writing quill

7 Questions to Ask Yourself as You Write Your Novel

With National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) approaching, many writers are preparing for a novel-writing marathon. Whether or not you’re participating in NaNoWriMo this year, there are some important questions you should ask yourself as you plan and write your novel. Whether you’re the type of person to meticulously follow the Snowflake Method or you just have a few thoughts about what you want to write, here are seven questions to ask yourself as you plan and write your novel.

1. Does your main character (and every other character) have a goal?
Kurt Vonnegut famously said, “Every character should want something, even if it is only a glass of water.” If your characters don’t have goals, dreams, and desires, they don’t seem real. So as you think about your characters, make sure you know what they want. That will inform their words and actions. And your main character’s goals will drive the whole story.

2. Does your main character have agency?
Make sure your main character has agency. It’s hard to go on an adventure with a character who can’t do anything, doesn’t get to make her or his own choices, and has to be repeatedly saved.

3. Does your main character grow?
While your character needs to have some kind of agency, it’s also important for your character to have room to learn and grow throughout the story. Ask yourself how your character grows, and what will happen to make your character change. How will your character fail, how will she pick herself up and try again, and what does she learn from the obstacles around her?

4. Did you do your research?
Maybe your story doesn’t require much research. If you’re participating in NaNoWriMo, you’ll be writing nonstop, as quickly as you can. And even if you’re writing a novel at a more leisurely pace, it helps to do your research first. You don’t want to write a whole first draft and then realize an important plot point or character must be completely rewritten because you didn’t do enough research up front. Whether you’re writing something set in a historical time period, or writing a character from a different background than you are from, some research up front will save you a lot of revision later on.

5. Do you know the rules of your world?
Especially if you’re writing science fiction or fantasy, make sure you understand the world you’re writing about. Incomplete worldbuilding can rip readers out of the story and break their suspension of disbelief, and while you can always go back and smooth out rough patches of worldbuilding, it’s easier to make sure you have an idea of your fictional world up front.

6. Are you writing a book you’d want to read?
This may seem like a no-brainer, but remember that you’re going to be spending a lot of time working on your novel. First, during NaNoWriMo, you’ll be spending many hours writing, then you’ll probably spend months reading and revising your novel. Remember to create characters you enjoy writing and spending time with, and a story that you’d like to read yourself. And if you’re having trouble coming up with ideas, ask yourself what book you wish existed, but doesn’t. Then write that book.

7. Do you know your characters?
You don’t need to know everything about every character yet. They’ll reveal themselves as you write. But you need to know something. In addition to characters’ goals, what are their flaws? What do they do for fun? Where are they from? What do they love? What do they hate? What do they look like? You don’t have to go crazy crafting detailed character sketches, but knowing some basic facts about your characters from the beginning will save you time later on. Even something as simple as changing a character’s hair color halfway through writing means that in revisions, you’d have to track all mentions of that character’s hair and make sure it’s consistent. You’ll save yourself revising time if you have an idea of your characters from the beginning.

If you’re preparing to write a novel, don’t panic. You’re about to embark on a journey with characters you love, and if you can answer the seven questions here, then you have a good idea of where those characters are headed, what they’ll do when they get there, and how their stories will end. You’ve got this!

What do you do to prepare to write a novel? What questions are do you ask yourselves about your stories? What planning exercises have you been finding useful?

Author spotlight

Christine Barcellona

Editor / I blog and edit for Swoon Reads, plus I'm the editor for our paperback line, Square Fish. Find …

See More