Answer just three questions to start your novel today

In this blog post I give you three questions you can answer to start your novel today.

Breaking down the novel writing process like this, with some time tracking thrown in, should make the whole thing more streamlined, and your writing more productive.

Scroll down for the questions. First a few words of introduction.

In a moment you’re going to decide your lead character’s role. This will probably be their job – what they do when they’re awake. We’re going to see them doing this during the novel, at least at the beginning. You’ll also decide on place where they do this job. Either fictionalise their world or pick somewhere you know. Plus, you’ll need to work out what kind of problems they face day-to-day.

IMPORTANT: Don’t know what to write? For the sake of answering the three questions, pick something at random. You’re only committing for now. This gets you round your internal censor.

Grab a new notebook – call it your Novel Writing Journal – and write out the three questions below as subheadings, leaving enough space to jot down the answers.

By the way, keep the answers to 50 words or fewer. You can write more later.

EVEN MORE IMPORTANT: What you’re after here is specifics. Get specific, then do it again, and get more specific. Use the senses to add even more more specifics. Imagine you were standing in the scene with your lead character.

Here are the questions:

  1. What does your main character do, specifically, and where do they do it?
  2. What typical problems do they encounter in this role?
  3. What would we see if we were watching him / her dealing with this problem?

What does your main character do, specifically, and where do they do it?

For example, she’s a surgeon in a busy hospital, specialising in heart and lung transplants, in Mexico City. He’s a football coach at a school for students with special needs in Hackney, East London.

By the way, in the examples I’m talking about ‘work’ but work doesn’t have to be paid. For the purpose of this exercise the lead character’s role = the main task that fills their waking hours, at least at the start of the novel. If they do more than one thing, pick one to focus on.

What typical problems do they encounter in this role?

Make a list and THEN PICK ONE.

Don’t know the answer? Research the role or pick a role you know about!

Make this a problem that comes about because of the role, not something contextual. For example, the surgeon loses a patient and has to deal with it and move on to the next patient. The football coach finds one of his students skipping school and hanging out at the local cafe.

What would we see SPECIFICALLY if we went along and watched him / her dealing with this problem?

Remember to think specifics. For example, describe the hospital department – how it looks, how it sounds, and how it smells. Describe the part of the town where the hospital is located. Describe the loss of the patient. Or describe the football pitch – the specifics- and the interior of the cafe next to it where he finds the kid, and what he says.

Want more?

Repeat the process. Someone else works where your lead character works or associates with them. Go through the three subheadings again. Write answers of fifty words or fewer.

Once you’ve done that, you’re ready to move onto the next stage:

How to create an intriguing lead character

What’s the secret of good writing?

Why problems are great for writers: and how to use them to your advantage

How to break through your creative blocks


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