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Three Steps to Finishing Your First Novel: Left brained solutions for a right brained problem.

Three Steps to Finishing Your First Novel

In the wake of a number of hubs and other stuff I've found recently that seem to focus on the frustration and, to be frank, procrastination of lots of would be novelists regarding how to get that first novel done, I thought I would offer some suggestions that maybe will help a few people still sitting on the novel-writing fence jump down and get going.

Right out of the gate, I want to get something clear: I'm not promising you'll get it published. In fact, I'll be really honest, you probably won't (at least not by a traditional, brick-and-mortar publishing house. The odds are horrifically against you, so, if you're writing a novel because you think it's a way to make money, well, A) you are delusional, and B) this won't be the article for you.

However, if you aren't delusional and you just love to write, and you think that you're a novelist at heart, but just haven't been able to muster that goddamn thing onto paper yet, well, I can really help you out. I recognize that different people think in different ways, so, this won't be the panacea of prose. However, I'm on my third novel now and my last first draft was done in under eight weeks (570 pages). So, while I'm not rich from my novels, I am getting them down on paper, which is more than many of my writer friends can say. So, here's what I suggest you do. Three steps to finishing that first F-ing one.

1. Make a Timeline First

Ok, for many people, plotting a novel seems to be the hardest part. I hear "I get started all the time, but around sixty pages it all falls apart" frequently. I used to do that too, get all excited to start, get writing, and... then, well, everything starts to slowly, inexorably fall apart. The problem was, I didn't have a plan. As much fun as it is to just start writing, immersing yourself in the dream world and watching the story reveal itself as if it were a play, ultimately that just doesn't get most people to the end.

Think about it, say you were an engine designer for a big car company. You want to build a new super engine. What do you do? Start bolting parts together? Of course not. You design your engine first. Carefully. Meticulously. You need to make a plan. A novel is the same way.

Here's a suggestion for how to get that done. For starters, figure out what you want to happen in the end (this can be a climax scene if you'd like rather than the actual "very end"). I write sci-fi and fantasy, so let's use an example from what I know. Let's say the climax of my book is going to be that the brave prince saves the hawt princess from the evil dragon. Easy enough, right? So, that's my climax: Prince saves Princess from Dragon. I'm going to put that on my timeline.

Timeline begins

You don't have to use a line, just using MS Word is fine, but the line works nicely too.

You don't have to use a line, just using MS Word is fine, but the line works nicely too.

Alright, so there it is on my timeline. But now what? I mean, how did she get caught by the dragon and why? Thinking logically, not like an artist; if Prince Charming is going to save her, she needs to get captured first, right? So now we're going to work backwards from the climax. So I ask myself, why does the dragon catch her? (For your book it might be why does the murderer kill the mayor, or why does the pregnant lover choose to keep the baby and move to Santa Fe... it doesn't matter what, we all write what interests us.) So, this part requires some imagination, but, come on, if you want to write a novel and you don't have imagination, well, perhaps you're not dreaming of doing the right thing. Anyway, so, why is our dear princess in the dragon's lair? Since this is my article, I'm going to say it's because she's an airhead and decided to take her new pony out for a ride in the woods and the dragon found her. (Sure, it's random, but imagination works like that. Just go with it.) Alright, so that means I need to put that event on the timeline too.


Ok, so there is: princess rides her pony out into the woods.

I might even think to myself as I'm coming up with that genius idea, where's the pony come from? That's a great question, I tell myself. So I decide her father, the King, gave it to her for a gift. Cool, that's a minor detail, but it matters, so, since I'm thinking of it, I'll toss it on the time line, somewhere before the pony ride: "Princess gets pony as gift." See how easy that was?

Alright, now, we pull back from our story a bit and look at what we got. We got a gift, a pony ride and a rescue. What else do we need? Just think logically. Plots don't have to be weird or psychedelic, despite what so many artists are trying to do these days. You want to get fancy, do it on novel number two. So, hmm, what's missing? Well, for starters, I'm looking at this timeline and the prince doesn't even know the princess is captured anywhere yet. So I need to figure out where he finds out that the dragon has her in his lair. Then I realize, oh shit, I don't even have a scene plotted for the dragon taking her either. I guess I should put that on the timeline too.