How to Write a Novel in Twelve Weeks

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There are times when writing your first novel can seem like trying to push an ocean uphill. But it doesn't have to be like that. Novelizations of TV shows and movies are often written in as little as twelve weeks or even less. So, how can these people bang out novels in such a short time when for everyone else writing one seems like all the labours of Hercules rolled into one?

The answer's all down to planning. And here's where I'm going to show you how you can use planing to turn novel writing into a far simpler task than you might have thought possible.

1. First decide on your genre.

2. Select your favourite book or movie from that genre.

3. Quickly scribble down a synopsis for that book or movie. Don't put any great care into it. Do three drafts, aiming to end up with a synopsis of half-a-page to a full-page in length.

4. Now have a sit down. Without putting too much thought into it, think of the main characters and settings in that synopsis and how you'd like to change them. Maybe you'd like to turn that island into a city, or that man into a woman, or that doctor into an astronaut. Go with your first instinct. When it comes to these things it's often right.

5. Go back to the synopsis you wrote, replacing the original settings and characters with the settings and characters you've decided to use. You should find the story immediately starts to become a noticeably different beast when you do this. Again, take no great time or care over it. Again, do three drafts. Again, you're looking for a synopsis of around a page.

6. Armed with this new synopsis, devote more thought to the main characters, writing a short biography for each of them. Who are they? Where are they from? What do they do for a living? What have they done in the past to get to where they are when we first meet them? Why are they unhappy? What do they want, both in life in general and in the story? What obstacles stand in their way? How do they get on with the people around them? Imagine them talking to people, dealing with things, just living their lives. Also write a potted history for the main settings, so you have a sense of the book's background.

7. Now that you have a clear idea as to what your characters and settings are about, have a lie down, close your eyes and run through the story in your head, as though you're watching it on a cinema screen. Don't go into too much detail - or you'll be at it forever - but enough to develop a firm idea of what happens. Do this three times, scribbling down notes as you go along of anything you might forget.

8. Get yourself a pack of standard size index cards from any stationers. On the cards, scribble a one or two sentence summary of every scene in the book, using one card per scene. Once you've done this, read through what you've written, adding any extra scenes that occur to you, chopping out any you no longer need and changing their order if necessary. Three or four run-throughs should be enough to have the whole of the main story planned out.

Now you've got the main story planned out, think about what the other characters are getting up to when your central character isn't around. Use index cards to plan out their scenes and insert them into the main story where they're needed.

Read through your pile of index cards to make sure the story all fits together and, if it does, you now have everything you need to start writing your novel.

9. Start to write the novel but don't start at the beginning. That's the most complicated part of the book, where you're having to juggle several balls to introduce the characters and the set-up. Therefore leave it till you've written the rest of the novel. The same with the ending. Leave that till last, so you have something to look forward to. Start at the point where the characters have already been introduced, and use the index cards to guide you. Stick to that plan like glue, only changing any plot points if you really have to. Remember, it's changing the plot that eats up writing time.

Don't write the whole book before revising anything. Instead, do three drafts of each scene before moving on to the next one because things are much easier to do if you break them down into bite-sized chunks. Aim to write a thousand words a day. Write the first draft of each scene with the idea in your head that it's going to be the one you show the world. It isn't but it does focus the mind wonderfully on what you're doing.

10. Now that the novel's written, go through it one more time to tidy it all up, and then start to look for a publisher.

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