In honour of NaNoWriMo: how to start a novel

I happen to be planning my eighth book this week (one I don’t imagine I’ll start writing for six months, but I like to give myself a good run up) so I thought seeing as I’m starting this new project completely from scratch and it’s NaNoWriMo I’d talk a bit about what I do in each step and keep you up to date on my progress.

I start with a bullet point list on my phone that I update whenever I have an idea connected to the book, whether that’s a character or line or plot point. This can be going on for months before I do anything with it.

Then when I’m ready to start working on it I’ll transfer it to a Word document and try to build it into a description of what happens. At this point I just write down absolutely every idea I have connected to the story, because once it’s out of my head I start coming up with the next part.

I then force it into some sort of outline – really roughly at this point, with placeholders like: “and then something really dramatic happens to [x] that makes Natalie really mad at John”.

I’ll also do some character building here, but not, like sophisticated character building. Just pop culture reference points. More like “john is the ravenclaw and talks like stiles from teen wolf. Natalie is the hufflepuff and is a Lady.” At this point I just need very big picture descriptions because I don’t want to pin down the characters before I start – I want it to be flexible so it can go in whatever direction the plot needs.

I keep adding absolutely anything I think of to this planning document, shaping it into a more formal outline as I go. Anything like dialogue ideas or jokes goes in comments on the document, so I can send a clean version to my agent when the outline is done.

Right now, I’m halfway through writing my outline. Its in full sentences and has a very complete beginning, a vague middle and an end point I need to get to. Over the next few days while I work on other projects (doing the last proofread of The Quiet before it goes to print, doing an event at Clexacon) I’m going to add as many bullet point ideas to my list as I can, so I can build the outline out more when I come back to it. Then I’ll get started on writing the first chapter. After that, it’s over to my agent – if she doesn’t like it, I go back to the drawing board.

Now on the nano website because I like having a record of what I’m working on each year: https://nanowrimo.org/participants/flossiepots/novels

and on Tumblr: http://laurenjames.tumblr.com/tagged/earth

Published by Lauren James

Lauren James was born in 1992, and has a Masters degree from the University of Nottingham, UK, where she studied Chemistry and Physics. She is the twice Carnegie-nominated British Young Adult author of The Loneliest Girl in the Universe, The Quiet at the End of the World and The Next Together series, as well as the dyslexia-friendly novella The Starlight Watchmaker and serialised online novel An Unauthorised Fan Treatise. Her upcoming release is The Reckless Afterlife of Harriet Stoker. She started writing during secondary school English classes, because she couldn’t stop thinking about a couple who kept falling in love throughout history. She sold the rights to the novel when she was 21, whilst she was still at university. Her books have sold over fifty thousand copies in the UK alone, and been translated into five languages worldwide. Her writing has been described as ‘gripping romantic sci-fi’ by the Wall Street Journal and ‘a strange, witty, compulsively unpredictable read which blows most of its new YA-suspense brethren out of the water’ by Entertainment Weekly. The Last Beginning was named one of the best LGBT-inclusive works for young adults by the Independent. Lauren is a passionate advocate of STEM further education, and all of her books feature female scientists in prominent roles. The Loneliest Girl in the Universe was inspired by a Physics calculation she was assigned at university. The Quiet at the End of the World considers the legacy and evolution of the human race into the far future. Lauren lives in the West Midlands and is an Arts Council grant recipient.  She has written articles for numerous publications, including the GuardianBuzzfeed, Den of GeekThe Toast, and the Children’s Writers and Artist’s Yearbook 2020. She teaches creative writing for Coventry University, WriteMentor, and Writing West Midlands, providing creative writing courses to children through the Spark Young Writers programme.

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