Step 1 – The One Sentence Summary
Start by writing a one-sentence summary of your novel. Don’t concern yourself with the names of the characters at this stage, just describe the character e.g. “a retired tennis star”. So, the sentence could read something like this, “A retired tennis star becomes embroiled in a mafia hit plot after agreeing to coach the mob boss’s daughter”. Take care when writing this sentence as, when you come to write your book proposal for publishers or agents, this sentence will be a prominent feature – it’ll act as the hook to sell your novel.
Step 2 – Describe the story
Now you need to expand the sentence you’ve just created into a paragraph of about five sentences. A popular way to structure novels is to have a three-act structure:
Use the beginning (the first act) to lead your reader in, introducing the main characters, setting up the main conflict and confirming the time of the book.
Use the middle (the second act) to develop your themes and reveal more about the main characters. But, make sure you have enough conflict and tension here or it can start to drag.
In the end section (the third act), the story needs to go up a gear; this is where it should reach a climax. Eventually, you should tie-up most of the loose ends, but there’s nothing like a few unresolved problems to get your readers demanding a sequel!
Step 3 – Characters
Now you need to turn your attentions to one of the most important part of the story – the characters. For each major character write a one page summary that includes:
- storyline – what part will they play in the plot
- goal – what do they want
- motivation – why do they want it
- conflict – what stops them from getting it
- epiphany – what will they learn or how will they change
End with a one-paragraph summary of the whole storyline for this character. These are working drafts so changing them as you go is normal. Remember, writing a book typically involves extensive planning and revising as part of the process.
Step 4 – Expanding
Now you should expand each of the five sentences you’ve created for Step 2 into a paragraph. By the time you’ve completed this you should have a one-page description of your book – it’ll still only be the bare bones but it will give you a good idea as to whether the story works or not. If not, you can change it now, before your start writing in earnest.
Step 5 – Back to the characters
Now go back to your characters and write a one-page synopsis for each of them. It’s useful to write this from the viewpoint of the character. This will help you get to know your characters, see where their story is going and, ultimately, whether they should be in the story or not.