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  • Writer's pictureMargaret Amatt

How to draft a novel

Updated: Aug 14, 2022

5 steps to writing a first draft!

1. Decide on the story you want to write.

As all my books are romance novels, they have the same basic premise: girl meets boy, they fall in love, end of! Ok, that may sound simple but it’s not that easy. And let’s face it, how boring would it be!

The way I look at it is there are two stories in a romance novel. The first story focuses on the relationship between the lead characters. This story usually follows a ‘trope’. Some people hate that word and think it’s something to be shunned. But almost all stories have a trope. Just check out any novel from any period and you’ll see what I mean. Using tropes when planning a romance novel is a great way to ensure the necessary conflict in a story.

I have a list of tropes that I look through when planning a novel and see which ones will work well in the story I want to write.

The second story in the romance novel is the one that makes your story unique. This is the one that will be the premise of your story and how you’ll sell it to readers. This story places your characters in the time and place you want them and your imagination is the only limit.

This is where you can have inherited cottages, missing persons, outer space missions, quests for inner peace, winning the lottery or anything you like. Usually this story provides ‘the glue’ which keeps the two lead characters stuck with each other for the book!

In my current work in progress, the plot centres around an archaeological dig and how this holds up a construction project for my male lead. The female lead just happens to be the archaeologist! There I have instant glue and lots of opportunities for them to interact but also lots of conflict as their goals are constantly at odds with each other.

2. Decide on your characters.

This stage usually goes in conjunction with point 1 and sometimes it might even come before.

When I start thinking about a new story, I quite often have a character in mind. As I’m writing a series there are often characters lurking in the background who I think about and start wondering if they could have a story of their own. This has already led me to extend my series beyond the original five books.

When deciding on characters, it’s really important to dig deep into their lives. You have to know everything about them and what makes them tick! This will make sure their reactions to situations are believable and consistent.

If you like to know exactly what your characters look like, get onto Pinterest and make some mood boards! I also like which allows me to create faces of my own for my characters. But knowing what they look like and how they dress is just the surface. Like real people, there’s a lot more going on underneath.

I have my own method of getting inside their souls which includes a character worksheet and an interview.

My character worksheet has the following sections:

· Outer motivation: the character’s goal in life – usually related to the secondary storyline.

· Inner motivation: the character’s unmet need – without meeting this need they won’t succeed in their goal

· Outer conflict: the external forces stopping them from meeting their goal.

· Inner conflict: inner obstacles such as flaws and biases.

· The lie: a personal misbelief/ false belief which hinders the character.

· The wound: a traumatic past event in the character’s life.

· The fear: resulting from the wound/ shapes how they act to ensure this pain doesn’t happen again.

· Negative traits: flaws that inhibit the character or which they use as emotional shielding.

· Critical flaw: one flaw which the character needs to overcome.

· Positive traits: the characters strengths.

· Resolution: how the character shapes up to their fear, rejects the lie, embraces inner strengths and leaves the fatal flaw behind.

· The character’s theme: what they need to do to overcome the critical flaw and learn a life lesson. These lessons are listed as 10 fundamentals in the book Save The Cat by Jessica Brody: forgiveness/ love/ acceptance/ faith/ fear/ trust/ survival/ selflessness/ responsibility/ redemption.

To help with the character’s theme I use this formula: If character wants to <achieve inner goal> they need to stop being so <critical flaw> and learn <one of the fundamental lessons> this, in turn, will help them achieve their <outer goal>.

e.g. if Jane wants to increase her sense of self-worth she needs to stop being so cynical and learn forgiveness this, in turn, will help her progress in her career

3. Plot the story!

A few years ago, I would have scoffed at this idea. I used to be what is known as a pantster (yes, I literally flew by the seat of my pants). The stories I wrote using that method either never got finished or ended up in a total mess! Reluctantly I started planning my stories.

To start with I write the tagline and the blurb. This gives me an idea of the critical points and the conflict in the story.

After that, I use beat sheets to enlarge on these critical points.

I’ve always been a follower of the books Save the Cat by Jessica Brody and Romancing the Beat by Gwen Hayes. These two books give lots of details on how to structure a plot. Recently, I’ve made my own worksheet which merges the beat sheets from these books and gives me a very sturdy foundation to build my novels from.

Both of these books are a great place to start and I recommend reading them for great plotting advice. (see previous blog for more info on brilliant writers’ craft books)

4. Plot each chapter!

Yes, it may sound utterly over the top but this method has saved me hours of time when it actually came to writing. After writing five books using the outline method, I realised most of my books came out around the same length and with similar numbers of chapters (purely by chance!). In fact, my first and third books have exactly the same number of pages in the paperback!

Working on the theory that I generally pace my stories like that, I tried a new method where I pre-divided my document into chapters. I chose 30 because it was a neat number and also because that was the longest number I’d used so far. I then started writing a brief outline of each chapter.

In the chapter outlines, I note the following:

· Whose point of view is it?

· What is the setting? (Where are they/ when)

· Who are the characters? (Who is with the POV character – names/ roles?)

· What are the scenes and what happens in them?

· What are the characters feeling? (The main emotions the scenes need to convey)

· How do their positive and negative attributes influence their reactions to the scene or to each other? (Using my character worksheet, I work out how to show these attributes in action)

· Lies they believe about themselves, their flaw, wound and fears and how this affects their reactions. (Again show this in action)

· What is being set up for the future?

· Is there foreshadowing?

· Each primary scene should have: Goal/ Conflict/ Disaster

· Each secondary scene (sequel) should have: Reaction/Dilemma/Decision

5. Fill in the gaps… i.e. Write the book!

Once the chapter summary is in place, it’s time to actually write the book. The last book I completed using this method started as a seven-thousand-word chapter by chapter summary. I finished writing this book in six days of writing (with break days in between!). It was easily the quickest book I’d ever written because I knew exactly where the plot was going and it felt like I was filling in the gaps with the bit I love best – writing! It was joyful knowing where each scene was set and who was doing what without having to stop and think.

From now on, I don’t see myself using any other method. I’ve jumped the pantster ship and landed firmly on the plotter boat. The best part is, I don’t feel like it has taken anything away from my creativity. I always thought being a pantster was the ultimate in creativity as I could do anything and go anywhere. But I wasted so much time trying to make it work that it actually limited me. Now all my creativity is channelled in the right direction and it feels amazing!

To all pantsters, I don’t want to try and convert you, especially if your method works, but I dare you to try plotting! (just saying, lol!)


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