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How to Write Your Novel Part II

How to write a novel–photo credit: PublicDomainPictures

Before reading this post, back up and explore How to Write a Novel Part I. Here’s a summary:

  • create an Excel spreadsheet with columns for Section, Chapter, Purpose, Day, Time, Characters (major and minor), Setting (at the start and finish), character’s success or failure in each section, whether the section includes action or a reaction. Summary, Follow-up.
  • On a separate worksheet in the same Excel workbook, define characters, plot, subplots, themes, goals, premise, idea, moral
  • plot the story
  • plot the characters–their background, strong and weak points, importance to the novel, etc
  • make sure all plot issues are resolved satisfactorily by the novel’s end

Only when you’ve completed everything above can you start on this list:

  • clearly identify who the main character of each section is. Make sure your main character is the most prominent throughout. That means, s/he should appear at least three times as often as any other character. If s/he doesn’t, maybe they’re not the protagonist. Might as well find that out while you’re still outlining
  • tell me what each character is wearing in each scene–and tell me when they change their clothes. If it’s a main character, more detail. It might matter later that the protagonist was in heels while sprinting away from the attacker. Make sure you have her kick off her heels first
  • If we’re in a character’s POV, do you provide their inner thoughts? Few people observe the world around them without some internal monologue. Share it with us. That’s why we care about the character and it makes a novel interesting
  • remind the reader where a scene takes place. Is it in your protagonist’s campus office or on a stakeout? Does the weather play a part (fog drifted in and your detective on the stakeout can’t even see across the street, so he returns to his office where he cybersleuths instead)? I go so far as to merge the cells in the spreadsheet so I can check quickly to see where my character is. It’s easy to forget.
  • identify what time of day each scene starts and stops. You don’t want your characters seeing the antagonist across the campus when it’s nighttime (if the lights are on, tell us that)
  • review your setting. Carry over details of the weather, the geographic location into the plot by telling us how those details affect the story (your characters have to don raincoats and umbrellas if they’re in Washington state). That makes your novel more believable–who doesn’t make decisions based on weather and geography?

Once you’ve transferred the Excel spreadsheet to Word, you don’t have those nice columns reminding you of those details, so take care of them now.

Here’s a review:

  • Tell me details of each character when they’re introduced. You can easily find that by searching for the first time each name pops up. Tell me enough background up front that I’m interested. Save more for later, but remind yourself in the right-hand column when to expand on it
  • Each time the character wakes up, tell me what they wear, eat or don’t eat, if and where they jog before going to work, the usual activities people do in the morning. That helps me envision them in my head as the action occurs.
  • When a character changes scenes, do they change clothes? Tell me that too.
  • When a character enters the scene, describe them so I can see them in situ. That helps me keep up with the storyline
  • If a scene ending is a likely chapter ending, add the hook to get me to read onto the next chapter.
  • Check to be sure all details are followed through on. If a character takes a book to work, make sure they take it home–or dispose of it some way. It’s surprising how annoyed readers get when the loop isn’t closed
  • Check the time of day you’ve entered into the spreadsheet. Is your character true to what would occur in the evening or morning? Does the setting reflect the sun shining or the dark shadows?
  • Every time your main character enters a new setting, describe it in scene, explain how it impacts the characters actions, thoughts, emotions. Your physical location always does, so this makes your character more believable
  • Read through your entries. Stop and check for internal monologue in the POV character. If they would be thinking something about an odd occurrence or a person’s appearance, add those. That helps the reader identify with your lead
  • When you discuss something in dialogue or in the POV of your character, is it clear to the reader? If not, can the POV character explain it without turning into a lecture? If not, develop another way to clarify. For example, if the POV character sees three boats sailing across a bay, what would she think about that? Are they in a race, out for an adventure? Are they her friends heading for the dock where they’ll pick her up? Surely, in real life, people would notice a trio of boats and have some opinion about their purpose, so you must attribute those thoughts to your POV. Otherwise, s/he doesn’t come across as realistic

Click How to Write Your Novel Part III–Character Development for the next installment.

Jacqui Murray is the editor of a technology curriculum for K-sixth grade, creator of two technology training books for middle school and four ebooks on technology in education. She is the author of Building a Midshipman, the story of her daughter’s journey from high school to United States Naval Academy. She is webmaster for six blogs, an Amazon Vine Voice book reviewer, a columnist for, Editorial Review Board member for Journal for Computing Teachers, Cisco guest blog, IMS tech expert, and a bi-weekly contributor to Write Anything. Currently, she’s editing a thriller for her agent that should be out to publishers this summer. Contact Jacqui at her writing office or her tech lab, Ask a Tech Teacher.

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8 thoughts on “How to Write Your Novel Part II

  1. Pingback: Paulina Plots | Writing Sluts

  2. Ah… I envy your techno-savvy and I appreciate how you share it 🙂 If I knew how to do the spreadsheet thing, I wouldn’t have paid for Schrivener.
    I’ll learn, though, and use it for my rewrites.


    • There are a lot of writers I admire who use Scrivener (Yuki for one). Me–this works better. Does Scrivener work well for you? I just wrote an article about writing software, which I’ll publish in a few weeks. Why did you switch to Scrivener?


  3. Jacqui, I’ve got spreadsheets all over my desktop. Budgets, weight-loss charts, weekly to-do lists…I can’t name them all. But, I don’t have a plan for my novel. I admire how you organize for your writing, but I can’t do it. The best I can do is a short list of reminders, but I start with a scene and an unusual event, and it grows from there.

    But wait! You’ve just given us the necessary ingredients. You haven’t told us when to put them in the writing bowl. Apparently, you plan, and then you write. For me, I write a little, plan a little. I can still use your spreadsheet! The only requirement is that it’s filled out at the end.

    Thank you, thank you!


    • Excel is more of a method to organize my writing. I start with rows that state the bare essence of the story. As I add detail, I add rows. Then I have columns to remind me which day/which time of day events are occurring and where. It’s easy to forget when you’re on page 200 that a character took a trip on a Monday and now it’s Wednesday. With Excel, I color code the days so I see immediately which day it is and how many activities occurred then.

      OTOH, we all do what works best for us.


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