So You Want to Write a Novel – A Brief Overview of 7 Key Elements

Everybody has a story inside them and you’re no different! But if you’re like a lot of people I’ve talked to, perhaps you aren’t sure where to begin. Do you just start writing about some awesome character you know everyone will love? Do you need an outline? Start with a title or an action scene or a conversation or, well, you get the picture. Over the next several months I’ll cover all of these questions, and more! But for now I’d like to start with an overview on seven key elements to writing a novel.

But before I jump into these seven key elements, there is an important question you’ll need to answer before you begin writing your novel. What genre are you looking to write? Do you want to write epic fantasy, bone-chilling horror, or dystopian science fiction? Or are you more partial to a wild western, or a steamy romance? That’s something you’ll have to decide from the start. Now that you’ve got an inkling of an idea what kind of book you’d like to write, what are the key elements that you’ll want to focus on to write a compelling story?

1) Obviously no story can be told without characters. Over the course of this series, I’ll cover character creation and help you form well-crafted characters. They are the central theme of stories, and the most important element of your novel.

2) These wonderful characters need a place to live! Worldbuilding is another key element of writing a novel. J. R. R. Tolkien is often seen as the penultimate world-builder with his creation of Middle Earth. Because worldbuilding can be such an intricate task, there will be several articles dedicated to what goes into this key element.

3) One of the elements that many people find most difficult is dialogue. How do you create the relationships between the characters? How do you write conversations that leave the reader feeling like the characters were right there before them, allowing them to hear every word? How do you keep it from sounding cheesy? It takes practice. I’m finding the dialogue for my current book is much more refined than what I provided in Winter’s Bite. And I’ll share my tips in an upcoming post or two.

4) What kind of items are found in your novel? This would depend in part on the time period, the genre, the advancements in technology. In a fantasy world, do you want to create oak trees or do you want to design your own plant, perhaps a Hul Vine? How are your characters dressed? Do they carry walking sticks? Is everyone armed? Do the food and drinks have unique names or will you stick with bread and ale? Just make sure that you don’t include automobiles in 16th century England, unless you’re writing something off-the-wall.

5) This one will be present in many genres, but perhaps not all of them. But you’ll want to decide if there are any supernatural or special rules about the world. If you’re writing a romance novel, it is standard romance or are you touching on paranormal romance? In a standard romance novel, will the ghost of a former lover show up? Does magic exist? Is gravity the same as Earth, or are there new laws of physics?

6) If you don’t want your audience to fall asleep, you’ve got to come up with some heart-thumping action scenes! A swordfight between two dueling lords, a sultry night between the CEO of Ronn Electronics and one of his clients, a chase scene that threatens to land the hero in prison – or dead. Fast-paced action will help your reader stay interested in your story.

7) Finally, none of these elements mean anything without a plot. The storyline will take your reader on the adventure of their life, and you’ll want to learn to do that well. I’ll show you how to add multiple plotlines and some tips for keeping the timing straight on them (my experiences here will be shared in a later post).

The writing tips that I will post over the next several months will help you to transform your ideas for a story into a plan of action to put them into words for the world to read. As long as you have a solid grasp on the seven elements that I touched on in this post – characters, locations, dialogue, items, supernatural elements, action, and a solid plot – and you blend them together, you will have a story that the world needs to hear!

So what do you think the most difficult element will be for you? Let me know in the comments section!