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Beginner’s Guide to Writing Your First Novel

Beginner’s Guide to Writing Your First Novel

Guest Post: JT Pledger

Novelist and screenwriter, JT Pledger, stops by to show you how to start your first novel and everything in between!


So you want to write a novel? That is a great idea. I am a firm believer that everyone has a story to tell. From memoir to fantasy–– every single person has a tale inside them itching to get out.

Perhaps you have tried and became overwhelmed. Perhaps you thought about it and decided “no one wants to hear it anyway”. Perhaps you even started out and tried to do some research and found out that writing a novel is more than just words on paper.

It’s okay. I will give you a brief guide to get you on your way. Everything from staring at the dreaded blank page to writing the most exhilarating words in a writer’s life: The End. Stick around. You’ll learn that writing is difficult and arduous work, but well worth the time and effort. We can make it fun! Change

Your Mind (Set) 

The first thing you need to do, before turning on the computer or picking up a pen and pad, is to understand what you are getting in to. I’m not trying to scare you off. I don’t want that. If it were up to me, every single person alive would have at least one published book. The fact of the matter is though, it’s not easy.

If you understand what you are getting yourself in to, you will better be able to face the challenges and the pitfalls. Writing a novel is a journey. It is long and treacherous. It is full of disappointment and heart ache. Yet it is also exciting. It is fun and adventurous. If you are timid, you need to change your mind set about that. Go at it full gusto and give it everything you have.

But understand this: It won’t happen over night. It won’t happen in a week, or even in a month. Just to give you a heads up: If you are looking to get published, plan on about eight years from start to book shelf.

Scared yet? Don’t be.

First thing is first: get publishing out of your brain. Forget any goals you may have, ignore any delusions of grandeur. Right now you are a nobody with perhaps an inkling of an idea for a book. Accept your position and move on. Every single one of us started right where you are. (Okay, perhaps King, Tolkien, and Hemingway came out of the womb holding their first rough draft… but they are exceptions.)

Everyone gets frustrated. Everyone gives up about nine million times. Personally, I’ve burned drafts in a fire place, tossed a computer and kicked a hole in a door – and all on the same day. It is rough and I’m not going to sit here and lie to you and tell you otherwise. You are in for a damned long journey. Get used to it. Accept it and do it anyway. I promise you: It. Is. Worth. It.

The Path

Every author is different. We all have our own style, our own way of doing things, and our own story to tell. However, we are all basically the same. If you are like me (seek help) you started off being overly excited about signing your own name on a birthday card. That moved into learning other words you could spell and making up stories that made no sense that your mom had to read to you (making up her own words as she did). Eventually you made it to writing lines in the margins of your school notes and on the back of your book covers. Then you saw Brooke Davis in class and she awoke in you a poet that never before existed. (By the way, if it was Brooke, I don’t blame you. She was amazing, even as an eight-year-old.)

For the rest of your school years you developed your poetry and dabbled in short stories. Perhaps you ventured to take a creative writing class (or nine). Then one day you had an idea so grand no stanza could contain it. You needed full pages and paragraphs and it seemed like it would go on forever. Of course, by the fifth page in the science class notebook you had exhausted your talents and gave up, returning to creating song lyrics and poems about death and flowers.

Yet, here we are. You are still eager. I can see it in your eyes. Bright, shimmering with hope. A sly smirk on your face as you know that on page 189 that dude in the black tie is gonna get it!

So let’s get there.

The Raw Idea 

Every single story in the history of ever started one single way: With a raw idea. From the very first novel ever inscribed on a cave wall (it was a short yet morbid tale of a neanderthal with a broken spear and a mammoth giving chase) all the way to the new novel being published tomorrow by Ura A. Thor; every story starts with an idea.

Where or how you get YOUR idea will vary. Perhaps the way the trees rustle, or you woke up on the floor in the living room. Whatever it is, it’s an idea for a book and for some reason you can’t get it out of your head. How you get your idea isn’t important. Seriously. There are classes you can take, videos to watch, prompts, notebooks… none of them mean a damn thing. Believe me, you can train your brain to formulate ideas from nothing. It will happen naturally over time though.

One day you will be like me (I told you to seek help) and you will get about 40 new ideas a day. Write them down if you like. Carry a notebook and pen in your pocket. It won’t do any good though. Mainly because you will forget to write it down, but secondly, because a great idea will stick in your head no matter what. 40 ideas a day and by the time I go to bed it’s down to six. When I wake up in the morning, I have one left. Then the process starts over. Your brain knows what’s good. Listen to it. When you have your idea you will understand the next section:

Answer the Question

While it is true every story starts with an idea, it is fundamental that the idea be great (good won’t cut it) and more importantly it answers a single question. You will notice I didn’t say a simple question. The question looks innocent enough when you read it. However, this question is the brain child of Satan himself, if ever there was one. “What if?” That’s it. Two little words. Six letters. And endless amounts of torture. How you answer this question is called: a book. Don’t believe me? Try these examples out: What if… A rabid dog held captive a woman and her child? Answer: Stephen King’s “Cujo.” What if… A man could not only see dead people, but could do something about it? Answer: Dean Koontz’s “Odd Thomas.”

How you plan to answer your “What if” is called your plot. It is the start of something great. In the next section we will further develop the raw idea and begin writing things down. I look forward to seeing you all there!


About the Author

JT Pledger is a novelist, screenwriter and copywriter. When he isn’t sitting at the keyboard, he’s swimming in the Atlantic Ocean or reading, learning new and fascinating things!  Follow him on Twitter, Facebook, and blog or seek his services here!

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