2023

How to Start a Novel in 6 Steps [+Free Template]

Embarking on the journey of writing a novel is an exciting endeavor, but it’s not just about putting words on paper. 

Before you dive into the story, there are essential steps to lay the groundwork. 

From gathering inspiration to mapping out characters and plotlines, each stage is crucial in shaping your narrative. 

Making a good first impression is important to any area of life including your novel. Knowing how to write a novel or to be more precise, how to start a novel is crucial to its success. The very first sentence or few scenes set the stage for most readers.

It is your best chance to grab their attention and make them want to keep reading. It is where you introduce your main character and their first impression matters too. 

You must figure out your goal and then craft a brilliant beginning that accomplishes your goal. These steps are designed to make it a little easier for you:

  1. Decide how much planning you’re going to do
  2. Create a point of no return
  3. Reveal minimal backstory
  4. Introduce the secondary character
  5. Choose your hook
  6. The prologue is an option

In this guide, we’ll walk you through the foundational steps necessary to kickstart your novel-writing journey and how can make it to the end. Let’s dive in.

How to Start a Novel: Step-by-Step Guide

Here are the steps that you need to follow

1. Plotting and Planning

How to start a novel in the early stages is widely debated. Some people swear by extensive planning while others prefer to wing it! As you write more and find your style, you’ll learn what works for you. 

Whichever side of the fence you end up on though, all novels need at least a little bit of preliminary work before you begin writing. Whether it’s plotting, researching, character sketching, or all of the above. Even the most dedicated pantser needs to have some idea of what’s going on. 

2. Find a Writing Tool 

Finding the right writing tool can make all the difference in starting your novel journey smoothly. If you want some help figuring out an outline and organizing your novel-related notes, there are novel writing software that can be of great assistance. 

Squibler offers a comprehensive platform designed to enhance your writing experience from start to finish.

With Squibler, you gain access to a plethora of features tailored specifically for novelists. From advanced AI writing and intuitive outlining tools to novel writing templates, Squibler streamlines the planning process, ensuring that no detail is overlooked. 

But that’s not all – Squibler’s collaboration features enable you to share your work with editors or co-authors, fostering valuable feedback and collaboration. Whether you’re a seasoned novelist or just starting, Squibler’s user-friendly interface and robust features help you to bring your novel to life with confidence.

Squibler offers a simple yet comprehensive setup that makes planning and writing your novel as efficient and easy as possible. It is an advanced AI tool that works as you command it. Squibler’s Smart Writer generates content in a matter of seconds based on your instructions:

Squibler Home page

It offers you a place to create, store, and organize notes. It keeps them close and accessible but out of the way of your main writing. This will save you a lot of time and effort as it eliminates a lot of shuffling and document switching that would have to happen otherwise. 

When you are ready to write your book, it allows you to separate everything into chapters and even more so into scenes if you wish. You can write in chronological order or you can jump all over the place – whatever works for you!

The great thing about this design is that you can easily rearrange your chapters and scenes with a simple drag-and-drop method. Planning out your novel can be difficult, and Squibler is designed specifically to take some pressure off the novel-writing process.

3. How to Start a Novel With the Point of No Return

Regardless of the style you choose to start your novel, there are a few universal elements to keep in mind. These are simple, flexible, but essential things that will set your story up the right way every time.

There are a few things you should establish early on in your story that are crucial when learning how to start a novel.

You want your characters to end up in a position where they are making a choice or doing something that they absolutely cannot turn back from. There should either be no way your character can resist going on this path or they should have no choice. You should work on all the elements considering the same perspective from the very beginning.

Do this by creating a problem for your novel’s protagonist almost right away in the first scene in the novel’s beginning, and establishing the stakes of the entire story beforehand – the higher the better. Once you have set up the issue and led your character to their decision, create a scene that will force your character into this central conflict.

4. Reveal Minimal Backstory

Don’t get caught up in the exposition. Too much basic explanation and straight description will have your readers yawning before they finish the first chapter.

Establish your entire backstory and all pertinent details and then examine them for importance. Reveal only the most important and necessary pieces of information in the beginning. 

Other pieces of backstory and relevant information can be revealed throughout the rest of the story in different ways. A minimal description is acceptable in most cases, but try to do more showing than telling. Let things be revealed through actions and circumstances, rather than a character (or narrator) just saying it all. 

When someone has just started reading your story, they don’t know the characters yet. They don’t know anything about their lives. They aren’t invested in your characters – not yet anyway. You need to reel them in with something interesting that will make them care about your characters and their lives.

5. Add a Significant Secondary Character

While a large cast of characters can work in some cases, it is usually more effective to focus on fewer characters and have them do more.

Your main protagonist will, of course, be your main focus. However, it is a good idea to place some importance on a secondary character or two in the beginning as well. 

First impressions are important all around and this includes your secondary characters. If a character is quiet and inactive at the beginning of the story, they will likely remain so throughout. Brainstorm some things that a secondary character could do that would greatly impact the story as a whole. Have at least one of these things happen in the opening sentence or first few pages. 

This establishes them as someone important, if not the main focus of a long story. It also sets up the plot point about their relationship with the protagonist and their role in that relationship.

6. Brainstorm Different Ideas

Once you have the basic structure in place, you need to create a good hook. You need something that will grab the reader’s attention right away. There are a few different ways to do this and the style you choose can depend on a few things: 

  1. Your writing style
  2. The genre of your novel
  3. The overall plot of your story

The Action Scene

If you want to grab your reader’s attention and get their heart racing, throw them into the action right away. Now action scenes aren’t always necessary. For instance, if you’re learning how to write a children’s book, you’ll be discouraged from using action scenes.

However, if you have ever attended a lecture on how to write a book, you should have learned the importance of action scenes.

So the first step is asking yourself do you need an action scene.

Once you’re sure you need an action scene, proceed fearlessly.

Give them something exciting, dangerous, disturbing, a bit crazy, or all of the above. Create an action scene that is easy enough to follow, but is just confusing enough to have readers craving answers and reading on to find them. 

how to write a fight scene for your novel

This action scene should act as the inciting incident – something that disrupts your protagonist’s whole existence. Once readers have met your character and seen their problem, they will begin to care. 

The type of action you begin with will depend on genre and plot, but some examples include:

  1. A physical fight
  2. A police chase
  3. A major robbery
  4. A murder
  5. A kidnapping
  6. A grand betrayal
  7. A war battle
  8. The opposing side/antagonist winning a battle/fight/war

A Moment of Change – Internal and External

Not every novel opener needs to be fast-paced and laced with action but it does have to be interesting. This is one of the best tips on how to write a novel.

If you don’t want to throw your characters into a big fight right away, start your story with a big change. This change can occur within your protagonist, or around them. 

Internal Change. This is when nothing around your protagonist appears to change.

Circumstances remain the same but something inside of them begins to turn. They decide to change the direction of their life or they change their mind about something that is going on. Perhaps they decide to act on feelings they’ve buried for a long time.

Something within them is suddenly different and this change drives the story as they begin acting on it. They make further decisions around the change. 

A good thing to keep in mind when writing internal change: If your protagonist doesn’t act then the world around them stays the same and continues as before. 

External Change. This is when your protagonist is not planning on doing anything differently but something happens. Their surroundings or circumstances change and they are forced to act on it.

The event or events should be life-altering. It will cause a series of reactions within the protagonist that will set them on the path of your story. The impending chain reaction to this inciting circumstantial change is what will make up the opening line of your plot.

Confusion

Another good place to start your novel can be a state of utter confusion. It doesn’t have to be dramatic or exciting but it should cause readers to wonder what on earth is going on.

The best part: You don’t need the best book writing software to help you create confusion, it’s all in your mind.

This can be a bit of a risky move as there is the chance of readers becoming too confused. They may give up on the story before diving in and finding answers to their confusion. 

This type of beginning requires a skillful balance of unanswered questions and relatability. If you can successfully pull off a whirlwind of just enough confusion, you have an opening scene that will have your readers hooked until the end.

Take careful note of the unexplained things, and answer them slowly throughout the rest of the story.

An Extreme Setting

Many will say that a setting can act as a character of its own. In some cases, it can even be the antagonist.

There are stories of man vs. ocean, man vs. desert, pilot vs. air. These stories often revolve around survival and can either be an exciting thrill, or deeply psychological. They can explore themes of loneliness, self, and internal reflection. 

If you are looking to catch the attention of your readers and let them know your book is something different – introduce your wild setting and bring it to life. Place your protagonist right in the middle of it, and begin the struggle.

7. Start with a Prologue

There are many debates about the prologue. Some hate the concept and will urge writers to never use one. Others love the mysterious lead-in it offers and will be proponents of the prologue for as long as they live. 

Whether or not you currently have a stance on the prologue, the reality is that there can be many benefits to a well-written and effective prologue. The issue can be getting it right. Prologues in the opening lines of most novels can become useless and confusing very easily.

Prologues pros and cons

The first thing you need to do is ask yourself if your novel even needs a prologue. Unnecessary prologues will do nothing but turn the reader off before they’ve even begun. 

If your prologue meets any of the following criteria, abolish it immediately: 

  1. You are using it for a massive information dump.
  2. It has absolutely nothing to do with the main story at all.
  3. It is very long.
  4. The sole purpose of your prologue is an attempt to hook readers (this can be done in chapter one).
  5. The sole purpose is to introduce the setting or create an atmosphere. This can be worked into the main story and a prologue is likely not needed.

On the other hand, there are some situations where a prologue works beautifully when the story begins. Here are a few tips regarding these situations: 

  1. It can reveal the inciting incident. This is the moment that catapults the protagonist into the heart of the action. These generally take place early on in the story, but there are cases where it may happen beforehand, or without the knowledge of your main character. This could be a prologue.
  2. It creates dramatic irony. Dramatic irony is a wonderfully intense form of suspense where the readers know something that the characters don’t. A prologue can be a great way to introduce this information as you can reveal what you need to without interrupting the flow of the main story.
  3. It can foreshadow important events or details. Foreshadowing often goes unnoticed until after the fact, and that’s what makes it so impactful. Something happens and readers will realize that they should have known all along. This also adds re-read value. Foreshadowing is often picked up the second time around.

Novel Writing Template 

The beginning of a novel is crucial to the whole history of its success, but that doesn’t mean you can neglect the rest of it.

You want to make sure your whole story is also done well. A novel writing template can help you accomplish this:

This will take the guesswork out of outlining and planning your novel. Now let’s dive into the steps.

Squibler offers multiple book writing and novel writing templates like this to help you get started. Feel free to sign up and use the free version. 

Starting a Novel Takes Time

Starting a brand new novel from scratch can be overwhelming and intimidating, especially for new writers.

It can seem like an impossible task. But it’s not.

With patience and perseverance, it can be done but it’s a process that takes time. It takes time to learn and it takes time to perfect. Not everyone is going to have an identical process.

There are methods, structures, tips, the best novel writing software, and tricks galore, but ultimately you need to develop something that makes sense and works for you.

So, take a deep breath, pick something (anything) to start with, and write that first novel.

FAQs

Here is a list of common questions that writers ask when starting a novel:

How do I find inspiration to start my novel?

Look around you for inspiration – it could be a personal experience, a news story, or even a dream. Keep a notebook handy to jot down ideas whenever they strike.

Should I outline my novel before I start writing?

It’s helpful to have a basic outline outlining key plot points and character arcs, but it’s okay to adjust as you go. Find a method that works for you, whether it’s a detailed outline or a rough sketch.

How do I develop realistic characters for my novel?

Start by understanding your characters’ motivations, fears, and desires. Give them strengths and weaknesses, and let them grow and change throughout the story. Only this way you can move the story forward.

What should I do if I get stuck while writing my novel?

Take a break and step away from your work for a few hours or a while. Sometimes, a change of scenery or engaging in a different creative activity can help get your creative juices flowing again.

How much research do I need to do before starting my novel?

The amount of research depends on the genre and setting of your novel. Do enough research to make a few details of your story believable, but don’t get bogged down in unnecessary details.

Is it okay to write the ending of my novel before I start writing the beginning?

There’s no one right way to write a novel. If writing the ending in the first draft helps you clarify your story’s direction, go for it. Just be open to revising and adjusting as your story evolves.

Josh Fechter
Josh is the founder and CEO of Squibler.