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How to Write a Novel – Fiction or Non-fiction

Author: Martha Jette

A writer’s desire to put words into sentences, sentences into paragraphs and paragraphs into stories is by no means a mechanical process. It is a force to be reckoned with. You can’t create it, if it isn’t in you and you can’t get rid of it, if you’ve got the bug to write. But turning our vivid thoughts and imagination into solid form can be both challenging and inspiring. The style that you use will depend on whether you have chosen to write a fiction or non-fiction work.


Before you even start writing your book, it is wise to do some research. Do you know if the topic you have in mind is hot right now? Are there similar books on the market and are they selling well? A good way to find out is by reading newspapers, magazines, newsletter and ezines that cater to writers. Join writer’s groups and forums, as well talk to other people in the writing and publishing field. It is wise to be sure you have a potential audience for your book ahead of time.



Fiction writing is base on imagination and if you have a good one, your story will be good. It can also be plot-driven, or based on an idea or concept. The thing to remember as we go through each aspect of fiction writing is that although your story is fantasy, it must still make sense.


The next thing to consider is the physical setting of your story. It must be authentic enough to be believed and include everything from scenery, to atmosphere and perhaps even weather. These elements might have a profound affect on the actions or moods of your characters.


For instance, does your story take place in a run down factory, a dance hall or spaceship? All of these evoke extremely different images. Then you need to ask yourself, do I want my setting to be simply a background or something more powerful?


Choosing the right ‘point of view’ and ‘narrative voice’ for your story is also very important. Writing in the first person, gives the reader the impression that you are personally invested in your story. A third person ‘point of view’ is more detached.


Time is another element that must be established. First of all, what time of day is it? Although you don’t need to specifically state that it’s 2 p.m., your story must indicate through other details that it is mid-afternoon. Different time periods immediately create pictures in the minds of readers. For instance, there is a world of difference between Washington in 2006 and Boston in the 1800s.


Next, the characters in your story must be considered. Are they the primary focus, rather than the plot? Who is the main character and how will you write your book to show that this person is the most important? A good way to answer these questions is to write down character outlines. Describe not only how they look, but also their character traits (strengths and weaknesses), personality, views and moods.


Your main character will be the one who is most affected in the story and/or plays the biggest role. He or she will be the one with the most force of action, the biggest problem, the most painful hurt or seeking to accomplish the most tantamount goal. This is the character that you want your readers to know best, to perhaps identify with and to care about. Then unless you are placing yourself in the story, decide which character will tell the tale. This is the ‘viewpoint character’ and the reader will experience the story through this character’s eyes. It is also possible to have more than one ‘viewpoint character.’


Next, consider the plot or story line. How will you let the plot unfold in a natural way and follow it through to the end? Where and at what point will the climax occur? Will there by semi-climaxes as the story moves along and at what points? If you are writing a plot-based story, the intricacies of the plot will be what create the most interesting tale. This, of course, will take some planning. In this case, it helps to write out your game plan ahead of time.


Dialogue is a vital aspect of any written work, as it can really bring out the personalities of your characters. It can also serve to fill in necessary information, without just stating it, it can be used to establish the time and place, and also to develop conflicts between characters. Whatever its purpose, writing dialogue is something that can be difficult to create, if you haven’t done it before. Don’t try to recreate actual conversations, as they’ll likely be very boring and annoying. For instance, most people repeat certain phrases and non-words like ‘um,’ ‘aha’ or ‘you see.’


I’m sure you’ve heard the term “double speak” at some point. In dialogue, it means that what your characters say and what they really mean are two different things. What are your characters saying “between the lines” or “subtext?” This can happen when one or more of your characters don’t really understand themselves or their own motivation. Showing a different side to a character through dialogue will tell the reader more about him or her than if you just outright said it. Knowing how to write this kind of dialogue can set you apart from other writers.


Also if your character has a slang or accent, don’t overdo it. Dialogue should also flow, without a lot of ‘he said,’ ‘she said.’ Also try to intersperse your conversations with associated actions. Finally, always remember to begin a new sentence each time another person speaks and put their words in quotations.




Non-fiction writing is based on reality, but is not necessarily factual. This genre includes recreations of true stories, biographies and autobiographies found in such things as books, magazines, newspapers, advertisements and reference books. You might also want to write a how-to book. There are many of them out there on everything from how to loose weight, dance, find the right mate and build a birdhouse, how to improve your golf game, learn to dance, read sheet music or improve your Internet marketing skills, start a business and even how to write.


Non-fiction also includes medical, travel, space books and whole host of other texts. Obviously, the most important aspect of non-fiction writing is to write about what you know best. You must do your homework and become an authority on your subject matter.


You must also have an angle or purpose. Why are you writing it? In answering that question, you must answer the questions: who, what, why, when and how. For instance, if you are writing on how to balance your budget, your purpose is to help people gain control over their finances. You must decide whether you are aiming at the poor, middle class or wealthy. What do they need to know and why? When should they begin their financial planning and how?


For general non-fiction writing, you must decide on the right ‘point of view’ and ‘narrative voice.’ For instance, if you are writing about a personal and painful experience of your own, you might want to present it in the first person. However, if you are not ready to tell the world it was ‘your’ experience, you will need to write it in the third person. If you’re writing an academic book, you might want to write in the third person in a ‘professor’s’ voice. If it is a book about a conspiracy, you might want to adopt a ‘suspicious’ tone.


Next, choose your setting, which for non-fiction writing should be an actual place. If this is not possible, you will need to recreate the setting as closely as possible. Then establish the time element and your character outlines. Again, these must be factual or as close to it as possible. You must then decide on your characters and who is the primary character. What is the plot and how important is it? Will there be actual dialogue in your non-fiction book? If so, make sure that all words, expressions and accents are authentic in relation to the time element. What genre does your book fall into and are you being true to form for that genre?


Finally, although your non-fiction book should be based on facts, you can be just as creative as a fiction writer to keep your writing from being too dry and boring. Don’t be afraid to spice it up a bit, but at the same time stick to the facts.



Assuming that you know what genre or category your writing falls into, there are a few things to consider. You must be aware that there are certain conventions of structure, character and conversation that automatically come with specific genres. For instance, writers of science fiction often use the term “faster-than-light travel” or “warp speed.” The sci-fi writer needs to know how and where such terms are used, if he or she intends to use them. In mystery writing, the plot generally begins with a discovery, such as a dead body and ends when the mystery is solved. A great way to become familiar with the conventions of your particular genre is to read similar books by other writers.


There is much a beginning author needs to know about manuscript style, dealing with writer’s block, tricks to unleash the imagination, writing query letters and book proposals, using photos, the importance of editing and book covers, how to find a publisher and/or book agent, copyright, why you should get a literary critique, book contracts, marketing, advertising and so much more.

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About the Author

Martha Jette is a former newspaper and magazine editor. As a five-time published author, she will lead you by the hand through the entire process of writing, publishing and marketing your work. For more information go to: