If you’re looking for a writing method to kickstart your novel but want a method that is both simple to understand and easy to use, this 5 Step Method may be the process for you! This method is centered around five basic steps in the writing process, but allows you tons of room to throw in your own favorite techniques and ideas.
If you simultaneously crave both structure and flexibility, this may be the method you need to try next!
Step 1: Summarize Your Idea Simply
This method, like many others out there, begins with a short and sweet summary of your idea. Think about when the inspiration for this book first struck you. It was probably just a few words swirling around that later on morphed into a full blown idea. That’s what we want to start with. Pluck a few words out of the air and string them together until your novel is summarized in just about one to two sentences.
It may seem easy, but choose your words carefully! Your description may be concise, but you should still be able to discern both the main character and major conflict within your abbreviated account of events.
If this is a struggle for you, reconsider your main plot, as it may be too complex. The purpose of this exercise is to put your plot into an easily understood sequence to ensure that while you add scenes, characters, and details, your main conflict is clear and straightforward for all of your readers.
Despite its simplicity, this step may require a few short drafts. That’s okay! Your goal is to walk away from this exercise with a clear idea of what the character wants and what forces are in play against him/her. Forget the thesaurus and literary devices at this stage and focus on putting your novel into the simplest terms possible.
Step 2: Craft a Longer Synopsis
After creating your simple summary, move on to the full blown synopsis that encompasses all major events and clearly leads to a satisfying ending with all conflicts resolved. It may be a tall order, but taking the time to perfect this step will be worth your effort.
If you’re unsure of length, aim to land your synopsis around one to two pages. The true depth of this is up to you, but the deeper you dive into your content the easier it will be to translate this to an outline then subsequently a rough draft. If you need a few extra pages, go for it. If you think you can keep it to five paragraphs, take that challenge.
To help kickstart your synopsis, make a list of questions that should be answered in your book and attempt to resolve all of them in this first draft. These questions shouldn’t be centered around small details but should instead be rather broad and contribute to the overall main conflict.
If you’re stuck, you can consider some of these questions:
- Who are the protagonists/antagonists?
- What is the setting of your story?
- What is the major conflict? Who is it between?
- What events make up the climax or turning points of the story?
- Whose goals are met by the resolution? Whose goals are thwarted/left unresolved?
If you’re stuck at this stage, grab your favorite novel and check out the book jacket. Consider which details its author included or left out and compare that to your own synopsis, adding to or subtracting from your draft to give it the same attention-snatching quality.
Once you’ve got one to two pages, take the time to revise your summary. Read it both in your head and aloud and make any edits you need to keep the prose flowing. Add in any missing details and expand upon any weak connections as you see fit. Your synopsis should cover the main points of your story in a way that a complete stranger would understand your plot, but should also leave out any details that don’t immediately further the main conflict.
Once your summary reads smoothly and is clear of any glaring plot holes, tuck it away and move on to step three!
Step 3: Draw up an Outline for your Novel
Now that your synopsis is complete, transfer those pages of prose into a structured, easy to read outline. This step doesn’t have any specific format necessary, but we can offer you a few tips to get started.
Begin by listing out the main events of your novel and place them into whatever visual organizer you like best. This could be a simple timeline, a web format, a chart, the choice is yours.
Once you have those main events settled into your organizer, break each main event down into multiple small occurrences. Underneath those occurrences, add in small details important to the main conflict and plop characters underneath the occurrences they’re involved in. From here on, you decide how much more detail you’d like to include. While some readers love elaborate outlines, others like to go with the flow. It’s totally up to you.
No matter your stance on outlining, keep in mind that the more you outline, the smoother the actual writing process in step four will go. If you choose to design a bare bones outline, be prepared to come up with a lot more content for this next step.
Step 4: Put the Pen to Paper and Write
Now that you’ve finished your outline, the time has come to put all those plans into motion!
Plop down at your computer or with your notebook and let the words flow freely. While you’re letting those words go, keep your outline handy at all times so that you can double check the skeleton of your story against your first draft.
Sometimes as the words begin to escape to the page, errors will be found in your outline or you’ll be moved to add a new twist on your previously planned events. Of course make changes as you see fit, but if you change something in your rough draft, change it in the outline as well. While the outline is only a guide for your rough draft, it can be easy to deviate from the outline and forget which plot threads you’ve changed, which ones have remained the same, and how the altered plots affect other events. To save yourself the headache of plot holes down the line, go ahead and make changes to both.
As you complete this step, keep in mind that we have one more step in this process: revision. With that in mind, you can let this first draft be as rough as you need. Don’t spend too much time overthinking every word and allow them to just pour on to the page. If you try to edit as you put words on the page, not only will it disrupt your creative process but it will slow you down in the long run.
Step 5: Revise it all in One Run
Now that you’ve let the words flow through you, set your rough draft to the side for a couple of days and move about your other day-to-day activities. Letting your draft sit will allow you to revise it with fresh eyes and not tired ones!
When you come back to your draft, don’t just read through the whole thing and start circling things with a red pen. Devise an organized, methodical revision system that will let you revise everything from event sequencing to grammar.
Start your revision process with some of the more “big picture” things. It is super easy to get bogged down in details if you aren’t careful. A great place to start is by listing out the events in your story in chronological order and ensuring that they all align correctly. A couple out of order events will totally throw your story off!
Scan your draft once more with a word counter and look out for over-used words. Dig out the old thesaurus and replace a few repetitive phrases with some fresh terms.
Read your dialogue out loud with a couple good friends and make sure it sounds natural, and not like a bunch of robots having a conversation.
List out your characters and compose individual biographies for them using only quotes from your novel. If you string together every sentence about them and those characters still don’t feel three dimensional, expand upon a few of their traits and throw in a few new ones to make them more true to life.
Once you’ve surveyed those big picture points, you can break out your beloved crimson marker and do a few more passes of your manuscript looking out for misspellings, missed commas, and grammar that doesn’t quite mesh.
Once you’ve edited and elaborated on everything you can, take another quick break before diving into your second draft. Relax knowing that while you’re not finished with the novel writing process, you’ve completed five very big steps!
If you like to keep things simple and relaxed, this five step method to creating your dream novel may be the way to go. The structure is loose and flexible, but gives you tons of room to explore different writing tactics and move at your own speed. Give it a shot, and if you find that five steps is too few, you’ve got tons of room to add a few extra routines of your own.