How to Write a Novel: Idea Time


This blog is primarily for reviews, but I’m sure you’ve noticed that I also make a few posts regarding writing – tips, comments, concerns, etc. For my next series of posts I wanted to tackle something that maybe some budding writers out there are having some issues with. Issues that I’ve encountered with my job. (Which if you haven’t seen my last post is freelance ghostwriting. Basically, I write other people’s novels for a living.) Maybe you won’t find anything new here, maybe you won’t find anything that applies to you, but if someone can take something helpful away from all of this, then this post is worth it, right?

So, novel writing. First, let me say that I will be focusing on fiction writing as opposed to things like non-fiction (self-help, biographical, reference, academic, etc.). And while my preferred genre is Young Adult, these tips will apply across the board – unless otherwise specified. That doesn’t mean that this list can’t be applied to other areas, but keep in mind where my focus is. Some of these may not apply to your specific genre or your type of novel.

I’ve tried to break these down to the basics, but some of you must have noticed that I can be a little long winded. So just wade through the fluff to get to the good stuff. (I’ll try to bold the key points for you.)

And “On with it,” she said!

Idea Time

So. You want to write a novel. Where should you start? Probably with an idea, right? Which sounds simple enough. And it is – and it isn’t. Probably, if you want to write a book, you already have an idea in place. But if you don’t, here are some questions to ask yourself.

  • What do you like to read?
  • Who are my favorite authors – what do they have in common?
  • If I could read whatever I wanted, if I could find the perfect book out there, what would it be about?

These questions help you decide what you’d be interested in. Because if you don’t like what you’re writing, it’s a lot harder to finish it – or even start it. This is going to be your baby for a couple of months at the very minimum. Probably more than that. Once you’ve got a concept, just a couple of sentences (EX: Jill always knew she was special. When she dropped down a hole into the world of Faerie, she learned why.) you can worry about fleshing it out and nailing down the details. We’ll do that later. First, there are a few other things to think about…

Alright, so you’ve got your idea. What do you do now?

Well, I have some more questions for you. I know, I know, isn’t there just some mythical formula that will tell you what you need to do without all of this internal pondering stuff? Probably. But I don’t have access to it, so we’ll just have to do it the hard way.

What genre is your story in?

You’re probably thinking, “Genre? Isn’t that obvious? It’s Fantasy!” (we’re going with the Jill example from above). And, okay, yes, that much is fairly obvious – sort of. It has to do with faeries, so probably fantasy. But keep in mind that faerie stories (or any supernatural stories) can be set in modern times in the city. Which would be Urban Fantasy.

Starting to see where this can get complicated? Let’s break it down further.

Okay, so let’s change the premise a little, because you’ve decided you don’t want full fantasy, but rather the Urban Fantasy. New plot: Jill always knew she was special. When she sees two girls with wings floating about a dead body in the middle of Central Park, she learned why… So, this can be Urban Fantasy. It’s got faeries, but also the city. Check. But that’s not specific enough. We need to know what type of Urban Fantasy this is. Is it Adult, New Adult, Young Adult, or Middlegrade (we can go lower to Children’s books also, but you probably wouldn’t have a dead body at all in that)?

Well, it does have a dead body in it, so maybe not Middlegrade (Animorphs dealt with war and death, but most won’t deal with themes so prominently in Middlegrade). It’s possible, but Middlegrade is going to focus on characters below the age of about 14 (on the high side). Which means there might be *some* mature stuff in there, but it’ll be very muted. So we’ll say that it’s probably not Middlegrade.

So how do you decide if it’s one of the others? They all have “adult” in them – what’s the difference? Let me show you.

  • Adult – geared towards adults. Characters will be of legal age of consent and old enough to drink. They will have jobs/lives/romances accordingly. These types of novels will deal with adult problems and situations. They may contain sex: explicit (erotica), steamy (romantic, but not super explicit; this is a terminology difference), or clean (non-explicit or nonexistent). Tends to be a little more “distant.” The narration often is third person omniscient or closed. Means that we may find ourselves getting to know a lot of characters without being particularly “close” to any of them. More focus on events/action, less on emotion.
  • New Adult – a relatively new term, it gets a little confused these days. These characters will be between the ages of 18 (usually starts at 19, but can be as low as 18) and twenty-five (ish). They are beginning their adult lives, transitioning from the end of childhood, and are usually (but not exclusively) in college. These novels can contain explicit sex and often do, but the characters are younger. Usually, the narration of these novels is “closer” than that of adult novels, more in line with how Young Adult is written. This is not an absolute, but it’s fairly likely.
  • Young Adult – for teens. These will be between the ages of 14 and 18. (They fill in between Middlegrade and New Adult). Sometimes on the high end a romantic lead might be 19 or even 20, but the main character, the one we spend most our time with, will be between 14 and 18. There *can* be some mature subject matter – death, illness (physical/mental), rape, sexual experiences, etc. That being said, it’s usually handled with a little more grace. You won’t find erotica in YA, but you might find sex. We tend to be very close to the narrator, often a first person close point of view, with an emphasis on emotional experiences.

Alright. Now that we’ve got things defined, we can narrow down our genre further. Let’s say Jill is sixteen and in high school. That would put our genre firmly in Young Adult. So we’ve got Young Adult Urban Fantasy. We could add in additional notes – warnings, key words, things of that nature – but YA Urban Fantasy is our main concern. That’s where we should have our focus.

Now that we’ve done all of this, you might be wondering “Why did you just spend a whole post on picking a genre?” Because it’ll tell you who your audience is. Your audience is expecting things of you, the author, and if you don’t deliver, you might miss out on some very real business/readership. There are rules to writing. You can break them, but you’d better know what they are and why you’re breaking them, otherwise, you’re going to have a somewhat aimless, poorly executed novel.

Remember, you’re writing for you, but the readers are what give you success, money, and whatever else you might be searching for through publishing your novel. Give them some thought.

I’ll go ahead and give a quick list of other genres that you might use including brief descriptions.

  • Contemporary – modern day. Won’t have any supernatural aspects, the issues at hand will be real life issues. Can be humorous, but events will be plausible if not probable.
  • Romance – can be coupled with any genre, but focuses on the romantic relationship(s) of one or more main character.
  • Paranormal – will involve some sort of supernatural element. Ex. Werewolves, vampires, witches, ghosts, angels, demons, etc. (Some overlap may occur with Fantasy.)
  • Fantasy – a new world built specifically for the novel. Can be “modern” but involves things like dragons, wizards, faeries, etc. May overlap with Paranormal, but generally includes more detailed world-building and specific world rules.
  • Horror – focuses on scaring. Reader (and character) should feel fear or dread. Can be supernatural, but can also deal with real life instances which evoke fear (mental problems, serial killers, etc.). This focuses mostly on mood and atmosphere.
  • Mystery – (often a detective story) features a mystery with a big reveal at the end of the novel. Should involve the main character embroiled in a mystery – can be a murder, theft, or some other crime, but may also deal with a disappearance or something not crime related. The story focuses on the character’s journey to solve the mystery.
  • Thriller/Suspense – should focus on a character in danger. Character will spend most of the novel trying to avoid the danger or get out of the dangerous situation. May focus on kidnapping, crime/mob or police drama.
  • Science Fiction – should focus on some aspect of “science.” Usually futuristic, but sometimes a new take of past science (steampunk). Can be set in the past, in modern times, or in the future. May be on other planets (usually is), but can also be on Earth. May involve aliens, scientists, genetic mutations, etc.

There are more genres than the ones listed here. Just check out Wikipedia if you don’t believe me. I’m not going to list them all, but I wanted to give you a quick list to work with. If your story doesn’t fall into one of these, it’s probably a little more obscure.

Once you find your idea and your genre, the rest will start to fall into place, but you don’t want to end up halfway through writing your novel only to realize that you’re crossing over half a dozen genres. Why? Well, for one it makes for a sloppy story, but mostly it’s because your audience already knows what it likes. You need to know what it likes, too.

*A note on genres like “LGBT”. This focuses on characters which are lesbian, gay, bisexual, or trans. That being said, I personally would not classify something as LGBT unless it specifically focused on the issues faced by these characters. If your main character is a lesbian witch, but your story is all about the magic with a little about the lesbian romance and almost nothing about the difficulties associated with being lesbian (not the complications of romance, but of dealing with society’s perception of your sexual orientation), I wouldn’t classify it as LGBT. Why? Because people who are lesbian/gay/bisexual/trans are just people. Others may feel differently about this, so I leave it to your own opinion. I hope we see more characters of color, more characters that are LGBT, more characters with disabilities and mental disorders and everything under the sun. But keep in mind, the whole point of this is that they are just people. Inclusion is the whole point.

Thanks for checking my super long winded post and look out for my next post “Zombies Eat Flesh” all about fleshing out your novel idea!


E.C. Orr

P.S. Having trouble figuring out what genre your novel’s in? Comment below and maybe I can help you decide!


9 thoughts on “How to Write a Novel: Idea Time

  1. “we can go lower to Children’s books also, but you probably wouldn’t have a dead body at all in that?”
    I don’t know…I think it might make for an interesting children’s book!! 😂😂😂
    Love your post as always!!


      1. I haven’t ready almost anything of King! Even though he should be right up my alley. I’m more of a movie fan. I know The Body because they made it into a movie – Stand By Me where the boys go on a “coming of age” type excursion into the wilderness to find a body.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Oh! That’s the one you’re talking about! Yeah, there you go…children and a dead body, together!
        Creepy. Never thought about it. Then again, still haven’t seen the movie. I know, I know: I haven’t been under a rock, I swear!


  2. This post was awesome, thank you! I’m getting into writing (again) and I really enjoyed reading this. I’ll be reading/keeping up with all of your other posts about How To Write a Novel. Thanks so much again!

    Liked by 1 person

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