Idea To Realisation; How To Write A Novel


A while ago I put out a tweet on my account asking if anyone, anyone at all, would be interested in live updates about what the process of writing a novel looks like start to finish.

Well, the answer was yes (as you can imagine, given you’re reading this now), and I’m a balls-to-the-wall kind of person…


So here it is; ground zero. That moment when you have an idea, and literally nothing else. For me that idea, that concept, consists of Four things;

  • Sound
  • Sight (an image in your mind, or in the real world)
  • Feeling
  • Texture

And it looks like this;


I suspect I’m neither unique, or unusual in this, but I’ve never seen anyone talk about how to turn these things specifically into a workable plan for a novel or short story. Here’s how I begin; I write down that concept, the sight, sound, smell, and taste of it. Even if it makes little sense, even if it sounds like I’m describing a painting; I get it on paper. Sensory people, in my experience, have the most trouble with planning, and the easiest time when it comes to writing – so if you’re like me and this stage is hell, don’t worry it gets much, much easier.

This is the first step.

Then I add to that with working titles, genres, themes, potential plots and subplots. The end result is a messier version of this;


From here I move on to what I call the “mini-snowflake”.

I’m sure you all know what the snowflake method is and so you probably have a good idea of what the mini-snowflake is, but I’ll explain anyway. The mini-snowflake is a replication of stage 2 of the full method applied with the idea of helping to create a concrete idea of how to progress before you start planning in earnest. Start with a single sentence which explains the premise of your starting point, then follow up with a paragraph which explains the rough trajectory of the middle, and then finish with a sentence that gives a rough shape to the end of your story. It could look like this;



Now,  at this point most people would go into a full-blown snowflake, right? Well, not me amigos. If that would work better for you, and you’ve got what you need from my advice, then crack on, but I go to characters next. Stephen King once said that you’re either a planner or a pantser by nature, though most people have a little of both, and I’m a pantser. I fly by the seat of my character’s pants, though, not mine, and so I fill out my protagonist and antagonist, along with any main characters, before I do anything else. Now, this is where you might think it gets weird; my character sheets are reminiscent of D&D, but I promise you they work. Well, they work for me.

Interestingly enough this similarity predates my jump into D&D. If I’m honest it comes from playing RPG’s like Dragon Age: Origins, Oblivion, Skyrim, and, of course, older offerings. Here’s what my character sheets look like;




The idea is to build a character type that can deal with the obstacles in their way, but not with consummate ease. By setting things like skills (for example research, literacy, two-handed weaponry… it all depends on your genre), feats (passive qualities which can be improved with work, e.g. strength, flexibility, intelligence) you can get an idea not only of how they will react but what they can do. Likewise, by setting things like their drive (the overall goal that pushes them through life), and their short-term goal (the thing motivating them through the story), as well as the overall ideal to which they subscribe you can begin to build a relationship with your character.


Once you have a cast of viable main characters return to your initial ideas sheet and ask yourself which of these ideas fit best with the characters in question. How would they react to each situation? Are the needed motivations realistic? Will there be enough tension?

Make a list of the top 3 ideas you have and note the pros, the cons, and the unique selling point for each of them because it’s time for idea development. In all honesty, you’re most likely to end up with an idea that combines aspects of all three, or even one of your top 3 with some of the disqualified contenders. Roll with it; all you need is a viable idea to work with. Think of this as a malleable hypothesis – it will change as you go through the stages of plotting, writing, rewriting, and editing.

All you need, at this point, is an idea that has 4  qualities;

  1. A HOOK

If you’re not excited and passionate about the idea, the novel is going to fizzle out. If you have these 4 things, you have a good foundation from which to kick off.

Resources for moving forward;

30 Story Starters

The Genres in Fiction

3 Mistakes To Avoid

3 Cardinal Sins of Writing

3 Ways to Level Up Your Prose





Published by


Writer, proofreader, and owner of Merry Writing UK.

3 thoughts on “Idea To Realisation; How To Write A Novel”

  1. Hello.
    I need guidance! Any help is appreciated here thank you!
    So….. I am 13 years old and I’m currently writing a novel. It’s around 35k words right now, based on my calculations it will be around 55-60k words. I really honestly don’t know about publication, I was just wondering if this would be an issue with school, would it interfere too much with my life to get this published? I am really passionate about this book and I really love it, and without being nice to myself I really do think that it is good… But how involved is the publication process? How involved would my parents have to be? Would it be better to do this over a summer?
    From, Shannon Maya


    1. Hi Shannon,

      Thanks for getting in touch – I have given your question some thought (hence the delay), and I will say that writing a novel is a VERY involved process that will eat up a lot of your time. If you’re serious about it you may end up sacrificing your free time, but you should NEVER let it interfere with your schooling.

      As for publication, I would keep a few things in mind:
      1) 55 – 60k is more of a novella than a full-length novel and these are harder to publish.
      2) You will likely have to re-write, draft, and edit your book many times before it is publication ready, but do not become disheartened. See publication as a distant goal and focus just on getting it written WELL right now.
      3) As you are legally a child you are unable to enter into a contract – you should talk with your parents about going forward but ONLY do so once you have a finished and EDITED manuscript. They can then contact agents on your behalf.
      4) I would firmly recommend that you seek a literary agent before contacting publishers as a good agent will safeguard your interests and act as an intermediary.

      In short, however, I think this is a process that could take over a year. So, yes, write the first draft over the summer, and let it sit while you work at school. Then, next summer, review and improve that manuscripts (all first drafts can be improved, after all). Then, once you have done that, see how you feel.

      I hope this helped,

      Merry x


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