How much of your writing is fiction

Writing a novel - Tips for novelists

Writing a novel: First comes the idea

As a writer, there are many ways in which you can come up with a good idea for a novel, if you can novel want to write. Time and again, writers confess that they got their novel idea from a newspaper article. Dostoevsky admitted, for example, that he was inspired to write his world-famous novel “Guilt and Atonement” based on a newspaper article. Other authors are inspired by their own biography or their profession, such as Ferdinand von Schirach, who is a lawyer. His crime stories are inspired by real life cases he has dealt with. But also historical events, fairy tales or myths and theories are often taken up as an idea when writing a novel. In 2014, Karen Duve devoted herself to Grimm's fairy tales and rewrote them completely, Dan Brown takes up myths and conspiracy theories in each of his novels and Volker Kutscher's novel with a historical background "The Wet Fish" was not only a great bestseller, but also recently became a success adapted as an international television series.

How do you capture ideas for the novel?

First of all, when writing a novel, it is important to systematize ideas in a mind map. This mind map is naturally much too extensive, has perhaps a hundred ramifications and becomes even more extensive through research. This "wild growth" is important in order to see where the really exciting topics are based on the original idea. For example, are there secondary aspects of the topic that are still unknown? Is it possible to have a perspective on the topic that is unusual and that can be taken up for the novel writing?

Fig. 1: "mindmeister" is a free tool for creating mind maps

Now, however, you should rein in the idea and try to roughly sketch it out. For this, authors are always advised to summarize their novel idea in a short sentence. This sentence should not be longer than 20 words. If you have managed to condense the novel idea so far, you can expand it with the novel Scheiben. To do this, you can proceed in such a way that you first expand the short sentence into a paragraph, then into a one-page text and finally that followsWriting a synopsis. In doing so, one should visualize the target group, imagine the characters, the location of the plot and the narrative time and work out the conflict or the goal of the plot.

Content and plot of writing a novel

After the idea or the topic of the Roma is fixed, you have to develop an action. Many first-time novelists think that it is enough to think about how to answer the W questions. But that's not all and an author should never just come up with a linear plot and then put it on paper. A perfect novel plot when writing a novel should be exciting and full of conflict - and that means that a Problem that the protagonist solves by the end of the plot is not enough. Instead, an author should rather put his characters on a problem rollercoaster when writing a novel and show how they cope with the ups and downs (see also the Tips from the Piper publishing house).

Classic three-act drama theory

A classic three-act act, as the ancient philosopher Aristotle devised in his work "Poetics", has established itself as a well-suited plot structure - also in the case of writing a novel. After that, an action is best divided into three acts. In the first act, the characters are introduced and the basic situation is described. A conflict then arises in the second act, which is finally to be resolved in the third act. All three parts should be connected to each other and build on each other. The unity of place and time was also important for Aristotle, as time leaps, changes of location or unforeseen impulses for action seemed to him to be a bad narrative style. In addition, the Aristotelian theory of drama always results in a closed plot, while modern novels can of course also end openly (Prenting 2009).

Five acts - the extension of the theory of drama according to Gustav Freytag

Anyone who is familiar with the plot in the dramas of Shakespeare will, however, find that the plot there is often a bit more complex and runs over more than three acts. This, on the other hand, depicts the theory of drama according to Gustav Freytag. Here, too, the action begins in the first act with the introduction of the most important characters and the sketching of the initial situation. In the first act, referred to as the exposition, the conflict is already hinted at. In the second act, the intensification, the basic conflict intensifies and there follows the exciting moment in which the protagonist gives the final impetus to the later climax of the action through an action, an idea he has expressed, observation or the like.

In the third act there is then the climax of the plot, which is often accompanied by a reversal of the plot. From this point on everything should be or become fundamentally different than it was at the beginning of the plot. The retarding moment then appears in the fourth act. Here there is a delay in the course of the action. Often there is an opportunity for the protagonist to escape the catastrophe, a glimmer of hope appears or the protagonist reflects on his previous actions and considers taking a different path. In fact, the fourth act works towards the disaster or resolution of the plot. So it serves to increase the tension at the end of the plot by delaying it again. In the fifth act there is then a catastrophe or the dissolution of the plot. In modern stories and when writing a novel, the end of the plot can of course also remain open (Freytag 1863).

As an alternative, there are many other options in addition to the possibility of telling a story in a “story-driven” manner. This includes e.g. the travel scheme according to Christopher Vogler, which ties the plot to the journey of a hero. This narrative scheme is known as "character-driven".

Fig. 2: Drama theory in writing a novel

Character or figures when writing a novel

The first thing to do when writing a novel is to think of a profile for each (important) character in the novel. It defines how old a character is, how he looks, how he walks and speaks, what he likes to do and other characteristics. In addition, as an author when writing a novel, you should carefully consider what résumé the character has and what he has already experienced.

Of course, when writing a novel, it is important that you know your characters well and this is especially true for the protagonist. But at the same time a character not only has to be coherent and interesting, it also has to function in the novel. That is why it is helpful, for example, if a protagonist also has an antagonist, i.e. an opponent. This opponent has the function of making the actions of the protagonist difficult, stopping or impossible. But it is also there to give the protagonist even more profile. It is the foil against which the character traits of the protagonist become even clearer. The biggest difference between the protagonist and the antagonist is the goal or their intentions. This goal is arguably the most important quality of any character. After all, it is not the specific character traits of a character that make an action in novel writing exciting or alone can advance it, but rather the goals that a character pursues.

Determine the time and place of the novel

Most authors use what they already know when writing a novel. That is, they will leave the storyline in their home country, or maybe even set the storyline in their own hometown or a city they know. It is initially easier to set a fictional plot in a setting that is not fictional and that you know like the back of your hand. As an author, you certainly also know the mood, the atmosphere, the exact topography and can, for example, assess how far it is from A to B, which people you could meet here and what is characteristic of this place.

For similar reasons, many authors choose the present as the time for their novel when writing a novel. Here, too, the most important argument for the present is that one is familiar with this time. This means that important political and socio-cultural backgrounds of the epoch are known and can be used to write novels without having to consciously understand or research them. In addition, our own presence is shaped by technical innovations, etc., which determine the speed of our communication or our locomotion. Many authors therefore find it difficult not to use a parameter for communication and mobility that they are used to when writing a novel.

In contrast, when it comes to writing a novel, it can also be very exciting to invent a time and a place where your own rules apply, to travel back in time or into the future or to have an action played in a strange place in the world . Imagination and a lot of research are required here. Nevertheless, it is just as demanding to write a novel that depicts the present or a real place so precisely that one might think that the plot is not fictional but happened exactly as it is.

Revision of the novel writing

When a novel is finished as a text, that doesn't mean that the novel is really finished. No text is perfect if you just write it down. Once you have finished writing a text, you have to revise it. Not once, but very often - until it is actually finished.

Shortening the plot in a novel

First of all, when writing a novel, you should read your own text again and, above all, shorten it, regardless of language or spelling. Many authors find this very difficult, but they should still ask themselves what is really important for the plot in their novel and what is a storyline that is actually superfluous or leads nowhere. Since most of the texts are too long anyway, you manage to tease out the core of the novel and limit yourself to the essentials. After all, nothing is worse in novel writing than a plot that has its lengths or a subplot that slows down the main plot.

Fact check for the novel

Then you should invest some time in writing a novel to do a fact check.

The aim of the fact check in writing a novel is not to raise a novel to the level of a historical non-fiction book, for example. Many authors make use of historical figures or contexts and then deal freely with the historical facts. That is of course perfectly fine. Well-known facts should be true when writing a novel. Anyone who lets Columbus sail off with the aim of discovering America not only makes an embarrassing mistake, but also does not exploit the structural problems that historical material has in store for the author in writing for his novel.

If you have relocated the plot of writing a novel to a foreign country, you should also focus on the details and keep them correct. Otherwise the reader does not feel like they have been transferred to the respective place and the novel is not consistent. For example, the author Andy Weir - when asked about his e-book "Der Martinaner", which was filmed by Hollywood - admitted: "I am petty about science. It really knocks me out of a story when I see mistakes. And I wanted to spare my readers that. "(Source:

And even if you are writing about a fictional place or about the future, you should check again whether the names of the characters and family relationships have remained consistent in the novel writing, whether a journey from A to B takes the same length in the entire novel and similar Correlations are right. All of this makes it much easier for the reader to identify with the plot of the novel.

Read the novel aloud

Now it's about the language. The best way to find out if a novel is good is to read it out loud. First of all, it is enough to read the novel aloud to yourself. How does the text sound? Is the sentence melody weird, is there a good rhythm? Are you barely breathing enough to read a sentence to the end? Then it is too long and should be shortened. Especially with the dialogues in the novel, you should pay close attention to whether the language of the characters suits them. You can also adjust the voice and let the characters speak as you saw them in front of you. Would you speak like that? Should they actually have a dialect? Then that must also be taken into account when writing a novel.

An important tip here is also: "Kill your darlings". Often one is particularly proud of certain formulations or word creations and finds that a single sentence has been turned particularly finely. However, these are exactly the sentences, formulations and words that are probably best thrown out. What seems better than the rest is often just artificial and does not fit the overall text. Perhaps a sentence sounds like Thomas Mann, for example, but if the rest of the novel is written in the style of Sven Regner, it has to go!

In the next step, you can read your novel (or parts of it) to a friendly test audience. If you read to others, you immediately put on their glasses and read the text with strange eyes. Are certain passages embarrassing to read or do not feel good - maybe they are not written well enough? You can also include feedback on the novel. But you shouldn't be discouraged if the novel doesn't appeal to everyone.

Linguistic optimization for the novel

However, before an author sends his novel to a publisher or a publishing agent, he should also have the spelling, orthography, Grammar and punctuation optimize your text. There are several reasons for this. On the one hand, flawless spelling makes a text easier to read, since every mistake is an irritation for the reader that needs to be avoided. On the other hand, a text that has not been corrected does not look particularly professional. A text that still contains typing errors makes a sloppy impression and gives the impression that you have sent a manuscript without spending a lot of time - just like that. An impression that is not only wrong, after all, you have spent months or even years with the novel, but also reduced the chances of success with the publisher or agent. Another argument in favor of careful proofreading is that perfect use of the language includes knowledge of spelling, grammar and punctuation. If you show weaknesses here, this also quickly leads to a rejection by the publisher or the agent.

Because spelling, grammar, and punctuation are so important in a novel, one should also consider whether it would be worth doing that Roman proofreading have it done by a professional text service. After all, this is where experienced text professionals work who can quickly take on what an author is often difficult to do due to operational blindness. This saves a lot of time shortly before submitting the novel and can then submit the novel with a clear conscience. It also makes perfect sense to read the novel one Plagiarism check to be subjected to in order to be absolutely sure that non-distinctive sentences come from other sources.


Freytag, Gustav (1863): Technique of Drama, Leipzig.

Prenting, Melanie (2009): Drama Theory: From the Beginning to the Present, Braunschweig.