How To Write a Novel In Four Dubious Steps

By Marla Bingcang:

You have an idea, don't you? and you want to write a novel? That's cute. Well, I’ll have you know that I’ve read four novels at least, and my teacher once drew a smiley face on my English homework when I was seven. Because my mental age hasn’t progressed since then, I can formally declare myself qualified to instruct you on how to write a novel in only four steps.

The first step is to start writing it. By that, I mean you should begin writing it after you’ve

finished binging twenty episodes of the Generic Teen Netflix series. Also, after you’re done

eating dinner. And when you’re done playing that game that’s been rotting away on your

computer, that's when you can start. You’ll do it eventually.


The next step, obviously, is to start your novel at the beginning. But for some people, the

very beginning isn’t “beginning” enough, so they write a prologue. A prologue is an excellent

tool because it can be used to foist all the content you want to write about without actually

weaving into the narrative. That would require effort, which is a word unfortunately excluded

from your vocabulary to make room for the said-is-dead-syndicate.

This is especially a good move because abolishes the element of discovery, crams it all

into gratuitous blocks of text, and tap dances all over the corpse of showing-versus-telling. This is called an “info dump” because unenlightened folks believe it belongs in the toilet. They say that worldbuilding and backstory should exist to serve the narrative, so refrain from letting dominate the story, but this is objectively false! Your three-page essay on the history of your fantasy nation should be placed at the forefront, while your plot serves as the faded, moth-eaten stage curtain because nothing is more engaging than a history lecture.

Now that we know how and where your protagonist’s parents had their first date, learned

about the geological events which formed the continent, and immersed ourselves thoroughly into the wonderful world of the fantasy IRS, we can move on to the actual beginning of your novel—chapter one, page fifty-eight.

In your first chapter, you’ll want to establish what the status-quo looks like for your

protagonist. This juxtaposes against the unfamiliar circumstances will find him or herself in

when you introduce the inciting incident. Of course, you should accomplish this by describing

your character’s morning routine, from the very point he or she wakes up, in excruciating detail. The horrible metallic wailing you hear is the sound of your pace grinding to a halt so abruptly that you’re sanding the wheels with friction. There are no more concise ways of establishing this. Who cares anyway? Personally, brushing my teeth is the most interesting part of my day. I’m sure many readers would appreciate the second-hand discomfort of morning breath.

The beginning of your novel is also an excellent place to describe your protagonist's

appearance. This is a most pressing matter, and it should take priority over—oh, I don’t

know—displaying important character traits? The best method of describing appearances is by having your protagonist gaze into a mirror. Or a pond. Or a shard of glass. Literally any

reflective surface. This may seem a little strange/contrived/conceited (take your pick!), but rest

assured that normal people regularly make detailed notes on their appearances. Every day after I wake up, I always have to remind myself that my hair is raven-black and that my eyes are a deep, caramel brown. Like wet dirt.

There is an art to descriptions, so be wary. Always ensure that you delve into great detail

and simultaneously none at all. You can do this by choosing a color, entering that word into an

online thesaurus, then selecting the fanciest sounding synonym with the highest syllable count. Don’t forget to disregard their wildly different connotations! This way, your readers will think you’re smart. They will not at all see beyond your thinly veiled ploy to bolster that gluttonous ego of yours. After stapling on five adjectives and a cliche simile (just to be absolutely sure that, aided the telepathic powers of the thesaurus, you have successfully superimposed your imagination on top of your reader’s), behold! I can picture your character SO VIVIDLY in my mind’s eye. Your reader would certainly not skip over your sprawling chunks of text. Never. Why would they?

According to federal law, you must always describe the hair and eye color first. Without

this crucial knowledge, readers will be so pressed for an answer that they won’t be able to focus on the rest of the book. I cannot stress this enough; in fact, it has been scientifically proven by scientists from the University of Science that human brains cannot handle the strain and will literally begin to melt as a defense mechanism. This law only applies to hair and eye color though. All other traits are optional. For example, Voldemort is known best for his piercing red gaze. I really can’t think of another more iconic trait of his.

At this point, you may ask yourself what kind of person lays behind your protagonist’s


Uh, that doesn’t really matter. Just, model him or her after yourself, but snarkier... or

something. People don’t read novels to relate to a character’s struggles and emotions. The

purpose of a novel, other than the author’s self-aggrandizing, is to attend a fashion show for the blind. If for some reason you're going through the trouble of actually characterizing your

protagonist, tell the readers their personality traits directly. If Suzy likes to burn kittens on

Tuesdays, but the author swears that she’s a sweet little girl, the reader will naturally side with

the very reliable author. Words speak louder than actions because I said so. Aside from

undermining the author’s claims, actions can hypothetically strengthen them too. I would like to restate that this is a hypothetical notion. Generally, you should always assume that audiences are incapable of drawing their own conclusions because you can’t either.

The third step: lay down the plot. Sometimes writers plan, sometimes they pants, but you

don’t do either. Every plot should have conflict—except yours. You’re that talented. You’re

gonna write something, and it will be cohesive and have a satisfying conclusion, you swear!

You’ve got an idea, but it’s not like you need to develop that idea any further. It’s kind of like

how complete sentences need both a subject and a verb, except when you write them.

In the hypothetical case that your story does have conflict, what should it be about? Oh,

what to choose! There’s external conflict and internal conflict. Maybe you should examine the

needs and desires of your characters and how that may conflict with other elements.

Nah, that scrap that. The conflict should arise because your protagonist is good and your

antagonist is evil. Maybe your protagonist even represents a certain ideology and your antagonist is made of straw. The world is black and white. I can’t begin to imagine that you could inject any enrichment to a story by addressing different perspectives, exploring numerous themes, or by examining the consequences that your conflict may entail. Anyway, there’s no space for these complexities in a subplot, for example. Save the subplots for when you wanna make your characters kiss.

As a rule of thumb, your protagonist should never play an active role in the story. That’s

the antagonist’s job. Newton's first law states that every object will remain at rest or in uniform

motion in a straight line unless compelled to change its state by the action of an external force, and this applies to your protagonist because, at this point, your reader will feel like they’re reading about an inanimate object. It’s really satisfying when characters take no initiative to reach their goals. Oh, and an even better idea! What if all your protagonist's successes were serendipitous? Everyone roots for the lucky, just like how everyone loves rich teenagers!

Step four: end your story. Whether you think you will or won’t, you always won’t. In

some cases, your manuscript is a speeding car skidding on an icy road. Look, it has just torn

through the guardrails, is soon to tumble down the rocky cliffside and into the

well-past-six-hundred-pages zone with no sign of stopping! Other times, your manuscript is

sitting on your computer and collecting fine gray dust. The dust is actually made out of grounded dreams (you won’t discover that until it’s too late).“I’ll get to it eventually,” you say, draped along with your Cheeto-stained couch. You wrestle with your conscience before your willpower ultimately collapses and you click the next video in your Youtube recommended section. You will finish your novel eventually.


Some recommend a fifth step: revising. That’s probably not important though. After all,

writing is merely a stroll through a field of sunshine, flowers, and leprechaun-run lottery scams. Creative expression is not mentally taxing, nor is it deeply frustrating. I have never cried while writing. Essentially, genius should flow easily from your fingertips and immediately weave itself into a masterpiece; if it doesn’t you’re probably just not cut out to be a writer. You know, in the same way that world-class musicians never practice and like how Leonardo Da Vinci painted the Mona Lisa in the second trimester of the womb. Skills are entirely determined by innate talent and cannot be fostered beyond your base abilities. Your first draft should be enough.

Run along now, little one. Don’t be discouraged. Write your novel. Seriously, write your

novel. Write anything, really. Treat writing like a first partner, it’s a little awkward because

you’re inexperienced, it definitely won’t be the best, but it’s something you have to get through to progress. The only thing I know for certain is that if you make something, you will have improved much more than the version of you who did nothing at all. Oh, and I also know this: The writing was the first battle. Publishing is a different war. At least, so I’ve heard. I

wouldn’t be too worried though.

If Twilight can get published, anything can.

*Note: this piece was awarded a gold key by the Scholastic Art & Writing Awards.