How do you start writing a novel?

The first thing I do is decide the genre and setting.

I guess you saw some version of Return to the future. Here the setting changes not by location, but by time period. Going back or forward changes the appearance of the same location. The setting is new, isn’t it?

Genre is the type of novel you are writing. It could be a western, action, romance, detective, mystery, gothic or whatever you decide to dream up.

Science fiction would be another genre.

Did you notice a possible change in genre in a version of Return to the future? The boy with the skateboard was transformed into an armed westerner. Well, he was still science fiction.

The stage is where the action takes place. If the action is in the present, you won’t have to do much research on the time period of the action. However, if the action takes place in 1850 or 130 B.C. C., you must investigate that period of time as was done in Return to the future.

Once you have decided where the action will take place and in what time period, you can define your characters. Here are some things to consider:


Does each character’s name fit the location and time period?

Don’t call your raider viking, Joseph.

try crazy eric or something like that.


What would be the language of your character?

If you lived in 1750 London, what phrases would you use?

How would it sound?

That will depend on your class, right?

A shoemaker from London wouldn’t sound the same as the Captain of the King’s Guard, would it?

What about the King himself?

How would it sound? What vocabulary would you use?

Here’s a caveat:

Don’t write a period novel if you’re not willing to get the education and knowledge you’ll need to write it.

The key to writing well is to write about things you know and understand.

Of course, if you’re writing science fiction, you can do anything you like as long as it “rings real” to science fiction readers.

That’s why the advice often given to writers is to read a lot in the genre you intend to write in.

That’s one way to get an education, isn’t it?


If you met a man at Walgreen in a skintight silver jumpsuit with an antenna sticking out of a gold helmet, you’d think: That guy is not from here!

If your character walks into a bar in the Wild West in the 1850s wearing a green suit, you’ll have some explaining to do. I assume he is Irish and will order a Guinness. Note: Guinness started in 1759, but I doubt you’d find it in the Wild West in 1850.

Dress must be consistent just as language is important. You need to know the local dress, not a stereotypical outfit you saw in a “B” movie.

The clothing is also characteristic of vocation and class. A banker, a blacksmith, a mill builder, etc., would be dressed differently in the same place during the same period of time.

Early Texas settlers in Arizona could be distinguished by their hats.

Other factors:

If your character is a nurse, you should know something about how a nurse performed in her location and during her time period.

Don’t let that soldier shoot someone with a Winchester during the War of 1812. Oliver Winchester was born in 1810.

Every character needs a story. A person’s history determines, at least in part, their actions. You may never mention such a story in your novel, but you should know about it.

Each character needs characteristics. You may never mention most of them, but you should be aware of them. These are the things that in combination make your character different from every other character in the world. Take Superman, for example, or Henry VIII.

The bottom line is that all things must be coherent and logical if you want your novel to fly.

If something is strange, you have some explaining to do.

How to do research

The easiest way to do research is to read in your genre.

I don’t like reading most novels. Therefore, I inquire about time and place.

I like to start with a map of the area. So I like to read the history of the area even before the given time period. I read history books, old magazine articles, Internet articles, etc. I like to tour the area and visit museums and historical societies. I like talking to people, especially veterans who have important stories to tell.

Go to bookstores, yard sales, book sales, junk stores, antique stores, and other places where you can buy magazines and books for a song. Look at the things they sell at antique stores and ask about the history of the unusual items. The way to do it is to say this: What is that thing?

In a way, it’s a lot like being a newspaper reporter. I like to look through old newspapers for interesting stories to see what other “reporters” have done.

Look in encyclopedias, catalogs, and old almanacs. You will be surprised what you can learn.

when i was writing Vengeance on the Mogollon Rim, I decided to read one of the Zane Gray novels, which was set in the areas around my home in Arizona.

I knew something about Zane Gray because he was a guide and worked on exhibits for the local museum.

He was hoping to help rebuild his cabin that was destroyed in the Dude Fire. However, I moved out of the area (Payson, AZ) before I started that assignment.

Anyway, I was reading your novel and a sentence occurred to me that didn’t feel right. It was a character view of her seen from the Mogollon Rim. I didn’t think she was right. I drove to the Edge and parked very close to the place she described. Then I saw that Zane Gray had described the sight perfectly. Mountains don’t move that fast.

It’s a good idea to know your theme, setting (setting), and characters before you start writing your novel. Well, don’t let that stop you. You can fill in the blanks later.

Just don’t let a bold character take over your book.

Writing, how to write, setting, characters, language, characteristics, history, time period, research

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