How to Go from Idea to Manuscript in 15 Easy Steps
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I’m flabbergasted every time I encounter writers who desire to write their own fantasy or fiction novel, but still haven't figured out how to go from idea to manuscript just yet. Most are aware of what story they want to write. Usually, they’ve already begun the process… only to quit because they didn’t know how to finish the story.
Far too many writers have an incomplete novel sitting on a shelf somewhere. Simply, because they don’t know how to write one. There’s a great fear -- myth -- that writing a novel is incredibly difficult. After all, J. K. Rowling, Stephen King, and Nicholas Sparks, are special humans who have writing superpowers. False presumption, my friend.
Brainstorming and writing a novel is actually easy.
*Please note: this doesn’t mean the execution isn’t a challenge.*
After kicking my fear to the curve, I managed to write my entire religious fiction novel in under 70 days. I’ve also written 100K (words) -- in 30 days -- for a new novel.
Difficult? Yes. Impossible? No. Want to do the same, and have your own completed manuscript in the next 90 days? Here’s the no brainer way to do so.
1. Have A Positive Mindset
To write your novel, you need to believe you can. Period. Understand, you are not George R. R. Martin (Game of Thrones), Sarah J. Maas (Throne of Glass), J. R. R. Tolkien (Lord of the Rings), or Cassandra Clare (The Mortal Instruments). Comparison can become an incurable writing disease-- and it’s contagious. Be careful not to catch it.
Kick imposter syndrome to the curve. Any idea you can think of has probably been written about and is sitting at the top of the NYT bestsellers list with hundreds of 5-star ratings… but who cares?
Your story is unique. No one can tell it like you. You must realize this, and not be afraid to write an epic tale for your readers, just because “it’s already been done”. Last I checked, McDonalds isn’t sweating the presence of Burger King or Wendy’s. Therefore, you don’t need to be worried about Twilight or Harry Potter.
2. Find the Right Idea
Ideas are as easy to find as they are difficult. You can step foot outside of your house and be bombarded with ideas. But how do you know it’s the right one? Simple. It’s the one you cannot stop thinking about. Most books have been written because the author wanted to read that story and couldn’t find it anywhere. So, naturally, they wrote it.
You must do the same. What do you want to read but can’t find in any bookstore? What are some of your favorite elements from your most beloved stories? Oftentimes the right idea is the one that’s already been written, but lacking the twist you can provide. Think of the story you are desperate to read and can’t find-- then write it.
3. Choose Your Message
Every novel has a message. Understand, this is not the same as a novel’s theme. Messages are fused into stories to get the reader thinking. It is meant to provoke them to change their perspective… even if they’re just reading about elves in captivity, or vampires desperate for love.
The message of your novel is what captures the reader. It is the song that cannot be forgotten. It is the prose that moves them beyond the surface of the story. Think about what you want to leave the readers with before picking up your pen to write.
4. Decide On Your Theme
Your novel needs a theme, and the beauty is-- choosing a theme is simple. It can be as general as hope, or as specific as the betrayal of a lover. The theme is what will end up driving the plot of the story. It also acts like the glue, so when the story begins to derail, there’s an anchor to draw it back in.
5. Set Your Deadlines and Your Word Counts
A story without a deadline is a story that will never be written. Most half-written novels end up on the shelf because the writer never purposed to actually finish. Deadlines mean accountability. Without it, writers don’t feel the need to make writing their novel a priority. To ensure your novel does, in fact, get written, you need to set a concrete deadline.
Beyond the deadline, word-count goals must also be in place. Having an endgame word count -- I.E. a 40K novella in 90 days -- will propel you to the finish line, because now you know how much you need to write each day to chip away at your story and finish it in time -- I.E. approximately 445 words a day for 90 days.
6. Identify Your POV
There is no right or wrong answer as to which POV (Point Of View) to choose for your story. The only issue is understanding the pros and cons of each. Most fantasy or fiction novels use either 1st person POV or the ever popular, 3rd person POV. It’s very rare you’ll find an author choosing 2nd person POV for their novel.
With 1st person POV, the reader gets to know the MC (main character) in an intimate way. They’re able to be in the character’s mind and know exactly how they feel, what they want. It is also a personal experience for the reader to grow with the character as they develop. However, much of the world, the other characters, and the life around them gets lost.
Then comes 3rd person POV. The reader is able learn about the world with great depth, and the perspectives of many characters can be seen. However, this loses the intimacy of attachment the reader builds with the MC. Not always, but this can be a con of 3rd person POV.
Think of which eyes you want the story to be seen through, which life you want to experience the story through, choose your POV, and get writing.
7. Align With 3 Act Story Structure
The 3 Act story structure is what made you fall in love with your favorite books and movies. They followed a simple trajectory:
The Inciting Event
The Key Event
The First Major Plot Point
The First Half of the Second Act
The Second Half of the Second Act
The Third Major Plot Point
This little formula is the reason you can binge a 700 page novel in one night, and are willing to glue your eyes to the screen for 2 hours without moving.
When writing your novel, align all your points according to the 3 Act story structure. I cannot stress just how much easier writing your novel will be once you do so.
8. Choose Your Setting
Whether you’re making it up or your story is somewhere on earth, it’s imperative you give some serious thought to your setting. Setting grounds the reader and allows them to mentally place themselves within the story. A story without a solid setting will lead to an unbalanced *and very dissatisfied* reader.
Whether the story is in Forks, Washington (Twilight) or Prythian (A Court of Thorns and Roses), describe it well and with proper landmarks so your reader can place themselves in the story alongside the characters.
9. Create Your Worlds
There’s nothing more fun than world building, except for, developing the characters… in my humble opinion. Have fun when going through the process. The world you create for your novel is not unlike the world you live in as a person. It has societies. Different cultures. A myriad of languages. An economic system. A government… or lack thereof if there is anarchy. Militaries. Schools. Businesses. Families. Countries. Nations, etc.
Delve deep into each world you plan to create. The more time you spend building your world before you write, the less headache you will suffer when you start putting pen to paper. Your novel needs a solid world, for the sake of the readers and the characters.
10. Develop Your Characters
Don’t know how? Here’s a few ideas. Make your characters write you a letter. About anything. Maybe they’re happy they’ve been promoted in the royal court. Or angry because their husband was murdered unjustly for treason. Maybe they’re shy and don’t want to talk. Maybe they’re hurting and stay quiet because they’re scared they’re not loved.
Break your characters down. Who are they? What are their features? Write their lineage and heritage. Write about their siblings. Their parents. Their society. Their friends. Write about their quirks. Their strengths. Their weaknesses. Dig deep into your characters so you can have a strong novel.
All novels are centered around the characters. If you want to make the writing a breeze, give yourself some amazing characters to write a story about and for.
11. Get Clarity On the Plot and Subplots
The plot is the driving force of the story. For example-- the plot of The Hunger Games is simple: survive the games. Don’t die in the arena. Think of the basis of your story. In its simplest terms, what is it about? Your plot doesn’t need to be complex. However, it does need to be intriguing.
Make sure to leave enough room for some subplots too. Yes, Katniss surviving the horrific hunger games is a thrill in and of itself, but it would fall flat without the love of Peeta, or the comfort of Gayle, or the conflict with President Snow. Books are about conflict, tension, and romance. Don’t let your novel fall flat by not having a solid plot and subplots.
I. E. Plot: Survive. Subplots: Unexpected love, unprecedented rivalry, fractured friendship.
12. Braindump and Brainstorm
Do yourself a favor. Get a journal, preferably with blank pages like computer paper. And dump every single thought and idea you can think of. Where does the character go? Why do the protagonist and antagonist hate each other? Do they go way back or is this feud new? What quest do they go on? What if the MC falls in love with their best friend? What if the best friend rejects the MC? What if the MC’s best friend is secretly planning to betray them to their worst enemy?
Allow your brain to think of every wild idea. Character names. The places they go. The journey they’ll take. The people they meet. The quirks they develop. Their motives for their journey. Pour out every little idea and each time you think you can’t come up with anything more, ask yourself, “What if X, Y, and Z happened?” “What’s expected to happen with ___?” “Where can I add more conflict? Between whom? Why?” Think of what your readers would expect in a scene then do the complete opposite. Always think of how to keep your reader on their toes.
13. Outline Thoroughly
I’m a natural planner, and outlines are my friend, so, I am biased when I say you need an outline. I am also right. Hell hath no fury like a novel that’s out of control and can’t get itself together because there’s no outline. Most novels die before being born because there was no outline before writing. Maybe you’re like me and yours ends up incredibly thorough and detailed. Maybe you’re the opposite and you just drop down some bullet points.
That is neither here nor there. No matter how you choose to outline, do it. Do not skip it. Do not think you’ll do fine without it. I am 1000% confident when I say, you will regret it. Especially if your aspiration is to write a long, full-length novel. From the first scene until the last, map out a quick outline of what should be happening, briefly, from scene to scene so you have a solid roadmap to wrap your story around and succeed with completing your manuscript.
14. Mentally Prepare for Plot Bunnies
It is impossible to evade plot bunnies. Truth be told, you want a few of them anyway. Plot bunnies are ideas for your novel that you weren’t expecting. Say your MC is on their way to the hospital, and they’re supposed to head to the ICU, strictly. Instead, as they make their way to the ICU, they run into an ex in the waiting room who is now married to an old friend of theirs.
That is a plot bunny. Now you have to work the story around this new detail and fit it seamlessly into the fold of the story. Some will cause you to go so far from the story, and yet others, no matter how random they are, can be so good you have no choice but to keep them in the story. Then, you have the business of making the story (really the ending) fit around this new plot.
Most times, plot bunnies really amplify the story, add tension, ensue conflict, and cause the story to be much better. Don’t ignore them. When they show up, be gracious. Your story will be better for it.
15. Write, Write, Write
Go ahead and write your heart out. Feel free to write the end first. Or write from the beginning and continue chronologically. Whatever you choose, you have the building blocks, necessary, in place to execute a phenomenal story. Sit down and write every word that comes to mind. DO NOT EDIT as you write. Don’t do it. Ever! Write without stopping. Write, sometimes, without even thinking. Let your fingers fly and don’t stop until you know you have reached the end. Just like that, your novel will be complete and you will have finished your very own story for the enjoyment of yourself and the entertain of others.
Let's wrap this up
Writing a novel is as “complex” as it is simple. Ernest Hemingway said it best, “There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed.” I hope this blueprint has shown you all you need so you too can “sit down and bleed.” I know you’re a busy writer who is trying to change lives with the work you do.
I also know, somewhere deep inside of you is a story begging to be born. To be written. Don’t shy away from it. Pick up your pen and begin to give it life. Follow the blueprint, and in 90 days, you too can bask in the joy of having completed your very own novel.
Writers, like you, who know
Dang well they Can't pants
their way through their novel.
The Pathway From Idea to Manuscript Raodmap, 'fo free!
Sup fam! I'm Stephanie BwaBwa, a pretty simple gal who happens to be a YA fantasy author and has no shame drinking coffee and writing all day. I like helping fellow writers wade through the waters of crafting their stories (I mean let's face it, you have yet ANOTHER trilogy burning in the back of your brain), because, priorities.