, the narrator, or some pretty prose spell out the fascinating philosophical implication of this character’s actions or thoughts. 

Don’t do it. It’s cheap, and it comes across as flat and boring. 

Find a way to show it with action instead.

Your audience is smart; if your writing is done well, they should come to the conclusion you wanted them to on their own. It will be far more powerful than if you simply told them because it’s an active experience for the reader.

They may also come to a different conclusion than you expected, and that can be even more fun.

#4 – Show, don’t tell.

This is very similar to the last point. If you have some piece of information you need the audience to know, show it with action instead of telling them, or have it come up in natural conversation between the characters.

This is the classic rule of “show don’t tell.

https://youtu.be/0SqtDgCLh1g

Don’t tell the audience about the terrible PTSD your character or a person is suffering from. Don’t fill the page with beautiful prose about how the character feels.

Show them how the character is affected. Let your audience experience the emotions through the character. 

Showing is always more powerful than telling, and powerful is what you want.

#5 – Don’t Overdo Styling

Don’t be cutesy or flowery with your word choice or styling. 

For instance, 

“He wheezed an answer,” 

or 

“Don’t… goooo. DON’T!!!”

It’s distracting and silly. It’s like the literary equivalent of the over-the-top drama in a soap opera.

It’s comical, and not in a good way.

Simplicity can actually do more for you here. An exclamation point, when used correctly, is all you need to indicate a person shouted.

#6 – Watch for writing tics

Just like you have verbal tics that you fall back on when you’re speaking, like “umm,” we have writing tics as well.

They’re often unconscious and entirely unnecessary. They clutter up the page, and you need to excise them from your piece like little tumors.

These are words like:

  • Just
  • So
  • Which
  • Basically (Many adverbs really)
  • Great (most Adjectives)
  • Like 
  • About

For instance, I have a bad habit of using, “So,” and “which,” far too often. 

I may say, 

“So, because of that….” 

Or,

“Which is why we need to…”

Be on the lookout for your common tic words. They’re almost always unnecessary and can rob your writing of power by making your sentences wordy and confusing.

Keep in mind that you likely have a word or phrase you use often as well. For example, you may use “pulled” or “snatched” or even “reluctantly” repeatedly and not even notice.

Keep an eye out and learn to recognize these words or phrases.

A quick hack for finding these is:

  • if you notice a repeated phrase a few times in a chapter, do a “Command + F” on mac or “CNTRL + F” on PC and search the phrase
  • If it’s an excessive number, you may want to keep an eye out and create a separate task or goal to comb through your manuscript just for that phrase

#7 – Don’t over-edit

Generally, the more you edit the better your book, but there is such a thing as too much editing.

You don’t want your book to be stuck in perpetual editing hell. 

It’s easy to get trapped by the feeling that your book has to be perfect, but perfection is often unattainable. Eventually, you need to publish it. 

Get it as good as you can, but don’t obsess over it. Share it. You’re writing isn’t complete until you share it.

What’s next? Editors, beta readers, and more!

After you’ve done everything I’ve said so far it may still be a good idea to hire an editor.

Beta readers are a great choice if you can’t afford an editor, and even if you can, I still recommend it.

All a beta reader is, is someone, usually a family member or friend who you ask to read your book and give you feedback before you publish. The value you get from seeing what normal people think of your book is massive.

And this should be done before you send to an editor, for obvious reasons (you wouldn’t want to pay for another editor after betas have pointed out major flaws you need to rewrite, would you?).

But you have to take their criticisms to heart. You don’t have to change everything they bring up, but seriously consider what your readers and editor say. 

Try to avoid defending your piece too strongly. It’s easy to simply write off criticism as someone just not understanding what you were doing. Especially if it’s a phrase or section you like. 

And a major tip for when you have beta readers: never explain or correct their assumptions. It can be tempting for you to dive in and tell a beta why they didn’t understand a section, but doing this risks their feedback being unbiased and fresh, and therefore, unusable.

The bottom line is that if someone misunderstands something you said then others may too. You may not be wrong, your friend may have been an idiot, but chances are there is a clearer way for you to say whatever it was they didn’t understand.

Remember, there’s no “right” way & this is YOUR process

In the end, there is no perfect way to edit a book.

If your finished project is clean, clear, and easily understandable, then you edited perfectly. Whether you follow this guide, talked to a monk on top of a mountain, or you laid all the pages on your floor and changed every sentence your cat stepped on, it doesn’t matter if the final product is good. 

And ultimately, every writer has a different editing process. If you want to print your book to edit it, perfect! If you prefer to use Google docs, great!

It’s all about whatever works best for you and allows you to create real progress and change in your manuscript.

What I’ve given you is a guide to get started. Take it, tweak it, make it your own, and go finish your book! 

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publishing industry

What Can Authors Expect from the Publishing Industry This Year?

2020-2021 hasn’t quite gone as planned, has it?

The global COVID-19 pandemic has impacted practically every person, and practically every industry, often in more ways than one. But we’re here to tell you that now isn’t the time to put down your pencil. 

Shakespeare famously wrote not one but three tragedies – King Lear, Macbeth, and Antony and Cleopatra – during the bubonic plague.

The literary world doesn’t stop moving, even in times of crisis. 

But it’s moving towards a different landscape than what many of us were anticipating. So exactly what can authors – and self-publishers in particular – expect from the publishing industry throughout 2020?

Let’s take a look…

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Increased Competition

OK, let’s get the bad news out of the way first. This year, the industry looks set to be more competitive than ever before, driven by a slew of new authors using their newfound free time to finally get to work on those short stories they’ve been wanting to start but have never been able to get around to writing. 

Speaking with David Barnett at the Guardian newspaper, literary agent Juliet Mushens reported that her average 10 – 15 daily requests for representation had risen to 27, while Ireland’s Tramp Press editor Lisa Coen was said to be experiencing a threefold increase in the number of submissions received each day. 

And this increased competition is expected to be greatest amongst self-publishers as writers explore alternative publishing options to reduce reliance on traditional brick and mortar publishing houses. 

A report by The Bookseller magazine suggests that 60% of small publishers believe that they could be out of business by Fall due to a drop in sales and the subsequent cashflow problems that come with it. 

Image source

It’s natural that new writers breaking into the field will want to take the approach that we’ve been rooting for all along: self-publishing. And while this may mean more fierce competition for self-publishers in the industry this year, it definitely doesn’t mean that you should think about quitting.

Instead, it could be time to take a closer look at what you’re doing and optimize your strategy to ensure you stand out among the crowd. One option is to consider hiring a literary agent. We know, we know, self-publishers don’t always need an agent. But here’s the thing: literary agents don’t just work with publishing houses; they could help to get your work recognized by film and theater producers, too. 

If you’re not sure how to get a literary agent, then now is the perfect time to learn. Writing a great book isn’t always enough; you’ll need to make sure you’re properly preparing your manuscript and sending out submissions to the right people, at the right time. It doesn’t hurt to have a killer query letter, either. 

Greater Demand

If there’s one thing that the publishing industry is asking for more of this year, it’s content. 

Reports show that around one third of all US adults are reading more during the pandemic, with figures ranging from 28% for ‘Baby Boomers’ to 40% for ‘Millennials’. And a similar trend is being seen across the world. Nielsen reports that 2 in 5 Brits are reading more in isolation, while 58% of Canadians are reading more, and 22% are buying more books now than they did prior to the COVID-19 outbreak. 

The reason, of course, is that many people have more time on their hands to enjoy the things they really love, such as reading. Job loss in the United States is at its highest since the Great Depression, and while this is devastating, it is certainly good to see that many people are filling their time with literature. 

Whether you use a traditional publishing house, or you’re a self-published author, demand for literary content from the publishing industry this year is expected to be greater than ever due to COVID-19. 

But the big question is… what sort of themes are 2020’s audiences looking for? Read on to find out…

Shifting Interests

One of the first pieces of advice you may have been given back when you were just starting out was probably to ‘write what you know’. After all, it makes sense to talk about issues we’re familiar with. 

In 2020, while that advice still stands, the boundaries are beginning to move a little, especially for fiction writers. And this is causing a pretty notable shift in demand from the modern-day publishing industry. 

When you’re writing a book, you not only want to write what you know, but you want to write about something that your audience knows, too. And what do we all know this year? We all know Coronavirus.

But will a book proposal about COVID-19 really hit the mark with the 2020 publishing industry? Perhaps not. Recently, HarperCollins Editor Phoebe Morgan took to twitter with some advice for her authors.

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If you’re used to writing about your life as you know it, now could be the ideal time to start branching out and exploring some new ways of getting creative. Submitting a strongly written book proposal about themes that can help readers to escape from the everyday could be your ticket to success this year. 

Continued Digitization

The large scale shift from print to digital is already well underway, but authors can expect an even bigger move to alternative formats from the publishing industry in 2020 as more people spend time at home.

With worldwide stay-at-home and shelter-in-place orders, coupled with a widespread reluctance to be out and about, an increasing number of people are looking for easy-to-access, at-home entertainments. This means that digital books, such as ebooks and especially audiobooks, are in more demand than ever. 

Audio books are already an area that we recommend self-publishers should be exploring. Last year, a report by the Audio Publishers Association found that half of all teens and adults in the US had listened to an audiobook within the past 12 months. Those are some pretty impressive statistics if you ask us! 

If you want to give the publishing industry what it’s looking for this year, now is the time to start learning more about the audiobook landscape, especially distribution techniques. It might also be a good idea to chat with some authors who have ‘been there, done that’… we’ll talk more about the community later.

No matter what format you decide to release in, it can definitely be nerve-wracking launching a new book at this uncertain time, but think about this: a book on your hard drive does nothing for you. You have the technology you need to get your book in front of the right eyes… you should make use of it! 

A Change in Promotional Opportunities

Social distancing regulations and a ban on large scale gatherings have meant that many of this year’s biggest literary events – events that self-publishers may rely on for marketing and promotion – have been canceled. This includes Penguin Presents, the Sydney Writers Festival in Australia, and PEN America’s World Voices Festival in New York, which had Margaret Atwood and Zadie Smith in the 2020 line up. 

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According to the Interactive Advertising Bureau, there is a rapidly emerging trend in the marketing industry to delay promotional campaigns at this time. And as a writer, you may think that a lack of physical events means it’s necessary to put off your plans. We say that you should keep moving forward. 

After all, it takes energy to change your plans; energy you could be pouring into your next book!

Penguin CEO Tom Weldon says that now is the time to ‘be imaginative and creative about how to develop clever solutions to promote’. This could mean shifting your approach from physical events to online events, or looking to work with others who are finding themselves in a similar situation. 

Writer collaboration is expected to be a hot topic this year, with self-publishers pooling their resources to help the community thrive at this challenging time, rather than simply survive. If you haven’t already done so, start forming relationships with others in the industry. Learn and grow from each other. 

And don’t forget: support from other self-publishers is just one type of support available right now…

Increased Support

Perhaps the most important thing authors can expect from the 2020 publishing industry is more support. 

Hurrah!

The Self-Publishing School, for example, has been giving away all resources for free for the first time ever. The platform is proud to be supporting self-publishers and the publishing industry as a whole at this challenging time by providing more than 20 writing and publishing resources free of charge this year.

And they’re not the only ones. 

As self-publishing is gaining more and more momentum under the ‘new normal’, it’s expected that other online publishing channels will start to extend services to provide more support when you need it most. 

Amazon’s KDP platform has already started to globalize its offerings, extending its advertising opportunities across both the US and Europe, including Italy, France, Spain, Germany, and the UK. Google Play and Apple are also expected to up their game this year to support self-publishers. Apple in particular is rumored to be placing an increasing focus on its Apple Books branch in the near future. 

As an author – and as a self-published author especially – we can all feel like we’re not always supported by the publishing industry. But we’re confident that we can expect more from the industry this year. 

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Riding the Wave

It’s safe to say that 2020 isn’t the best year we could have hoped for. 

But let’s look at this, this way: writers – and self-published authors in particular – are self-motivated, hardworking, entrepreneurially-minded, and certainly aren’t afraid to face a challenge head on. 

This year, while the heart and soul of the publishing industry may not have changed, the pathways that we take to research, to write, to market, and to launch our ideas are becoming more and more flexible. 

Ultimately, what we can expect from the publishing industry this year is an opening up of multiple different avenues to success that, while may have already existed within the literary world, have largely been overshadowed and limited by tradition; by a focus on traditional publishing houses and print. 

This is the year that is going to push us all to our limits, and test us all. But it’s also the year that self-publishing really shines. This is the year we can create truly positive change across the industry.

Whether we write to entertain, to inform, to humor, to inspire, to motivate, or for any other reason, the unique challenges this year won’t harm the publishing industry; they’ll merely accelerate the much-needed change that we’ve been waiting for. Maybe 2020 won’t be that bad after all…

Build an Author Website: Steps, Examples, & Full Guide

Ready to take your author platform seriously? One of the first–and most important–steps in establishing your author platform and growing a solid readership is to create a professional author website.

When you have a real, reliable author website, readers will take you more seriously and you can potentially sell more books.

If you have no web design experience, this might be intimidating. After all, you’re a writer, not a web designer. But you’re not alone!

In this article, we’re going to break down all the steps for building an author website, including where to host it, examples of other author websites, and tips by a published author.

These are the steps for building an author website:

  1. Buy a domain
  2. Choose hosting
  3. Decide on a platform
  4. Connect your hosting and your platform
  5. Know your audience
  6. Pick a theme or design
  7. Add all the pages of an author website (11 pages)
  8. Author website examples
  9. Cost for an author website

Why does a professional author website matter?

A website is just one of those things you have to have for people to know that you’re a professional. If someone googles your name and can’t find a website, that’s a potential sale lost, because a good website sells books and whatever else you’re offering. Having a professional place to display everything you offer will help readers and clients find the information they need to make the purchases you need.

If you’re interested in making money, make it easy! Create an attractive website with clear call-to-actions for potential buyers to follow.

Whether you’re selling books, offering services from your author platform, creating content, or a mix of the three, having a strong, clear website with accessible information will ultimately help you make more money.

Now that we know why we need a good author site, how do we do it?

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Build an Author Website: Steps, Examples, & Full Guide

So how do we get started creating our site? The first step is choosing where you’re going to host and build your website, then decide on the content!

1. Buy a domain

A domain is the URL address of your website. These are not free, so you do have to pay for them, but they’re typically inexpensive unless you want something that’s taken (and you have to buy it from someone) or it’s deemed “high value”, in which case the domain company selling it may make it very expensive.

You will have to go through a domain seller in order to buy a domain. But first, you have to choose what your domain will be.

How to choose an author domain

Typically, this is the easiest part.

For most authors, you will buy a domain that’s the same as your public-facing author name, like: HannahLeeKidder.com

If your name is not available (someone else has it), then you can choose a name with a variation like “author” or “books”. Here are some examples of domain names you can choose:

  • YourNameAuthor.com
  • YourNameBooks.com
  • BooksByYourName.com
  • AuthorYourName.com

We recommend choosing a name that you can use consistently across all platforms, including social media (meaning, if you use YourNameAuthor.com for your domain, make your social media platforms YourNameAuthor for the username. This will allow readers to find you very easily.)

How to buy an author domain

There are a number of websites you can use to buy a domain.

Among the most popular are:

The choice is ultimately up to you for where to buy—we typically recommend GoDaddy because of the vast supply of step-by-step tutorials available online for all of the following steps (that can get complicated if you’re not tech-savvy).

From there, these are the steps to actually purchase your domain:

  1. search for your desired domain in the search field of the site you chose
  2. add the domain to your cart
  3. go to checkout
  4. ALWAYS choose to pay for the “keep your information private” option, this will prevent any spam calls and emails and mail
  5. enter your payment information
  6. complete checkout

You now own your domain! But the work isn’t done yet. Just because you bought a domain doesn’t mean you can go to that URL and it will appear live. You have to get hosting and choose a platform to hook it all up next.

2. Choose website hosting

Website hosting is different than your domain or even where you’ll edit your website. Your website hosting is the provider of connecting your platform (like WordPress) to the internet and your domain.

You can think of website hosting like the house where your website will live.

There are a ton of website hosting platforms you may have heard of. Again, these are different than the actually platform you’ll use to build what your website looks like. Most often, the place you purchase your domain from will offer to connect hosting directly and immediately for a certain fee, but you can usually find discounts for hosting elsewhere.

These are some web hosting providers you can use:

  • Bluehost (probably the most popular)
  • Hostgator
  • Hostinger
  • WP Engine (most often used with WordPress)
  • SiteGround

3. Choose your website platform

This is the place you’ll log into when it comes time to edit your site, its theme, the design, and even where you’ll build your pages. Essentially, it’s the software that holds the content of your website.

These are the softwares and database you use to login, edit, and post your content.

Some popular site builder options are:

  • WordPress
  • Wix
  • Weebly
  • Squarespace
  • ShowIt (advanced and for tech-savvy authors with more budget)

Do a little research and find which option is best for you considering your content, aesthetic, and the level of skill you have in designing a website. Most authors will use customizable templates, which is a great option for a professional, attractive website without having to dump piles of money on a web designer.

We recommend WordPress as a website platform as it’s an easy and highly supported platform for those not as technical (including hundreds of helpful articles and tutorials online).

Once you’ve chosen a host, set up your pages and content.

4. Connect your hosting and your platform

This is typically done through the website where you buy your domain and set up hosting. Usually, steps 1-4 here are done in the same place to keep it easy for building an author website.

If you use GoDaddy to purchase your domain, these are the steps for setting up your website, platform, and hosting:

  1. Login and navigate to your profile icon
  2. Click on it and select “my products” from the dropdown
  3. Scroll down to where you see “My Domains”
  4. Click on the domain you bought – it will say “Not Setup” on the tile
  5. Click “Use My Domain” that appears toward the top of the page
  6. Choose the option that best fits your need (if you’re using WordPress, select “Build a more advanced website with WordPress” to connect it directly
  7. If you chose the WordPress option, hit “Create Site” on the next page
  8. This will lead you to a page that will ask you to choose a theme or design
  9. If you hit “Use default WordPress”, you can create a login that will allow you to enter the backend of WordPress
  10. Choose the country you reside in (or where your customers will come from)
  11. Let your website be built and follow the rest of the steps below

5. Know your audience

Before we move on to any of the other steps for what to include on your author website, you also have to keep in mind that your audience will dictate things like the theme, pages, design, and even the types of content you’ll put on your website.

You also want to keep your own author goals in mind here, too. Why?

Because you’re building a site for the now and for the future version of you as an author.

For example, if you intend to write fantasy novels with a ton of characters, or maybe even an extended book series, it may make sense for your author website to have a page dedicated to “characters”.

However, if you’re writing a nonfiction book, you may have a blog about that content that leads readers to buy your book.

Your audience will also dictate the colors, design, and author branding you decide to go with.

The best way to know your target audience is to read the blog post that’s linked for those words.

6. Pick a theme and design

Most website platforms have a ton of designs you can choose from and then edit and iterate. We recommend WordPress for this because of the vast amount of free design templates you can choose.

In order to change your website’s theme in WordPress, follow these steps:

  1. Login
  2. Navigate to your dashboard
  3. On the left side, find “Appearance” and hover
  4. Click and choose “Theme” from the menu that displays
  5. Click “Add new theme”
  6. Choose a theme from the options – and keep in mind if you can change colors, layouts, and more

If you’re a more advanced user of technology, you can pair WordPress with a design-heavy software like ShowIt to create stunning websites with a “drag and drop” builder without a grid. For a design like this, it’s overly customizable (though they do have free themes to choose from as well), so make sure you have an eye for design.

Below is an example of a future-author’s website that uses WordPress for the blog hosting and ShowIt for the design and appearance.

author website example

7. Add the necessary pages of an author website

Websites should be built to accomplish whatever your specific platform and sales goals are, but here are a few things you’ll usually find on author sites to give you some ideas. Take what makes sense, leave what doesn’t!

—Homepage

Your homepage can be as simple as your author photo and name, or you can do something like I did where you scroll through my books and end on a little summary of the other content I create:

Other authors utilize their homepage for the latest release, so the entire homepage is dedicated to their newest book and where to buy it.

Poke around some of your favorite authors’ websites and see the different strategies! Which style works best for you and your brand?

Homepage of an author website example:

author website - homepage example

—”About Me” Page

Who are you? Let us know! An about page should have your author headshot (or stand-in logo, if your face isn’t connected with your platform), a little bio to make you personable, and your social links.

Here are two examples from my and Gloria Russell’s websites:

author website about page example

author website about page example

—A Page For Your Books

It’s good to have a comprehensive list of your books or publications on your author site. You can include books that are already released, as well as books that are available for presale.

Each of my book’s pages have reviews, buy links to several sites in several formats, and a brief preview of the audiobook. You might include something like a first chapter download or an embedded book trailer to spark some interest!

Book page of author website example:

author website - book page example

author website - book page example

—Upcoming Projects Pages

This is a good place to “soft announce” your works in progress. Even if you’re not loudly promoting those projects yet, it’s nice for fans to have a look at what you’re working on.

TIP: Consider using stand-in titles (like “Fantasy Novel” or “Farmcore Romance Series”) and stand-in book covers before you’ve properly revealed those things. Announcements like titles and cover reveals are a great opportunity to get some hype for your books, so don’t let anything slip prematurely!

DOUBLE TIP: Consider using early access reveals as special privileges for your newsletter as incentive for people to sign up.

You can check out an example of my “Projects” page here to get an idea for what stand-in titles and covesr can look like.

—Services Pages

If you offer services (like a lot of indie authors do), you might compile them into one page on your website.

For example, I have a page listing all of my services in one place, then shoot-off pages with more information for each one.

Author website services page example:

author website - services page example

—Contact Page

Have a way for people to reach out! This could be an in-website contact form or a list of your contact information. Be sure to keep these updated, and don’t forget to link your active socials!

—Reviews and Testimonials Page

If you offer services, it’s great to have past customers say a few nice things for future customers to feel more comfortable hiring you. As an author, this is also a great place to post reviews on your books. You might manually insert a few significant reviews, or use a plugin or widget to have a live feed of GoodReads reviews, amazon reviews, or tweets with your book’s hashtag.

I like to incorporate reviews and testimonials in the relevant sections (like with the book pages I showed you earlier), so these different categories don’t necessarily have to be their own separate pages. I’ll show you an example later of an author with a single-page site!

—Mailing List Page

Mailing lists are an extremely important tool in an author’s workshop and a crucial piece of any good marketing campaign. You can use your website to grow your mailing list!

You might have a pop-up mailing list prompt, but it’s also a good idea to have an easy-access sign-up page. That way, you can link people toward it, and they can find it on purpose in case their browser settings don’t allow the pop-up to come through.

—Shop/Affiliates Page

There are a few ways to monetize your author platform outside of selling books, and two of those are merchandise and affiliate links. I sell some of my own merch on my website, but I also utilize my blog, newsletter, and other parts of the platform to stream in affiliate income.

Do you have any ideas for monetizing your website outside of book sales? Let us know in a comment!

—Blog

The most common content creation for an author (outside of their books) is their blog! Blog posts and articles are a great way to produce quick-turnaround content to draw in new readers and to monetize your site.

You might blog about writing, life, business, or anything else that holds your interest and draws in readers or customers. I double-dip with the content I produce for YouTube, turning those scripts into blogs to post on my website.

Think about blog topics that might draw in your target readership!

—Frequently Asked Questions Page

You also might include a page for Frequently Asked Questions to let clients and readers find information without having to contact you personally.

TIP: every page should have some kind of lead. Whether it’s a buy link, a direction to another page, a signup form–each page of your site should funnel your potential readers and clients somewhere else and engage them to keep them on your site as long as possible. The longer visitors spend on your site and the more they do during that stay, the more Google will favor your site in the search engine.

Author Website Example: Draw Inspiration for Your Site

With those possible pages listed above, your author site can be as simple or as thorough as you’d like! Let’s look at a few examples of different author sites.

For a simple one, take a look at Kayla Ancrum’s author website. It’s a great example of a self-contained, single-page site.

She hits the essentials of an author website:

  • Author photo, brief bio
  • The books
  • Contact form
  • Book reviews
  • Links to bring readers to other places–interviews, FAQ, socials, etc.

author website example

author website example

There’s no reason that you need tons and tons of pages with a huge menu on your site. If you want to keep it simple, keep it simple!

For an example of a more involved website, we’ve already seen a lot of mine. As you saw, I hit a lot more information with separate pages. My website is set up to make money (with merchandise, affiliate links, and service listings), while Kayla’s is a good example of the essentials that you need as an author.

Here is a good breakdown of an author website menu:

  • Homepage
  • Book page for each book
  • Shop
  • Services
    • With an additional page for each service
  • About
  • Connect
    • Blog
    • Patreon
    • Mailing List
    • FAQ
    • Team

As you can see, you can include as little or as much information as makes sense for your platform and brand.

How much does an author website cost?

Author sites can range from free to thousands of dollars.

You might put together a free website through a service like Wix or Weebly, then not have a custom domain. That means your site URL would be something like: hannahleekidder.com/wixsite or, if through WordPress it will be hannahleekidder.wordpress.com.

This isn’t the most professional option, so I highly recommend at least buying a custom domain.

A site with a custom domain would run you around $20 a year for the domain alone, plus about $5-$10 per month for hosting, for a total of around $150 per year.

Remember: if you are a more advanced author with more website visitors per month, then your hosting will cost more because you pay for the amount of data your server will use from the hosting provider.

The thousands of dollar options come into play when you hire a web designer to code your website from scratch.

This is not necessary to have a professional, attractive website, so don’t sweat it if you don’t want to drop that kind of money.

The average amount I’ve seen authors pay for their sites is around $200.

I paid for a template, had a developer friend customize a couple bits of code for me, and now I just pay for my domain every year, which can range from $10-$20 for the whole year. All-in-all, I’ve paid well under $500 to keep my website updated and live for several years. My website makes more than that every month, so the investment is more than worth it.

As you can see, the cost varies a lot based on your preferences and skill level, so do some research and see which options are best for your budget and goals.

The first step to building your author website

Like any project or endeavor, building an author site should start with: making a list.

Let’s brainstorm specifics of how you should build your website.

To start on your author website, try answering these questions:

  1. Who is your ideal user? Describe one specific person that your site is for. Their demographics, their interests, their problems, their strengths and weaknesses, etc.
  2. What do you want your site to accomplish? Do you want to grow a readership, convert sales, attract new clients?
  3. What would attract your ideal user, then compel them to accomplish that site goal? For example, if your main goal for your website is to grow your mailing list, how are you attracting your target demographic to join the list? Do you have a sign-up incentive that might appeal to them? Is the website designed in a way your ideal user would find appealing?

After you answer those three questions, you should have a pretty solid idea of which direction to take your website.

Need help? Check out this free training to help you sell more books!

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omniscient-narrator

Omniscient Narrator: An Author’s Quick Guide with Examples

Every story ever told has a narrator. Whether it’s a character, the author themself, or some unknown entity, there has to be someone (or something) telling the story in order for it to exist. There are tons of different types of narration. The basic categories of narrator are: first-person, second-person, and third-person.

First-person narration is when we see the story through the character’s eyes. It uses I/me/my pronouns.

Second-person is when the story is presented as if we literally ARE the character–it uses “you” pronouns, and this narration is typically reserved for stylistic storytelling, like in a choose-your-own adventure novel.

There are a few different types of third-person narration. Third-limited is similar to first-person, where we are limited to the perspective of one character. That means in both of these perspectives, we as readers can only see, observe, and know what the perspective character knows. Within third-limited, there are also subjective and objective narration.

Third omniscient perspective gives us a lot more information and scope than the other perspectives.

There are tons more specific narrations, like the unreliable narrator and juggling multiple points of view. For now, let’s dig into the differences, strengths, and weaknesses of the omniscient narrator. We’ll also look at examples of omniscient narrators, and we’ll discuss how and when to use that perspective.

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What is an omniscient narrator?

Omniscient narration uses the “all-knowing” or “god” narrator. This narrative voice knows everything in the universe, past and future, said and unsaid. It can “head hop” into any character, read everyone’s every thought, and understand any character’s motivation. An omniscient narrator might even be self-aware of the fact that it is a narrator telling a tale. Often, omniscient narrators will address the reader and break the fourth wall.

Omniscient narrators are the easiest form of narrator to use from a storytelling perspective, because you don’t have to work around what a character would reasonably know. The god narrator knows it all, so telling a story becomes much easier, giving readers information they need to set the scene and tone of what’s to come. Well, Hannah, if it’s so easy, why do people tell stories any other way?

Using an omniscient narration puts an extra degree of separation between the reader and the character. We often describe narrative perspectives based on their closeness to the character. First-person is the closest, because the reader essentially becomes the character–we know all they know, and we experience the world and story through their eyes. Third-limited is the next closest, because we’re still limited to the character’s perspective, but we aren’t literally the character–plus third-limited often hops to different characters throughout the story.

But omniscient narrators are far-apart from the character. We aren’t looking through them, and we aren’t looking with them–we’re looking at them, and at everything else. The psychic distance between reader and character is the farthest in omniscient perspective. So while it can lead to easier storytelling, it can also make it harder to create that incredibly important reader-character connection.

Where you might have an easier time telling the story of the plot, you’ll have a harder time connecting the character with the reader.

This is just one example of the nuances between narrative perspectives, so it’s important to consider which one will serve your story and goals best.

Examples of Omniscient Narration

Let’s look at some examples of omniscient narration to solidify our grasp. The more you read, the more you can tell the difference and learn which style of using omniscient is one you want to use. 

9 Books that use omniscient narrators:

Here are popular books that use omniscient narrators. Have you read any of them?

  1. The Road by Cormac McCarthy
  2. Peter Pan by JM Barrie
  3. The Book Thief by Markus Zusak
  4. The Lord of The Flies by William Golding
  5. Little Women by Louisa May Alcott
  6. Crazy Rich Asians by Kevin Kwan
  7. The Wormling by Chris Fabry and Jerry B Jenkins
  8. The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson
  9. Beloved by Toni Morrison switches between omniscient and third-limited narration.

Each of these books uses omniscient narration, but they each use it to accomplish different goals. Let’s look at the openers from a couple of these examples to discuss how and why they’re employing the omniscient narrator.

Written Examples of an Omniscient Narrator

Here are the opening paragraphs from The Wormling by Chris Fabry and Jerry B Jenkins:

“To tell the story of Owen Reeder–the whole story and not just the parts that tickle the mind and make you laugh from the belly like one who has had too much to drink–we have to go into much unpleasantness.

So if you are faint of heart and can’t stand bloody battles and cloaked figures in the darkness and invisible creatures (or visible ones who don’t have much of a sense of humor), and if you don’t like to cry over a story when someone you love is taken, then perhaps our tale is not for you. But if you’d like to read about a young man with seemingly no future but dreams he can barely hold in his head about a war between opponents as far apart as east is from west–one side that loves evil and seeks to kill and destroy the hearts of good people and another that wants desperately to free those good people from tyranny and injustice–and about the deepest love the heart can imagine, then we welcome you.”

And here are the opening paragraphs from Crazy Rich Asians by Kevin Kwan:

“Nicholas Young slumped into the nearest seat in the hotel lobby, drained from the sixteen-hour flight from Singapore, the train ride from Heathrow Airport, and trudging through the rain-soaked streets. His cousin Astrid Leong shivered stoically next to him, all because her mother, Felicity, his dai gu cheh–or “big aunt” in Cantonese–said it was a sin to take a taxi nine blocks and forced everyone to walk all the way from Piccadilly Tube Station.

Anyone else happening upon the scene might have noticed an unusually composed eight-year-old boy and an ethereal wisp of a girl sitting quietly in a corner, but all Reginald Ormsby saw from his desk overlooking the lobby were two little Chinese children straining the damask settee with their sodden coats. And it only got worse from there. Three Chinese women stood nearby, frantically blotting themselves dry with tissues, while a teenager slid wildly across the lobby, his sneakers leaving muddy tracks on the black-and-white checkerboard marble.”

These two examples use their own unique styles of omniscient narration. The Wormling opener is similar to many childrens’ books in its genre, directly addressing the reader like a classic fairytale. This makes the story reach through the pages to interact with kids as they read, creating a unique reader experience. That style and voice is what made it one of my favorite series to read growing up–it felt like the book was talking to me and taking me along for the adventure.

Crazy Rich Asians uses the same narrative perspective, but it is not addressing the reader–this style engages less with the reader, which could help them more easily accomplish immersion into the world. Since this book is for adults, employing the same style used in The Wormling might be annoying to read, and it might even come across as patronizing or condescending. In fact–if you browse the reviews for The Wormling, you’ll see young readers adoring it and older readers feeling like it kept them at arms’ length from the story. Comparing these two styles makes it clear that your target demographic should greatly influence the narrative voice style you choose to use for the story.

What is the difference between a limited narrator and an omniscient narrator?

Since the difference between first- and second-person narration vs omniscient is pretty obvious through the pronoun use, we’ll focus on the differences between third-limited and omniscient third.

—Third-limited subjective vs third-limited objective

Third-limited subjective narration is when the story is told through the limited observations of a specific character. Third-limited objective narration is told through the perspective of a Non Existent Character. To visualize a third-limited objective, think of the camera in a movie–we’re only seeing through that camera. We know everything happening in the shot that we can see, and we’re not in anyone’s thoughts.

Subjective is watching a scene with a character’s understanding and thoughts, objective is watching a scene unfold as an unrelated third party, while still being limited to what we can observe in that room.

—Third-limited subjective vs third omniscient

The difference between third-limited subjective and omniscient is that subjective is us seeing what the character sees and understanding what they understand, while omniscient sees and knows everything happening and knows every thought.

—Third-limited objective vs third omniscient

Third-limited objective and third omniscient are very easy to confuse with each other, but the key difference is what is known. If you’re limited to what is happening in the “room” and what you have observed in the past and are currently observing in the present, it’s third-limited objective. If you can see and know everything in the universe, it’s omniscient.

Each perspective has different uses, benefits, and drawbacks, so choose based on your intention for the story. In particular, third-limited objective narration is the weakest and trickiest, because it puts a barrier between the reader and character without the added benefit of omniscient storytelling.

How to Know if You Should Write With an Omniscient Narrator

Since the narrative perspective you choose depends on your story–how do you know which is right? Here are some things that might indicate your story is suited for an omniscient narrator.

1. If the style suits the story

One big reason authors choose to use omniscient narrators is because the style and tone suit their preferred method of storytelling, and it adds a charm to their story. A great example of this style working for a story is The Wormling series, as shown in the example above.

Styles that work well with the omniscient narrator include: fairytale stories and retellings, satire and humorous stories that employ sarcasm or facetiousness in a way that works well with an omniscient narrator, and plot-heavy or particularly complicated stories that really need the overview look all the way through.

2. If you have a complicated world and a large cast of characters

Like I said, if your plot is particularly complicated or your story for some other reason needs intricate perspectives and knowledge that a character couldn’t reasonably have, it might make sense for your story to be told with an omniscient narrator.

3. If character-reader connection is not pivotal

Characters are incredibly important in any story, but depending on your goals and how you want the reader to relate to the piece, it isn’t always necessary for a strong reader-character relationship.

If that feels true for your story, and you feel it could be best-told through the omniscient narrator, then that might be the route for you.

4. If it suits your genre and target demographic

There are certain expectations for different genres and reader ages. For example, when writing a romance novel, it almost always flips back-and-forth between the main love interests’ POV in third-person limited. Omniscient narration is often seen in children’s literature, high fantasy, and satire.

Writing in a certain genre doesn’t mean you HAVE to follow the typical scripts, but it is a consideration when choosing your narrative perspective.

The omniscient narrator can be a tough one to crack, but mastering it opens many opportunities to engage with your reader in unique ways, navigate difficult and complicated plots and worlds, and present your story with an effective and memorable style.

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how to write a short story

How to Write a Short Story in 12 Concrete Steps [Examples]

Writing short stories can help tremendously in the process of becoming a successful author.

Remember that becoming a successful author is a journey, many start with short stories, blogging, or even poetry before going on to writing a book.

You probably don’t think short stories are very hard to write.

In fact, you might be the type who assumes short stories are even easier because, well…they’re short.

But that’s just not the case (there’s an art to writing an amazing short story)—and I’ll tell you why in just a minute.

Short stories, and getting good at writing them, can actually set you up for success in other writing ventures as well. That’s why we’re showcasing the most important steps for writing a short story.

They may be difficult to get good at, but we’re breaking down how to make them much easier, and what makes for a good one to begin with. Want to learn how to write a short story, and get better at this style of writing?

Be sure to check out our post on publishing short stories once you’ve mastered the writing part.

If you want to learn how to write a short story or be a better short story writer, you’ll have to go through these main steps:

  1. Generate your idea
  2. Know your character
  3. Outline your short story
  4. Start with something out of the ordinary
  5. Get your draft done as soon as possible
  6. Edit your short story
  7. Title your short story
  8. Get feedback about it
  9. Practice often
  10. How to write a short story every day
  11. Define your core message
  12. Write a satisfying ending

Once you get through the steps for writing a short story, make sure to take a look at the short story ideas, tips for writing them, and common questions with answers all about short stories (including how long a short story is).

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200+ Fiction Writing Prompts In the Most Profitable Genres

Come up with your NEXT great book idea with over 200 unique writing prompts spanning 8 different genres. Use for a story, scene, character inspo, and more!

How to Write a Short Story in 12 Full, Concrete Steps

If you’re ready to tackle this avenue of creative writing or you just want to learn how to write a short story to strengthen the overall quality of your book, here’s how you can do that.

https://youtu.be/ae61kGNpQPs

#1 – Come up with a strong short story idea

You can pull ideas from short stories from everywhere.

Former short story editor and now-published short story author (with 2 collections), Hannah Lee Kidder says, “The best short story ideas will always come from you yourself. Those are the ideas that you’ll care the most about and be able to bring to life the easiest.”

That said, we know it can take a trigger to come up with short story ideas that make you want to craft great writing around. Ultimately, you’ll have the best results by tweaking any idea you have of your own, but we also wanted to provide some short story ideas to help you get started.

Here are 20 short story ideas to take your writing to the next level:

  1. Your character opens the mailbox to find their biggest fear inside.
  2. After a devastating fall, your character is learning the hardships of healing after an accident.
  3. Character accidentally insults their company’s CEO – right before a big promotion.
  4. The character lost a child years ago but lives as if it just happened the day before.
  5. Your character’s village wise woman tells the story of how magic was lost due to abuse.
  6. Your character lives in a space pod traveling space, and they’re also claustrophobic.
  7. Ash floated from the mountaintop and awoke your character from their night’s sleep.
  8. Your character hasn’t eaten in days and stumbles upon real berries, and so does a starving bear.
  9. When your character’s heart is broken, they must find a way to heal it – any way.
  10. Your character is an orphaned 7-year-old who hears voices.
  11. Your character just found out they have a rare disease…that hasn’t been detected anywhere in centuries.
  12. After a fight with their ex, your character decides to go on a trip to the neighboring town that hosts very…unusual tales.
  13. Your character accidentally runs into the wrong person on the street…and now they can’t sleep at night.
  14. When your character moves schools, they didn’t expect to find a secret lurking throughout the school…that all the teachers know about.
  15. It’s your character’s turn in their culture’s ritual of fighting a lion barehanded. They’ve never been good in fights.
  16. After extreme weather conditions plague your character’s town, they finally leave home to find everybody has gone missing.
  17. Your character is in the back of an ambulance, trying desperately to revive someone who’s apparently dead…so why are they still away and breathing?
  18. After a short stint at a hospital as a nurse, your character decides to take their skills to the mountains as a wilderness medical professional. They just didn’t expect to find odd and interesting injuries among campers.
  19. An apple appears at your character’s front door every morning and they can’t figure out who’s putting it there.
  20. When an avalanche quakes the mountains in your character’s town, it unveils something that’s been hidden for…millenia.

Sometimes short story ideas are enough but if you want to utilize them effectively, keep these tips in mind:

  • Keep it simple and focus on a single portion of a character’s life
  • Make sure the reader has a clear picture of your main character right away
  • Focus on the theme and message you’re trying to get across
  • Let the short story idea create a life of its own
  • Be unique and think of many possible endings to the story before outlining

#2 – Focus on Character Development

In order for a short story to be impactful, you have to know your character well. Having good character development is essential in short stories since your main characters often drive the story.

You only have a certain amount of time to show your readers who that person is and you can’t do that if you don’t even know who they are.

Think about it.

If you write a short story about your best friend, whom you’ve known for many years, versus writing one about someone you just met yesterday, you’ll be able to craft a much stronger story about your best friend because you know them so well. Creative writing techniques can help you bring out the best or most compelling things about your characters.

The same goes for your fictional characters.

But when writing a short story, you won’t have the same type of character arc as you would when writing a full-length novel.

You don’t have to spend a ton of time on your main character, but know their history, age, personality, family life, friend life, love life, and other details that shape the way someone sees the world.

Keep in mind that since your short story is, well, shorter than a novel, you may remove a few steps. Knowing the overall character journey, however, can be helpful for your main character development within short stories.

Spend enough time on character development when you’re learning how to write a short story or improving your creative writing skills will pay off by introducing your readers to memorable characters.

#3 – Outline

Thankfully, the outlining process for short stories is much easier than a full novel, but I do still advise creating one in order to have a cohesive flow throughout the story.

This is definitely useful for those of you who prefer outlining versus just writing by the seat of your pants.

  • The point of view you’ll use
  • How you’ll start the story
  • How you’ll get from the beginning to the main issue
  • What happens at the “climax” (yes, even short stories have one!)
  • Resolution of the main issue
  • The very end

Keep in mind that the art of how to write a short story can close with something that ends very abruptly or you can flesh it out until there’s a satisfying ending.

This is really up to you as an author to decide. Practicing this for short stories can help you create an outline for your book, too.

#4 – Start with something out of the ordinary

In order to hook readers from the start of your story, you should write an opening scene that’ll catch someone’s attention right off the bat.

Take Hannah Lee Kidder’s example from this video above. One of the short stories in her anthology, Little Birds, opens with a woman collecting roadkill.

Here’s what that looks like at the start of the short story:

Short Story Opening Example:

how to write a short story - opening example

Odd? Yes. Attention-grabbing? You bet! This is how to write a short story with an opening that gets readers engaged, invested in your character, and motivated to read the entire story.

Because we’re automatically intrigued by the fact that people don’t normally go around collecting roadkill. It’s another place creative writing skills can really help you draw in your readers in a short story.

Now, you don’t have to start your short story with something as strange as that but you do want to give your readers a sense of who your character is by depicting something different right away that also has to do with the core focus of your short story.

Take this short story called The Gift of the Magi by O. Henry, for example. This author starts with a very low money amount and then hits you with the fact that it’s Christmas the very next day.

short story opening example

This is out of the ordinary because many readers understand that having such little money (scraped up money, at that) right before Christmas isn’t typical. It’s odd – and also hits their emotions right away.

If you want to learn how to write a short story, read the opening paragraphs of short stories. And pay attention to the many different ways writers hook readers.

#5 – Get the draft done ASAP

Done is better than perfect. That’s the best way to approach the process of writing a short story or anything else. We’ve all heard or read these words time and time again – and that’s because they’re important; they’re true.

This is especially the case when it comes to short stories. Once you have your outline and know how to start writing, drafting the short story in full comes next.

Don’t worry about editing or polishing the story up in any way right now. After all, you can’t possibly make good edits until you know what the story looks like in full. When you’re learning how to write a short story, resist the urge to get it perfect.

That would be like matching your earrings to your pants without first having the full outfit put together. You don’t know if those earrings work well with it until you see what else you’ll be wearing.

It’s the same for writing. Focus on getting your draft done so you can move on to the next step.

The process of how to write a short story is rarely one-and-done but usually takes writing, rewriting, and editing to create your best work.

#6 – Edit your short story

Editing is where the real magic happens when you’re learning how to write a short story. We all have this idea in our minds that we’ll get it perfect the first time and that’s just not how writing works.

Most of the time, your first draft is just the bare bones of what’s to come but through line editing, developmental edits, and proofreading, it will transform into something better.

Think of the actual writing as the wooden structure of a house and the editing as the drywall, paint, windows, light fixtures, doors, and anything else that’ll make the house complete.

These are a few things to keep an eye out for when editing your short story. The elements of story structure to look for include:

If you want to learn how to write a short story, editing is a necessary part of the process. So what’s that look like? The editing process for short stories is pretty much the same for novels.

The only difference is that short stories tend to focus more on imagery and exposition than they do full character and plot development.

#7 – Title it!

This can be one of the most difficult things for any book, let alone a story that’s only a few hundred to a few thousand words.

The good news? Short story titles are a little less important than titles for novels. They can also be very abstract.

What you want to think of when titling your short story is this:

  • What’s the overarching theme?
  • Something unique about the story?
  • Sounds intriguing but not explanatory?
  • What makes sense after reading the short story?
  • What could be mysterious enough to be intriguing?

These questions will help you develop a title that not only makes sense but is also intriguing enough to pull readers in while staying true to what the story is about.

It’s also great practice to help you come up with titles when you write and publish your book.

Learning how to write a short story includes learning how to write a great title or headline. And let’s face it, a great title or headline gets readers to pay attention. Put your creative writing skills to work here. Come up with a bunch of different titles, and ask our writing partners or target audience for feedback.

#8 – Get feedback

No matter how experienced (or inexperienced) you are as a writer, you need feedback.

To create your best work, it’s just part of the process when you’re learning how to write a short story. I know…it can feel scary. But feedback from the right people will help you make your short story better.

In order to learn and improve and ensure your message is coming across as desired, you need someone else’s fresh eyes on it.

Google Docs is a great option to write your short story and get feedback from others all in one place.

We need this help because the simple fact is, we’re too close to our writing.

It’s impossible to read your story with a critical eye when you’re the one who came up with and wrote it in the first place. That’s just we’re wired when we’re learning how to write a short story or anything else. We need feedback to improve.

Allowing others to read your work and offer feedback is one of the best ways to improve and make sure your story is exactly how you want it. This is why writing partners and even beta readers are so important.

#9 – Practice by writing short stories often

The number one best way to learn how to write good short stories is by writing them often.

When you’re writing regularly, your brain falls into the habit of being creative and thinking in terms of short stories.

If you want to learn how to write a short story and get good at it…practice. The more you do it, the easier it will get and the more you’ll improve. So focus on writing a certain number of short stories per week and stick to that – even if they aren’t your favorite.

#10 – Write one short story every day for 30 days

This is separate from writing short stories often. If you really want to kickstart your progress and get really good quickly, then create a challenge for yourself.

Want to learn how to write a short story, get good at it, and write faster? Do this…

Write one short story, whether it’s 500 or 1,000 words, per day for an entire month.

When you’re done, you’ll have 30 full short stories to review, edit, and improve upon. Doing this not only builds a habit, but it also gives you a lot of experience quickly.

After those 30 days, you’ll know more about how you like to write short stories, which mean more to you, and how to write them to be good. If you want to learn how to write a short story, give this challenge a try. Seriously, it’s just 30 days.

#11 – Focus on a single message to share

Short stories are known for being impactful even though they’re not novel-length.

Learning how to write a short story forces you to think of ways to take your reader on a journey in a much shorter space than a book.

And that means they have to have a core theme or message you want to get across. This can be anything from loving yourself to ignoring societal expectations.

In order to do this, think about what you want people to walk away from your story feeling.

What is the desired outcome?

If you just want people to enjoy the story, that’s great. However, what makes a story impactful and enjoyable is what readers take away from it.

Brainstorm some themes that are important to you and work your short story around them. When you understand how to write a short story this way, it will not only make you care about your story more (which means it’ll be written better), but it’ll also make it more satisfying for readers.

#12 – Tie it up with a satisfying ending

Nobody likes a story that ends on a major cliffhanger.

It’s okay for your short story to have an unresolved ending. In fact, that’ll likely be the case simply because the story is…well, short.

But you do want to tie your story up in a way that leaves the reader feeling satisfied even if they didn’t get all the answers.

Many times, this means circling back to an idea or element presented in the beginning. It’s one storytelling strategy of how to write a short story and wrap everything up.

This story structure often allows readers to feel as though they’ve read a complete story versus just a snippet of a larger one.

Need help wrapping things up? Check out this VIDEO: How to End a Short Story and other valid concerns.

Why All Writers Should Learn How to Write a Short Story

There’s a lot more to writing short stories than you may think. As a short story writer, keep in mind that just because they’re shorter in length doesn’t mean it takes any less skill to execute a good one.

Short story writers get this…Being able to tell a full story in such a short amount of time arguably takes more skill than writing a full-length novel or nonfiction book.

That being said, why is it beneficial for all writers to learn how to write a short story?

#1 – You learn the skill of showing

Short story writers have a challenge that requires some patience to overcome, but it’s worth it. When you only have a few pages to hook readers, paint a clear picture of the main character, and tell a story, you end up mastering the skill of showing instead of telling.

The reason for this is because, in order to accomplish a successful and good short story, showing is a major part of that.

It’s far too difficult to write a great short story without showing the details and using strong verbs to paint a clear image of your main character’s life. Great short story writers understand the “show don’t tell” concept.
If you want to learn how to write a short story, getting clear on this will save you a lot of time.

Those skills will transfer into anything you write, automatically making it that much better. One more reason is that learning how to write a short story will help with other writing projects.

#2 – You’ll strengthen individual chapters

No matter if you’re a fiction writer, short story writer, or if you prefer nonfiction, the idea here is the same.

A chapter is basically a short story that’s a part of a bigger whole. The same skills you apply to write a great short story will also help you write stronger chapters.

Each part of your book should be polished, strong, and enticing for your readers. Using short story writing methods will help you achieve that within your chapters.

Why is writing good chapters important if there’s a whole book available for someone to read?

Because it hooks readers and keeps them turning that page.

And when readers look back on an entire book filled with incredible chapters, the entire book as a whole will be seen as being that much better. Spending time learning how to write a short story sets you up for success when you write your book or pursue other writing projects.

Hello, 5-star reviews!

#3 – It makes the story sections of your nonfiction book more captivating

Every nonfiction book has portions where stories must be told in order to get the point across.

This is what allows people to relate to you as an author, which pulls them in deeper and makes the core message of your book resonate with them more. It’s another part “how to write a short story” skills will help you connect with readers.

But if those stories are weak, not well-written, and lackluster, it’s unlikely someone will enjoy them as much.

It’s also likely that your message will get lost because the book doesn’t carry the same impact.

Keeping readers engaged from start to finish can feel like a tall order. But when you learn how to write a short story with a beginning, middle, end, and a message readers will love you for it.

How long are short stories?

Short stories should remain below 7,000 words in order to be considered a “short story.” They can be as short as only one sentence, as this is known as flash fiction.

You already know that short stories are… shorter than your average novel but do they have any other differences?

Here’s a chart detailing the main differences in how many words are in short stories, novels, novellas, and nonfiction works.

Type of writing Word count Pages in a typical book Example
Short story 100 – 15,000 1 – 24 pages “The Gift of the Magi” by O. Henry
Novella 30,000 – 60,000 100 – 200 pages “A Clockwork Orange” by Anthony Burgess
Novel 60,000 – 100,000 200 – 350 pages “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone”: by JK Rowling
Epic Novel 120,00 – 220,000+ 400 – 750+ pages “Game of Thrones” by George R.R. Martin

As you can see, the main difference is length, but that’s not all. When you understand how to write a short story, you’re only writing a very impactful snippet of your main character’s otherwise full life.

You don’t have to unpack your entire character’s life story in a few hundred words in order to write a great short story.

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How to Write a Novel in 11 Must-Do Steps [TEMPLATE]

If you misunderstand how to write a novel with the proper story structure, your book will never sell.

Harsh, but true. And that’s why we’re here to tell you the exact methods that skyrocketed the popularity of books like The Hunger Games and the Divergent series.

Thankfully, we’ve deconstructed some of the world’s most compelling stories, and then taught countless people how to write a novel that pulls readers in using the 5 Milestone Method—that we’ll teach you here.

If you’re ready to learn what it takes to write a great novel, stick around! We’re breaking down the 12 steps you NEED along with the most common questions we get.

Here are the steps for how to write a novel:

  1. Create the story idea & premise
  2. Develop characters
  3. Create your world
  4. Choose a point of view
  5. Outline your novel
  6. Write the first page
  7. Write The Setup
  8. Create The Inciting Incident
  9. Add the First Slap of a novel
  10. Add The Second Slap
  11. End it with the Climax
  12. Common questions about writing a novel

But before we dive right into those, we have to understand your unique writing method in order for you to understand novel writing in a way that’s best for you.


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How to Write a Novel in 11 Must-Do Steps [TEMPLATE]

Most novels and movies have five key points that make up the core of their story – it’s a formula that’s been around for longer than books have.

This may not even be something authors do intentionally but rather, these are what make a story (even spoken) good and captivating.

What’s more, these milestones are something that readers have subconsciously been trained to look for when digesting a piece of fiction—meaning, if your novel doesn’t follow these, it will feel like it’s “missing something” and isn’t satisfying.

In other words, if you don’t have these five key moments, your reader is likely to turned off of your story because it didn’t meet expectations set by the hundreds (if not thousands) of stories they have already digested before yours.

Let’s get started.

https://youtu.be/OPtZx5As3RU

#1 – Craft your story idea & premise

This is really what will kick off your book. You probably already have an idea for writing a novel, and that’s why you’re here! The tricky part is taking a single idea and turning it into a full story.

If you’re like most fiction writers, the idea is very clear and very vivid. You’re just not sure what’s needed to turn it into a story. For that, we always go to the premise.

The premise of a novel is the overarching concept that sets up intrigue.

For example, in Hunger Games, the premise is: what if a society forced people to fight to the death—even children.

That is a single idea that holds a lot of promise for an intriguing story. It says, “there will be violence, heartache, and pain.” And to readers, that is perfect.

Here’s a guide for turning your novel idea into a premise and story:

  1. Ask yourself “what if” and write down several alternate paths your story could take
  2. Choose one of those ideas that holds the most promise for excitement, intrigue, and conflict
  3. Build a mindmap using this premise and branch out various possibilities
  4. Take your mindmap and begin building out the steps below

#2 – Develop characters

No novel can exist without great characters. Even the crappiest of plots can be saved by incredible characters. Spend time on this step of writing a novel!

Each main character should have a backstory, description, personality traits, and a purpose (or arc) for your novel.

Remember: you may build your characters as you build your plot and world. Each of these should compliment one another in the sense that they are building on to each other. You may have a character trait that is really, really inconvenient with the world. This will create additional conflict to add entertainment value to your story.

We have extensive blog posts to help with crafting characters we recommend reading for this section:

  1. Character development (with a profile you can download)
  2. Protagonist (building your main character)
  3. Anti-hero
  4. Character archetypes
  5. Character motivation
  6. Character arcs (how to write one)

#3 – Create your world

Even if you’re writing a romance novel set in the modern world, you still have to build your world. Oftentimes, the term “worldbuilding” can be synonymous with building the “setting” of your novel.

These are some questions you should be asking before you write your novel:

  • What is the weather/environment like?
  • What are the customs or cultural norms?
  • What is one unique or interesting part of this world?
  • What values do the people in this setting hold?
  • What type of financial systems exist here?
  • What types of things are considered “taboo” or wrong in this part of the world?

There are countless questions you can answer, and the type of novel you’re writing will dictate which questions to answer before you start.

We have more blog posts catered to advanced questions that go in-depth of this process you can read here:

  1. Worldbuilding (overview and questions)
  2. Fantasy worldbuilding
  3. Worldbuilding process (steps to build it!)

#4 – Choose your point of view

The point of view will totally depend on what you enjoy writing, the norm for your genre and target audience, and what voice fits best with the story you want to tell.

Many authors will have a certain point of view that is most comfortable for them, but you also have to keep in mind what is standard practice in the industry for your type of novel.

For example: Romance novels are often written in first person present tense, because romance readers want to feel very close to the main character (often a woman) because those readers like to put themselves in the shoes of that character.

However, epic fantasy is often written in third person past-tense because readers may have a hard time placing themselves as the main character in a world that’s so far from reality.

Obviously, there are exceptions to every rule. The key with writing rules is to know them and their purpose so you can break them intentionally.

Here are the different points of view you can write in:

  • first person present-tense
  • first person past-tense
  • second person present-tense
  • second person past-tense
  • third person present-tense
  • third person past-tense
  • omnicient present-tense
  • omnicient past-tense

If you can’t decide, find books that are similar to your idea and target audience (age-range) and choose which point of view is most common: this is likely the industry standard. But keep in mind, that if you write better and more naturally in a different tense, go with that one.

#5 – Outline your novel

Your novel will need direction. Even if you “can’t write from an outline,” you still have to know where your story is going if you want to craft it in a way that’s exciting.

There are two types of writers out there, and each will have a unique outlining method: plotters and pantsers.

A plotter is someone who plans out their novel with an outline before actually writing, whereas a pantser is someone who writes with seemingly no direction – they write by the seat of their pants.

Are you a plotter or a pantser? Fiction authors tend to fall into one of two buckets when writing their books.

Pantsers

These are writers who basically only have a few vague elements about the story in mind when they start writing, but nothing else. They may have an ending or at least a climax in mind for where they’re headed.

One of the most famous pantsers is Stephen King. In interviews, Stephen King has said that he often has an idea of the beginning, the premise, and a vague idea how it’s all going to end – and that’s all he needs to start writing his first draft.

Plotters

These are writers who need to know every major piece of their novel before they start writing. They have full, complete outlines that serve as a guide for their writing.

They will know who each and every one of their characters are, what their motivations are, the chapters needed for the book, chapter sections, and in some cases, even paragraphs. Probably the most famous plotter out there is James Patterson.

Knowing if you’re a plotter or pantser will dictate your entire writing process.

Clearly, it’s possible to be successful whether you’re a plotter or pantser. But here’s the harsh reality: whereas Stephen King and James Patterson sit on opposite extremes of the ‘Outline Spectrum’, most of us fall somewhere in between.

Either way, you’ll need some sort of structure for putting all the pieces of your novel together.

This is why we crated a fully functioning novel template you can use—that includes structure, tips for writing each section, along with front and back matter of the book for when you’re finished. Just fill out your info below and check your inbox!

How to Write a Novel: BOOK TEMPLATE



#6 – Write the first page

We’d love to say the first page isn’t all that important when writing a novel, but we all know that’s not true. The first page is often what helps readers decide to buy or pass on a novel.

This is especially true when you publish on Amazon and have the “look inside” feature.

The Amazon “look inside” feature acts as the same thing as a person flipping open a book to the first page in a bookstore. That is your opportunity to snag readers.

However, many first-time novel writers get caught up in writing the first sentence, which isn’t as important as the first page in full. We’ve found that by building the first page in a way that causes a reader to at least flip to the next page, you can snag them.

Why is this?

Because when a reader feels the need to keep reading, they subconsciously see our book as a “page-turner” and will buy it.

The best way to construct your novel’s opening is by doing this:

  1. start “in media res” which menas “in the middle”—typically of action, a character’s everday, or a tense situation
  2. Show (not tell) something interesting about your world that readers don’t get details about until the next page
  3. Use strong verbs and action to appeal to a reader’s emotions (this action hooks them)
  4. Hint at something that makes the reader feel sympathetic (or like) the main character

Here’s an example of a book’s first page that showcases these elements:

This first page works well because:

  1. we’ve established intrigue with the item Roian has found
  2. we’ve established sympathy by showcasing injury—in 2 ways
  3. we’ve started “in media res”, the everyday life of the main character
  4. we’re requiring the reader turn the page to actually learn more about the item, the “Robes”, and more
  5. we’ve created intrigue for the world by introducing 2 suns, which is out of the “ordinary”

#7 – The Setup when writing a novel

This is where you make your story promise and write an introduction that pulls readers in.

Here’s a solid resource for how to start a story if you need a few more tips.

You tell your reader what kind of story it will be – a comedy, drama, mystery, fantasy, sci-fi – and you give a few clues as to what they can expect. Whatever you said in these initial pages must be followed to the end of your story.

A stone-cold drama cannot turn into a slapstick comedy by the end of the story. That doesn’t mean a stone-cold drama can’t have humor in it, it just means that you can suddenly pivot and become an Adam Sandler movie.

Also, during the setup, we learn a little bit about:

  • The characters
  • Their everyday lives
  • Their challenges
  • The world they live in

We get a sense of where the story is heading.

One mistake made by first-time fiction authors is that they do not properly set up the story expectations and the reader goes in expecting one thing, only to get another.

Nothing annoys readers more, and so it is essential that during the setup phase of your novel, you set the expectations that you will meet during the book or you’ll lose those 5-star Amazon reviews that make such a difference.

The Setup of a novel example

In the Hunger Games, we meet Katniss. From her surroundings, it is obvious that she is poor, and as soon as she steps outside of her wooden shack we see hovering drones.

Within the first few pages of this book, we have learned three essential things:

  • This book is a drama
  • Katniss is our heroine and she has a miserable life
  • SURPRISE! There are drones and other technologies that indicate this to be a sci-fi
  • We are about to read a dystopia set sometime in the future

#8 – The Inciting Incident

The inciting incident is the moment in your story when your hero’s life changes forever. It is the ‘no-going back’ moment, where nothing that happens afterwards will return your hero’s world back to normal.

Katniss volunteers, Neo takes the red pill, Dorothy lands in OZ … the aliens are here!

As soon as your inciting incident happens, your story should be full throttle towards the climax.

The most common mistake first-time authors make is that their inciting incident is reversible. That means that something could happen that would return the hero’s life back to normal.

No, no, no!

Your inciting incident should as final as the severing of a limb or a death of a loved one. Nothing should be able to reverse the effects of your inciting incident has on your hero.

Inciting Incident in a Novel Example:

Katniss volunteers! In the Hunger Games, the inciting incident is irreversible because – quite literally – soldiers grab Katniss, whisk her away from her world, and into the world of the games.

There is no escape.

And even if she could get away, she would be hunted by the Capital for the rest of her life. With those two simple words, “I volunteer!” her life has changed forever.

Note: There is an exception to this rule when it comes to romances.

With romances, the inciting incident is almost always when the two lovebirds meet. (Not always, but for the vast majority of romances, this is the case.) With romances, try to create an inciting incident that simultaneously shows how perfect these two people are for each other while setting up the numerous reasons why they can’t be together.

#9 – The First Slap

Now, we are away to the races for writing a novel!

Over the next few chapters, your character should be making a series of gains and losses, where the aggregate result is that their situation is slightly better than what it was at the moment of the inciting incident.

The reason why we need this upward trajectory is because we are setting up the reader for the first slap.

The first slap is the moment when everything that our hero has gained is lost in fell swoop. Your hero is brought down to zero. In other words, all gains are lost, and your hero’s situation has never been bleaker.

The greater the fall, the more engaged your reader will be.

First Slap Example:

In the Hunger Games, Katniss’s world is brought down to zero when she actually enters the Games.

Between the inciting incident on the first slap, Katniss has made several gains, garnering the attention of the Capital and making some friends along the way. But none of that matters the moment she enters the Games – and what a moment it is.

#10 -The Second Slap

Your hero has rose to the challenge! They have successfully thwarted the big evil that has been thrusted upon them by the first slap and she is doing well.

…Now it is time to bring her back to 0 again.

The second slap should be as harsh, if not harsher, than the first slap. This is the moment when the reader should be looking at your book and thinking, “Wow, this author is mean. Diabolical villain mean!”

In the second slap we are setting up for the climax, which means that the hero needs to have an out. In other words, there should be some semblance of hope.

Second Slap Example:

In the Hunger Games, the second slap is when the Game Masters announce that two tributes can survive the Games should they both be from the same district.

Katniss goes looking for Peeta, only to find him mortally wounded – he is bleeding to death and won’t survive the next few hours, let alone the rest of the Games. We know enough about Katniss to realize that Peeta dying is the worst thing that could happen to her (besides her own death).

But there is hope!

An announcement is made that there is something at the cornucopia that the Tributes need, and Katniss just knows that there is medicine there for Peeta.

#11 – The Climax

The rollercoaster that you’ve put your reader on is almost over.

The reader has gone from an engaging setup where they get to learn about your characters and world to the inciting incident where everything is turned on its head.

Then they are subjected to the first and second slaps where you embrace your inner sadomasochist in order to punish your hero and give the readers the thrills they so richly deserve.

Now it is time to wrap it all up with the climax.

There is only one rule to the climax. A rule that must be adhered to, no matter what genre you are writing in:

Make it amazing! The climax should be the moment where your reader puts down the book and goes, “Holy S&*%! That was awesome!”

Novel Climax Example:

The climax in the Hunger Games is the final confrontation between Katniss and the remaining Tributes, as well as the monsters that the Game Masters send after her. It is wrought with danger and excitement.

But what makes the climax truly kickass is the poisonous berries at the end.

If you don’t know what I’m talking about, pick up a copy of Hunger Games today and read it! You’ll immediately get why this scene is so amazing.

There you have it: writing a novel is made much easier with your 5 key milestones. This method is particularly effective for first-time authors who are still finding their writing feet (or should I say typing fingers) and is an awesome resource that experienced writers can rely on time and again when planning their stories.

Common Questions About Writing a Novel

Now that you know the 5 key milestones of a gripping novel readers will love, let’s consider some of the common questions people have.

—How do you plan a novel?

Planning a novel involves coming up with your plot, character development, knowing your audience, and outlining your book.

  1. Coming up with your plot involves knowing which genre you want to write or even utilizing a list of writing prompts to get your thoughts moving.
  2. Character development is one of the most vital parts of your novel. Take the time to know your characters and protagonist well before you start writing in order to better plot your novel to fit how they act.
  3. Your audience will dictate the type of content in your plot. You can always plot first and then decide if you’ll be writing young adult, new adult, adult, or even middle grade. Just make sure you categorize your novel correctly in order to reach the right audience.
  4. Once you know the above, you’re ready to outline your novel. First, however, you have to figure out if you’re a pantser, plotter, or somewhere in between before you can outline your book.

If you want to have a solid fill-in-the-blank template, we have a book outline template generator available above for you!

—What should I write a novel about?

You should write a novel about any idea or theme that excites or inspires you. 

If you’re stuck for inspiration, consider using a writing prompt to give you an initial story seed your full novel can eventually bloom from. 

Many writers take inspiration for their novel from their own lives. Is there an event you’ve lived through that makes for a compelling story? How about a memorable person you’ve known that you could fictionalize?

You can also take an emotional truth you’ve experienced and apply it to a different context. Even if the situation of your novel differs from your life, the emotional authenticity will shine through. 

You can also let your imagination run riot and see where it takes you. Picture an entirely different world from ours. Go crazy brainstorming ‘what if x happened to y person’ scenarios.

—How Many Words should be in a Novel?

The exact number of words that make up a novel varies greatly depending on the genre and personal taste, however, a book is considered a novel if it has more than 50,000 words.

But that doesn’t mean your book will be that long. You have to learn how many words are in your novel.

Below is a table detailing how many words make up a novel in each respective genre, as some are typically longer than others.

Type of WritingWord CountPages in a Typical BookExample
Short story100 - 15,000 1 - 24 pages"The Gift of the Magi" by O. Henry
Novella30,000 - 60,000100 - 200 pages"A Clockwork Orange" by Anthony Burgess
Novel60,000 - 100,000200 - 350 pages"Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone": by JK Rowling
Epic Novel120,00 - 220,000+400 - 750+ pages"Game of Thrones" by George R.R. Martin

Keep in mind that these are a baseline. You want to make sure your novel is in the ballpark word count for your genre and target audience but just remember that you can easily go over or under depending on how well the story is crafted…

…and if it covers our 5 key milestones – it will be crafted well.

—How do I get started writing a novel?

Getting started with novel writing depends entirely on you and your situation.

If you already have an idea in mind, you can start by outlining your plot, or jumping straight in if you’re more of the panster school of thought.

If you don’t have an idea, you could aim to come up with as many as possible using some of the techniques you’ve read here. Coming up with a large number of novel ideas gives you a good chance of finding something you love and want to pursue further.

You can also consider setting out a project plan for your novel. How many writing sessions will you need? When will you schedule them for?

No matter how you go about starting your novel, the important thing is to build momentum and a sense of excitement to propel you forward. 

—How do I choose a point of view when writing a novel?

It can be tricky to know which point of view to choose when writing a novel, especially if it’s your first time. 

The most common choices are first-person and third-person. 

Most published novels are written in the third person. You can read about the different points of view here and decide which is the best fit for the novel you want to write. 

—Should I edit my novel as I write?

It’s often a bad idea to edit your novel as you write. Doing so results in a loss of momentum and flow that inhibits your progress towards a complete first draft. 

If you self-edit on the fly, you often end up second-guessing yourself and losing that delicious sensation of being swept away by the story. 

—Are there books on how to write a novel?

Yes, there are a large number of books on novel writing. 

Some of the best out there include: 

  • On Writing by Stephen King. A mixture of King’s personal story and actionable advice on the craft of writing. Seeing King’s exact process for drafting and redrafting his work is invaluable for any aspiring novelist. 
  • How to Write Bestselling Fiction by Dean Koontz. A popular guide to crafting fiction novels, recommended by successful novelists such as Jerry Jenkins. 
  • Writing the Breakout Novel by Donald Maass. This book offers the perspective of Maass, an author who is also a literary agent. This background provides useful insight to guide your next novel.

Are you ready to start your novel writing adventure?

The 5 Key Milestones combined with a spot-on Premise and A-Story will tell you where your story starts, where it is headed and how it will end.

In other words, if you do the novel writing exercises above, you should have everything you need to get your novel to the finish line.


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how to start writing a novel

How to Start Writing a Novel – Story Foundation Trifecta

Want to write a compelling, dramatic story?

One that draws readers in, takes them on a roller-coaster ride of emotions and thrills, then leaves them hungry for you to publish your next book, and your next, and your next?

If so, then I have good news:

With the right understanding of story structure, I believe anyone is capable of writing an amazing story. In this article, we’re uncovering the Story Foundation Trifecta—a method we created that you can use in every novel.

And the key to making this process as easy and natural as possible is to start every novel with a good story foundation.

This is where most new writers struggle. Either they have trouble getting their story off the ground, or they can get it off the ground, but it nosedives partway through the book.

Either way, the cause is the same: they didn’t start their book from a good story foundation.

In other words, they were missing one or more of the three critical elements that every novel needs to succeed. I call these foundational elements, “The Story Foundation Trifecta.”

Let’s talk about it…

3 Steps to Prepare to Write a Novel For the First Time

If you’re new to the world of writing, it’s really easy to get overwhelmed. It’s normal to feel that way. You’ve never done this before and it’s a major task to learn how to write a book.

What advice do you listen to?

How will you even sift through all of the ideas you have?

What steps do you actually need to take to start writing a novel?

The best part about being a beginner is that you can only make progress. There’s really nowhere else for you to go but up.

The tricky thing, however, is knowing how to get started. After all, that step is the most important, but also the most difficult.

These are among the first things you have to do in order to start writing a book as a beginner:

#1 – Choose a book idea to write about

If you’re ready to write a book, chances are you have more than a single idea in mind – that’s just how the minds of creatives like yourself work. In fact, you could have many great book ideas.

But how do you choose which to write and which to save for later?

The good news is that any and all of your book ideas can get written (especially if you want to write a book series), it’s just a matter of choosing which goes first.

These are a few questions I like to ask myself when it comes to deciding which idea to start next:

  1. Which do you find yourself thinking about most often?
  2. Which has a theme/message that means the most to you?
  3. Which do you have the most content developed for?
  4. Which will be the fastest to write?
  5. Which is an idea that you wish someone else wrote so you can read it for the first time?

Once you have an idea in mind that fulfills these questions, you’ll know that that is the one to write about.

Essentially, in order to choose a book idea, think about which one you’re most passionate and excited about.

#2 – Start your mindmap and outline

Outlining is necessary no matter what type of book you’re reading. Even if you think you’re the type to “write by the seat of your pants,” an outline of some sort will come in handy.

Even Stephen King has the end of his stories in mind and a few plot points along the way, and he self-identifies as a pantzer, or someone who writes by the seat of one’s pants

Now this does NOT mean you have to go through every single part of your story and create a step-by-step outline of everything that will happen.

You can do that, but you don’t have to.

Generally speaking, there are two kinds of writers out there:

  • Plotters (like James Patterson)
  • Pantzers (like Stephen King)

Plotters are people who like to plot their stories in advance, while pantzers are people who don’t—they “fly by the seat of their pants,” coming up with their story ideas on the fly.

You might think that outlining is only important for plotters…but actually, that’s not the case. EVERY writer needs to come up with at least a basic outline before they start writing.

Knowing where your story is going can help you develop the plot to be more complex, exciting, and allow you to hide foreshadowing within the book.

This will help you craft your twists to be even harder to see coming – something all bookworms love.

We have complete guides for learning how to fill out a mindmap and then complete an outline based on it. Check those out before moving on to the nexts steps because it’s essential to have those details done first.

We also have a complete fiction book outline (including front and backmatter for your book & tips for each section). Just fill out the info below and check your email inbox!

#3 – Consider how long you want your book to be

This is also the stage in which you figure out if you’ll be writing a standalone (a single book) or a series (2 + novels of the same storyline).

But first, how long do you want this book to be? Some authors will tell you to just write as much as is needed, but it’s often a good idea to know your baseline so you can stay on track.

This is a table of the average word count for different types of novels to help you get an idea for what to shoot for:

Type of WritingWord CountPages in a Typical BookExample
Short story100 - 15,000 1 - 24 pages"The Gift of the Magi" by O. Henry
Novella30,000 - 60,000100 - 200 pages"A Clockwork Orange" by Anthony Burgess
Novel60,000 - 100,000200 - 350 pages"Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone": by JK Rowling
Epic Novel120,00 - 220,000+400 - 750+ pages"Game of Thrones" by George R.R. Martin

The industry-standard word count is really important in order to have a quality book (especially if you’re self-publishing). If you write an epic fantasy novel that’s only 60,000 words, you will appear like an amateur since the standard for that genre is double that at 120,000 words.

Once you have an idea as to how long you want your book to be, you can better plan out each chapter’s length and formulate a writing schedule that will allow you to make real progress.

You can also just put in your book’s info in our calculator below, and we’ll tell you the proper word count goal to meet industry standards.

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*These results are based on industry standards. The total word and page count will vary from book to book and is dependent on your writing and overall book formatting*

Average Time to Write This Book: 60 days

#4 – Develop lifelike characters

We’ll get into even more detail below when it comes to crafting your main character, but you’ll need all kinds of characters before you start writing a novel.

Your characters will carry your story.

You can easily write a bad plot and people will read it if the characters are great. However, even the best plot in the world will not save a book if it has bad, uninteresting, or poorly written characters.

When it comes to creating realistic characters, one of the best things you can do is craft them to either compliment each other or agitate one another. This makes for an interesting, fun, and entertaining story.

Here are a few steps to craft lifelike characters before starting to write your novel:

  • Grab our character development worksheet by clicking on that link (and read that entire post about characters)
  • Build a backstory for each character that gets facetime – the more they appear, the richer their back story needs to be
  • Give each character personality traits that shine through often, at least 3 per main character
  • Create juxtaposition by creating character with conflicting traits (so they cause additional conflict in your story)
  • Ask yourself: is this character too perfect? Give them flaws so you don’t fall into the trap of writing a Mary Sue

#5 – Build your world

If your characters have no world to live in, it will be boring. Unless you’re writing in the modern world, in which case you wouldn’t need to do as much worldbuilding as you would if you’re writing a fantasy novel.

Worldbuilding is all about creating a setting that feels realistic, new, fresh, and intertwines with your plot in an interesting way. Sometimes this means building your plot and characters around your world.

What this means is that if you have a world that goes pitch-black at night because it has no moon, and dark fantasy creatures go bump in the night, then you can create a character who is terrified of the dark. This builds in more natural conflict that can make your story more intriguing to readers.

We have entire blog posts dedicated to helping you world build, and those will be the best resources for this step of how to start writing a novel.

  1. Worldbuilding (overview and questions)
  2. Fantasy worldubilding
  3. Worldbuilding process (detailed)

#6 – Build a Plot

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When we go over the Story Foundation Trifecta below, we’ll touch on this more, but ultimately you need an interesting plot before you can start writing a novel.

Oftentimes, you’ll build on each of these elements as you create them. Meaning, you will likely alter characters to fit your worldbuilding and update your plot to suit the characters. So don’t think you have to have every single one solidified before moving on to the next.

When it comes to your plot, it’s all about the structure and your book genre.

Different genres have different “rules” for plotting—but always remember that you only need to know the rules, and you’re always free to break them if it suits you.

Ultimately, before you start writing a novel, your plot will consist of these 5 milestones:

  1. The Setup
  2. The Inciding Incident
  3. The First Slap
  4. The Second Slap
  5. Climax

You can read more about each of these steps in our blog post about how to write a novel if you’re ready to get started.

#7 – Start your novel with strength

Starting your novel—actually writing the opening scene—can set the tone for your entire book.

When starting your novel, think about the best order of operations to get someone interested, sucked in, and caring about your character.

We have an entire blog post dedicated to starting a story that we recommend reading for the full-scope of this, but here are some tips to keep in mind:

  1. Start “in media res”, which means “in the middle” of action when you begin
  2. Create a scenario that showcases the struggles of your character’s everyday life
  3. Create sympathy or a situation that encourages readers to root for and care for your character
  4. Introduce elements of your world without explaining much about them (people need to read more to learn more!)

Use the Story Foundation Trifecta to Plot & Start Writing a Novel

I’ve used this method to teach our Fundamentals of Fiction & Story students how to write compelling novels that bring in raving, 5-star reviewing fans.

But, first off, what IS the Story Foundation Trifecta?

The Story Foundation Trifecta a combination of three things:

  1. An interesting premise
  2. A sympathetic hero
  3. A clear & compelling “A-story”

As you’re about to learn, these are the most critical and fundamental pieces to any successful story. As long as you have these three things in place, your story is bound to be engaging and entertaining. 

In the rest of this post, I’ll explain what these things are and how you can improve these elements in your story idea. And to help you understand, I’ll be using examples from well-known stories such as The Hunger Games, The Matrix, and my own series GoneGod World.

Story Foundation #1: An Interesting Premise

Your premise is the foundation of your plot. The collection of situations or presuppositions that make up your story world.

That sounds complicated, so let’s put it in simpler terms:

Your premise consists of 2-3 seemingly unconnected ideas that have been meshed together to make something truly unique.

If you analyze really popular stories like The Hunger Games and The Matrix, you’ll realize they have great premises. And that’s a big part of the reason why they were so successful.

So how do you come up with an awesome premise of your own?

One common method is to use the “What If” technique. Here’s how that might look using The Hunger Games as an example:

The Hunger Games: What if, sometime in the future, there is a society that demands children must fight to the death once a year?

Immediately, the premise opens up a hundred other questions that your story may or may not answer.

  • What happened to create this world and contest?
  • Why children?
  • What happens to the victors?

Your story may not answer all of these questions, and certainly Suzanne Collins – the author of The Hunger Games – doesn’t answer all of them. See how that works? You take a few different ideas and combine them. See how they might fit together.

In this case, the premise is using the familiar idea of a gladiator story…but it’s mish-mashing that concept by having the gladiators be children.

Then when you throw in a couple of extra elements, like…

  • Setting the story in the future
  • Including a love-triangle with the main character
  • Having a power struggle behind the scenes only the audience knows about

…you end up with a really great premise for a story.

Here’s another example:

The Matrix: What if reality isn’t what we think it is, and in fact we’re all connected to computers as human batteries for the robot world?

Here we’re taking the idea “reality isn’t what you think it is” and mashing it together with “we’re human batteries connected to computers.”

These are cool ideas on their own. But when you put them together, they become something really fascinating. With a premise like this, is it any wonder why The Matrix was so successful?

And here’s one more example, from my series of books:

GoneGod World: What if all the gods are gone, and when they leave they force all their denizens to go to earth?

Here I’ve combined the ideas of “divine creatures” and “refugees” to create a unique story premise out of two familiar ideas.

In this story, every sort of magical creature you can think of—dragons, faeries, etc.—is forced to become a refugee on earth. As you can imagine, this opens up all kinds of possibilities for interesting storylines and conflicts.

So that’s foundation #1 of the Story Foundation Trifecta: create an interesting premise. Now it’s your turn:

ACTION STEP: Take a look at your favorite stories and identify their premise. Turn those premises into “What if” statements. Bonus: Among the premises that you have identified, see if you can alter them slightly to turn them into something completely unique. Challenge: Create 3 to 5 premise statements of your own, statements that ultimately create world, you’d love to write in.

You’ll be surprised at how quickly you start cranking out really unique story premises.

Story Foundation #2: A Sympathetic Hero

Foundation #1 focuses on your plot. It’s a big-picture statement of what happens in your story.

But remember, stories don’t just happen by themselves. They happen to characters—to people. To human beings. (And sometimes, to elves and aliens.)

At the heart of every story is a hero who strives to meet an important goal. And the more your audience can understand and identify with that hero, the more likely they are to become engrossed by your story.

Now when you’re creating your hero, the three most important things to figure out are your hero’s:

  • Key traits
  • Outer journey
  • Inner journey

“Key traits” refer to your character’s distinguishing features. Is your hero:

  • Brave?
  • Intelligent?
  • Beautiful?
  • Charming?
  • Underhanded?
  • Strong as an ox?

Your character’s journey refers to the challenges they will be forced to overcome throughout the story. And we break that journey up into inner and outer journeys. 

A few examples:

The Hunger Games: Katniss’s outer journey is to survive the games. Her inner journey is to mature as an individual, to let other people in, and to learn to accept help from others.

The Matrix: Neo’s outer journey is to defeat Agent Smith and the robot forces enslaving humanity inside the Matrix. His inner journey is to believe in himself and accept that he’s the only one capable of saving the human race.

Make sense? Great. Now go figure out who your hero is, give them a few key traits, and most importantly decide on their inner and outer journey. Then when you’ve completed that, you’re ready to move for…

Story Foundation #3: A Clear & Compelling “A-Story”

Once you know your story’s premise and have identified your hero, your next step is to use those 2 elements to create your “A-story.”

Loosely defined, your A-story is the main storyline in your novel. It’s the one story we need to see resolved in order for us to put down your book and feel satisfied at the end.

Your book can have multiple storylines—maybe you have a romance subplot, for example—but your A-story is the main story. The big problem that gets resolved at the end.

The big problem that gets resolved at the end.

In most cases, your A-story is going to be the same as your hero’s outer journey. In The Hunger Games, for example, the A-story is Katniss’ trial to survive the games. 

But your A-story can also tie into your hero’s inner journey. In The Matrix, the A-story deals in part with Neo’s struggle to believe in himself and become “the one.”

Here are some common A-stories for different genres to think about when you start writing a book:

  • Sci-fi: Repel the alien invasion
  • Action: Get revenge on the bad guys
  • Romance: Finally succumb to the love of your life

It’s important to know your A-story. This is the storyline that you need to focus on, to keep coming back to. This is the major conflict of your story, so don’t lose sight of it.

Exercise: Identify two or three unique A-stories that fit could each premise. Spend a few minutes contemplating how the premise and the A-story work together. (And also relish is how your A-story is better than the original ????.)

Bonus: Could you alter one of the premises to fit with your own unique A-story? If so, you very well may have the a kickass story on your hands!

Challenge: Now that you have defined your premise in step one, identify 2-3 A-stories that could work within that premise statement.

You Know Your A-Story…Now, What’s Next?

OK, so you’ve gone through the Story Foundation Trifecta and figured out your premise, hero, and A-story. What should you do next?

Sign up for your free training to guide you through this process with more detail

It’s not enough to just read about it. What you need is someone who’s done it before to take you through this process step by step.

When it comes to fiction, those with experience are those who thrive – and we should all learn from someone who know what they’re doing because if we can bypass all the mess of starting to write a book, we should.

These are the 5 Key Milestones that every story has to hit in order to reach a satisfying conclusion. Luckily, I’m hosting a new (free) workshop where I’ll teach you what the 5 story milestones are and how to work them into your story.

Once you know the 5 Key Milestones you need to include in your story, you’ll NEVER again feel lost while you’re writing. You’ll always know where to go next to keep your story moving in the right direction.

As a result, you’ll find it much easier to guide your readers through a story that feels complete and satisfying. So that when they finish reading the last page of your book, they’ll feel like they went on a meaningful journey with your hero—and that nothing was missing or incomplete.

how to start a story

How to Start a Story: Bestseller’s Guide [+ Examples]

You want to learn how to start a story because you’re smart. You know the introduction of the book is the most important part.

After all, most readers skim those first few pages before deciding to read or not.

The key to writing a story that intrigues readers from the first page is ensuring you have all the elements of a strong opening—and you don’t want to skimp on it.

So what if you had a process that intrigued readers from the first page?

What if anyone who read your first few pages immediately wanted to buy your book?

It’s possible, and we have a proven system to make it happen.

Here are the steps for how to start a story:

  1. Write a strong opening sentence
  2. Connect the readers and character
  3. Produce intrigue
  4. Elicit an emotion in your story
  5. Start your story with a strong visual snapshot
  6. Write a compelling first paragraph
  7. Leave a hint
  8. End the first chapter on a cliffhanger
  9. End the first chapter with a bookend
  10. What to AVOID in the start of a story

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How to Start a Story: Bestselling Author’s Blueprint

By default, nobody wants to read your book. Not even your mother. Not really. She’ll humor you, she’ll hope for you, but she doesn’t want to.

Since nobody is instilled with an innate commitment to read your book, you must craft that desire personally. Your opening paragraph, hell, your opening sentence is as much largess most people will be offered.

As any good
salesperson knows, a crack is an opportunity and anything that opens a little
can be forced to open a lot. All you need is confidence, technique, and the
guts to push forward.

To this end, when starting a story, you must:

  1. Hook the reader
  2. Offer promises to sustain interest
  3. Cultivate a connection
  4. Sell the book!

Yes, that is a lot to ask from the first page, which is why so many writers stop before they get started.

Remember, the first page isn’t the first page you write, it is the first page someone reads. Of all the darlings you must get used to killing, your original first page should always be ripe for the axe.

If you want to learn more about creating a story readers keep coming back for, watch the interview with me below, where I break down the whole process, not just the start of a story:

#1 – Writing a strong opening sentence

Your opening sentence shouldn’t be a warning shot. No haphazard hail Mary you hope lands. It needs to be well-aimed and land solid. It sets a tone, introducing the reader to you and your world.

Like any first impression, it has as many don’ts attached as it has do’s. Let’s hit the do’s first.

You want to achieve a minimum of one and a maximum of three of these in your first sentence. Three is pushing it, you might want to try for that all-in approach, but you will just end up coming across disorganized.

A page long sentence can be an interesting, impressive feat, but as a first sentence, it reeks of smarter-than-the-room and will alienate most readers.

So try to bring in at least these three elements to your first sentence:

  • Connect the Reader to a Character
  • Produce Intrigue
  • Elicit an Emotion
  • Snapshot a Vivid Image

Diving off a cliff puts the reader immediately into the action. In film school, you will see this referred to as “in media res.” It works by forcing the reader to accept everything that is currently happening while also inviting them to see what happens next or hear what brought the character to this moment.

To execute this action-packed introduction, you need to have a firm idea of what is happening and deliver the setting with confidence, don’t over-explain and don’t linger.

Start of a story – opening sentence example:

“The man in black fled across the desert, and the gunslinger followed.”

start a story first sentence example

#2 – Connect the character to the reader

One of the best things you can do at the start of a story is emotionally connect your character with your reader. If a reader is bought into the character and wants to learn more about them, they will buy your book and read the rest.

Connecting a reader to a character is done in several ways. You can show off a strength, reveal a weakness, or share an in-character insight. Each of these gives the reader a hook into the character, helping them to understand why they should follow along to see the character’s arc.

Brandon Sanderson, famous fantasy author, often gives the advice in his college writing class lectures that you want to do two of these three things to your character at the start of your story:

  1. Make them sympathetic
  2. Make them likeable
  3. Make them competent

You never want to do all three, because you run the risk of creating a “Mary Sue” or a character that’s so perfect readers don’t believe they’re real.

And this is why we also recommend fully developing your characters before starting the writing process.

Start of a story – character example:

“Locke Lamora’s rule of thumb was this: a good confidence game took three months to plan, three weeks to rehearse, and three seconds to win or lose the victim’s trust forever.”

#3 – Produce intrigue

Producing intrigue works a lot the same as the Dive. The difference is you want to leave more questions than generate answers.

Again, the more you know about the story when you drop this first hint, the more clearly it will communicate.

Avoid vague prophecy, hit them with something that will echo when the reader arrives at the resolution.

Start of a story – producing intrigue example:

“Chris Mankowski’s last day on the job, two in the afternoon, two hours to go, he got a call to dispose of a bomb.”

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#4 – Elicit an emotion

Eliciting an emotion is about getting the reader to feel something, not just displaying emotive language. You don’t want the reader to feel for the character or the world, as those fall into other categories. One of the main ways to do this is by adding literary devices to your story.

With this opening, you need to place the reader in a specific emotional headspace to engage with the rest of the page.

You accomplish this by using trigger phrases and touchstones.

Usually, these are words or phrases that elicit an emotional response in a person, including words that paint a vivid picture at the same time. If it feels real to a reader, they’ll be hooked.

In the example below, we have “dead” and “sky” that forms a sort of juxtaposition, pulling readers in.

Start of a story – emotion example:

“The sky above the port was the color of television, tuned to a dead channel.”

#5 – Create a strong visual snapshot

Finally, a snapshot is exactly that, a picture painted in words. You don’t want to make a whole landscape. Take a look at a random post card for five seconds.

What stood out to you? How would you describe that scene to someone else?

That’s the essence of a snapshot, the highlights, and standouts, not the overview.

Typically, the best tips for creating a strong visual will be to use these three writing hacks:

  1. Show, don’t tell
  2. Use strong verbs
  3. Use imagery whenever you write descriptions

In the example below in Little Birds by Hannah Lee Kidder, you really see the environment right from the first sentence. It pulls you in because the visual in your mind feels familiar, in a way. You can truly see it.

Start of a story – strong visuals example:

“Waking up every day to that goddamn shrilling tea kettle shooting steam into our kitchen, adding to the ever-growing smear on the ceiling.”

how to start a story - imagery example

#6 – Construct a compelling first paragraph

If everything has gone to plan you have gotten a foot in the door, wedged the sucker open, stepped into the vestibule, and presented your wary, but accepting, mark… er reader, with your wares.

You haven’t made the sale yet, but you have an opportunity to deliver a spiel before they work a clever excuse to get you out.

Seize that advantage
by showing that your opening sentence leads into an opening paragraph that
isn’t just more of the same but a makes some promises that most of the rest of
the pages are also going to offer something worth sticking around for.

Having gained some
headway, you have more to lose than gain. That is, there are more wrong things
to do with the first paragraph than there are right things.

The right course of action has three options for your starting paragraphs:

  1. Stay the Course
  2. Ramp Up Gradually
  3. Double Down

1. Staying the course

Staying the course means keeping the same tone and attention you presented in the first sentence. This works best for mystery stories or when you have started with a Dive.

In both of these cases, the idea is often to put the reader immediately into the world and you need to be careful not to shake the hook loose with too much pull.

Example: Back to Stephen King and The Gunslinger, the paragraph after the opening line is a delicious snapshot of the desert mentioned. It holds the reader, drawing them further into the enormity of the task presented by the preceding sentence. He already has us ready to find out more, so he sets the hook gently, rather than pulling us right into the boat.

start of a story - chapter example

Note also how he goes from one strong type of opening, the Dive (mixed with a character connection), into a snapshot. Right there he’s established three strong openings without breaking a sweat.

2. Ramping up gradually

Ramping up gradually is seen more often in character connections and snapshots. With each detail you add through the paragraph, you build interest. The character gets slowly separated from other characters of their type.

If you start with a high school student, you see how they break the mold. If you start with a city, you reveal what makes that city unique.

Example: Consider the wide panoramic opening of EM Forester’s Passage to India, how he shows the country in an almost dreamlike shot you can immediately visualize. The book was written before film was invented and yet it used a standard technique employed in nearly all aerial establishing shots.

3. Double down

The hardest technique to use is the double down. Here you pull hard and fast, hoping to take the opportunity gained by your first sentence to really wow the reader.

While this can be done with several techniques, you see it least commonly with the Dive. If your action is strong enough, more action blows the reader away. However, a complication to the action works.

By slipping in some Emotion or Intrigue you deepen the scene without pushing the reader out.

Example: In The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern, a mysterious circus appears in the first sentence. Complicating this matter is the first paragraph which suggests the sudden appearance wasn’t the kind where it was simply not advertised in advance but hints it may well have materialized out of nowhere.

Regardless of the approach, remember that the first paragraph serves to grow your lead and hold the reader through the chapter.

While pulling is the goal, the main aim, as mentioned several times, is to avoid pushing the reader out.

We call these the Goldilocks
Paradox:

  • Too Obvious
  • Too Obscure

In the Too Obvious
scenario the reader develops a certain “Simpson’s Did It!” mentality. If they
feel like they know exactly where the story is going, that this is just one
more reprise of the hero’s journey, the fetch quest, the star-crossed lovers,
they will put it down.

Conversely, if you go
Too Obscure, they won’t have any investment. Sure, nobody has ever really read
a book quite like those composed by Thomas Pynchon, but then again, ask anyone what
Gravity’s Rainbow is about and be prepared to get a ‘the what and who?’ in
response.

You want to land in familiar territory with some new spins. Don’t reinvent story structure or character, not in the first chapter. You need to gain trust before you start pulling the rug out from a reader.

#7 – Leave a hint in the last paragraph

While the first
sentence gets the reader hooked and the first paragraph makes promises, the
last paragraph needs to introduce more concepts while limiting resolution.

That sounds like a
heavy order because it is. It isn’t all that bad once you break down the
components.

Aim for one of the following:

  • Hint at the End
  • Roadmap to a Plan
  • Cliffhanger
  • Bookend

Each of these chapter
endings provides the reader a reason to keep going. Many television pilots fail
at this, they either wrap up the first story and have nowhere to go, or they
toss in a last-minute villain preview to suggest a larger threat somewhere.

Sure, it worked out for Avengers to tease Thanos but they also had the advantage of a sixty-year comics history to assure viewers they know how to build a multi-part story.

When you give a hint, you want it to be broad enough to be interesting but narrow enough that your resolution (within the next chapter or two) satisfies it completely.

If you toss an owl through a window to get Harry Hunter or Harry Potter to explore a magical world, you better make good on the magical world sooner than later.

If you are building up a large world and need to set several things in motion before you get to the major plot, which is a risky move in itself, you need to show the reader a roadmap. The hobbits need to get out of the Shire before they can get to Rivendell on their way to the ultimate goal.

#8 – Opt to end the chapter on a cliffhanger

Ending on a cliffhanger is usually a good call. The pulp stories of the 30s were sometimes christened Cliffhangers because they used this technique extensively. When releasing serial stories, it is the default way to go, how will our heroes get out of this sudden predicament!?

It makes the ending exciting and demands the reader pick up the next installment, or, in your case, turn the page and keep going just a bit further.

Cliffhanger Generation Tricks and Tips:

  • Someone Appears!
  • A Lingering Question
  • A Sudden Insight
  • The Depths Appear

Dropping a new character into the scene, especially one that shows up with the same aplomb as a first sentence Character Connection, gets the reader going. They want to know who this is, and why they will have importance to the next section.

The end of the first chapter of Stardust by Neil Gaiman does this perfectly, introducing us to a baby delivered via faery door. You have to turn the page to find out more.

In a Lingering Question scenario, you invite the reader to ponder something about the event that just transpired.

Why was it so hard, so easy, what was the significance of the turns? Any question that goes unanswered makes the reader wonder. In a serial, they would have to wonder for weeks, or months. In a book, they can always find out by turning a few pages.

Sudden insight works somewhat the opposite of the Lingering Question.

Here, a character understands something that just happened, something the reader may have been in the dark about, this often goes hand in hand with the next tip. Knowing what is at stake drives tension and the character and reader both being ‘in on it’ delivers.

The Depths Appear works well in science fiction, horror, and fantasy stories.

Any place where the world isn’t just what is known, where other dimensional forces can act, where a universe of possibilities can exist, it is possible for something else to be out there.

Alluding to the larger forces at the end of a first chapter puts the story into a context against these larger, more meaningful threats. This is especially a good idea when your first chapter reads like a self-contained story.

#9 – Try a bookend for the first chapter

I lied about the
mother thing, turns out she really does want to read your book. She always did,
she can’t not, mostly because she loves you.

This type of ending paragraph reflects the Bookend.

Here, you offer a mirror version of the first sentence to show that what has been set up and was so gripping originally has turned around. This works especially well for stories that start in a known world.

Dorothy isn’t in Kansas anymore, Alice ends up down the rabbit hole, and the once bright sky is now overcast with the coming troubles.

#10 – What to AVOID at the start of a story

While you toil to create these openings, you want to avoid a few key elements. Each of these can destroy your efforts and drive the reader into dismissal mode.

Avoid these elements when starting a story:

  • Mundane
  • Clichés
  • “He woke up”

World building is about establishing what your world is, not what it isn’t. Describing how the regular world works and then adding ‘but mine doesn’t do that’ wastes a lot of time.

Expect your reader to know mundane information and don’t bother repeating it. It bores you to write and the reader to read.

Cliché’s have their place in an established book genre. Don’t confuse a genre trope with a cliché. What you want to avoid is saying the same thing in the same way.

Your fantasy world may well have a dungeon and a dragon, but you don’t want to put those facts too close to each other.

Cliché will kill emotion in its cradle. Readers want to feel something genuine and cliché is the opposite of that.

Far too many science fiction stories start with someone coming out of some kind of sleep. There is a temptation to start the story from the very first conscious moment of the character but remember that you don’t even really remember the first few minutes of your day.

Start the story where you remember starting your day, usually after breakfast and post stimulant.

Not convinced? Alien 3 started with Ripley waking up in a tube. Nobody likes Alien 3, ergo, no starting by waking up.

How to Start a Story Example:

“The thing was big and white and hairy, and it was eating all the ice cream in the walk-in freezer.” — Monster by A. Lee Martinez

start of a story example

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