People often picture novelists sitting at their desks with their fingers rapidly typing and words coming out of them as if by magic, or they picture them sitting at their desks, head in their hands and unable to get any words out. We’ve all seen them in movies. It might be cliche, but those two extremes do happen sometimes. I think most of the time, though, our designated writing time looks a lot more varied that that.

So, what do novelists really do?

First, they need a spark of an idea, which they can kindle into a roaring fire. The idea might begin with a setting, a character, a theme, a news event, etc. Regardless of what sparked it, the writer must create characters, one or more settings, the time period, the characters’ goals, the story goal, the plot, the theme, just to mention of few of the main ingredients.

They have to decide whether they’ll write in present tense or past tense. Who the main characters will be. What point-of-view they’ll use to tell the story. Will they use multiple points of view or a single one?

If it’s a fantasy or sci-fi story, they may have to create an entire world with its own laws and values. If it’s a crime novel or mystery, they may have to create the surface story and the hidden story–i.e., the detective is searching for clues to solve a case, so it might be that only the surface story is shown, but the writer must also know who the killer is and the details that the killer is hiding. The mystery writer will have to present clues and red-herrings (false clues) and intrigue.

For almost all kinds of stories, the writer has to figure out how to show the story–meaning, how to actually make the reader see the story in their mind as if watching a movie. To do that, the writer must show enough details of setting and thoughts. It’s not an easy thing to do, and it usually requires the writer to visualize the story in their own head first and figure out how to find the right words to get it onto the page.

The writer must also figure out the perfect point in which to begin the story. This sometimes means they will write pages or even chapters and then discard some of what they’ve written until they find that exactly perfect spot. They will also need to find a good hook, that perfect something that will intrigue the reader from the first page and entice them to keep reading.

Of course, the writer must also be concerned with grammar and punctuation and word choice and any number of elements of good writing, such as using vibrant verbs and sensory details (sound, smell, taste, etc.). Much of that can be worked on during re-writes/edits.

All of the above are just some of the things novelists have to do when creating their books. It’s not easy to remember everything and it’s not easy to do them, either, but we write novels because we truly love creating stories for ourselves and others to enjoy.

I hope this will help beginning writers understand the process and not get discouraged. It takes time to learn it all. I also hope this will help readers realize how much effort it takes to create a novel and see why writers appreciate reviews and feedback.