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Developing your book idea into a full-length novel

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So you have an idea for a story, but you can’t seem to get more than a few pages into it. How do you turn a few pages of an idea into a full-length novel?

Strategy #1 — No planning ahead (this is how I wrote my first book)

Write. Just write. Don’t worry yet if it is written well. Start by introducing your character and then imagine what happens to them and keep going. This is probably a good approach for a NaNoWriMo book. Eventually, an idea for a beginning, middle, and end will come out and then you can start outlining a proper plot to help you finish your novel.

Unfortunately your first draft this way will be really rough and you’ll have to do a ton of editing. Or (as happened with me) you’ll figure out what your novel is really about half-way through the book and then have to start all over again. And still it’ll need more revising.

Strategy #2 — Plan as you go along (how I wrote my 2nd & 3rd)

Start with your basic idea–flesh out who your main character is, what his/her motivations are and the basic conflict of the novel. Usually writing out an over-explainy first chapter helps me with this. Later you’ll have to cut out a lot of the really explainy stuff that isn’t necessary (I have trouble with this step). Keeping your basic idea for an ending in mind (so you know where the story is going), outline the next few chapters and keep plugging ahead. Adjust your outline as new ideas/inspirations come up through writing. Whenever you get stuck, spend time revising the last few chapters.

Again, because this is a figure it out as you go along method, you may have to do considerable revising once you really know what the ending is about, but since you mostly know you don’t have to do as much editing as with strategy #1. And since you have an outline made out, you know the structure of your book and if you need to do revising, you can do those individual chapters.

Strategy #3 — Plan everything out before you start (what i’m trying to do with my current W-I-P)

Again start with your basic idea and write it down. Then start researching the heck out of it. Figure out everything — who your character is, who his/her family and friends are, figure out the setting, a basic plot outline. Even in the midst of this, whenever you are *really* inspired to write a scene, just write it down. You might not end up using the scene since your overall ideas may change, but just write it anyway to help brainstorm for more ideas.

The problem with this method is that I’m doing a heck of a lot of brainstorming and not much actual writing. I’ve been working on this story for weeks now and usually I have about 20 pages of consecutive storyline to show for it, whereas right now I have about 5 pages of disjointed scenes. I’m really hoping this will pay off in the long run revision-wise, but we’ll see. The real key to having a good finished draft is the revision process. If you didn’t have to revise anything, you probably did it wrong. :)

Writers — what is your strategy for actually finishing a novel? (Do you even have one?)

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