6 Unconventional Ways to Write a Novel

writing a novel

The number of ways to write a novel is limitless. In fact, it can be argued that there are no wrong ways to write a novel. Some writers are “planners” and outline their novels from chapter to chapter, scene by scene. Other writers are “pantsers” and write “by the seat of their pants”—or, more literally, discover the story as they write it, without following an outline. Furthermore, there are writers like me who are a combination of the two called “plantsers,” and outline the main plot points of the novel and discover in real time what lies in between.

No matter whether you are a planner or a pantser, or anything in between, you have probably encountered writer’s block. Perhaps you’re not sure what happens between the second plot point and the climax, and you can’t write any further until you find out. Or, perhaps your characters are refusing to tell you the key to completing their character arc. All writers go through a period where they are lacking inspiration or motivation. Here are 6 unconventional methods to help you write a novel when you have writer’s block.

RELATED READ: How to Come Up With a Killer Plot Twist

1. Create Your Characters

Characters and the decisions they make drive the narrative forward, so it’s important to know who they are and what they want in life. If you’re struggling with naming your characters, look up meanings on baby naming websites and match your character with a name that is telling about their personality or culture. If their personality is still unclear to you, a unique way to get to know your characters is to take the free 16 Personalities test from the perspective of your character. Understanding whether your character is a strategic “Architect,” an enthusiastic and creative “Campaigner,” a practical “Logistician,” or a spontaneous “Entertainer” will help paint you a picture of their strengths, weaknesses, and desires. Once you understand their personality, browse images of actors and celebrities who might look like your character. Create a Pinterest board with images of their hair and eye color, their clothes, and their hobbies. Let your imagination soar.

2. Make an Aesthetic Board

Another use for Pinterest is to create an aesthetic mood board that captures the atmosphere of your novel. Think about your setting(s) and major themes, tools, and overall vibe of your novel. For example, if your novel’s is an urban rom-com, think warm colors, sunshine, and pastel colors combined with skyscrapers, cozy apartments, and vibrant streetlights. On the other hand, if you’re writing a thriller, think cooler colors, rainstorms, and graveyards. Think about the images in your head and transfer it into a visual medium. This will make your abstract concepts become more concrete.

3. Write Scenes Out of Order

Believe it or not, you don’t have to be confined to writing your novel in a linear fashion. If you get stuck in the middle of a chapter, tag it as an unfinished scene and come back to it later. If you’re a visual person like me, you can write your chapter summaries on notecards and lay them out, reorder them as needed, or even organize them based on the chapter’s POV character. You can do this on standard notecards, or digitally on a writing software like Scrivener. Write the scenes as they come to you, then reorder them later.

4. Create a Playlist

If your novel were a movie, what would be the soundtrack? Find music that fits the “atmosphere” of your novel, or even individual characters. Listen to the lyrics, pay attention to the instruments, and let your mind wander around the world you’re building. Think of it as a “mood board” for your ears. Create a playlist specifically for your novel or different characters. If your novel takes place in our world, what music might your characters have listened to? If your novel takes place in a fictional world, what music best fits the atmosphere? Go down a musical rabbit hole and find songs that fit the “flavors” of your novel.

RELATED READ: How to start a story: Tips and ideas

5. Write From a Different Character’s POV

If you’ve reached a block with your protagonist, try writing from a different character’s point of view. How might your protagonist’s friend, family member, or even antagonist or, perhaps, a minor character, react to the events of the story? This opens up a new world of possibilities, because each character has their own personality traits, background, and experiences that will affect the way they react to different plot elements or other characters. Sometimes you will realize that the novel was lacking something that a new character’s POV will fix—or it will just be an exercise to foster your creativity. Whether or not it makes it into the final draft, you will gain insight into your novel just from approaching it in a different way.

6. Experiment with Form

Sometimes writing paragraph after paragraph of prose can feel overwhelming. Experimenting with hybrid forms might spark inspiration for you because it allows you to think about the way the narration can be conveyed. Consider writing your novel in verse, vignettes, or an epistolary form. Writing a novel in verse means the narration is conveyed through poetry. Many well known verse novels are in the YA genre, such as Crank by Ellen Hopkins and What My Mother Doesn’t Know by Sonya Sones. Writing a novel in vignettes use short descriptions, accounts, or episodes that connect into an entire narrative arc. These are found in books such as In the Dream House by Carmen Maria Machado. An epistolary form entails writing the novel only using letters or diary entries, such as Dracula by Bram Stoker or The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky. There are numerous other forms you can experiment with. Try writing a scene in your novel using one of these forms as a writing exercise. Perhaps you may even find that your novel is more effective using this form!

These are only six methods you can try when writing your novel, and there are many more. Use these methods when you don’t know what comes next or your novel becomes stale. You might find that one or more of these methods helps you overcome writer’s block, find new perspectives, and foster your creativity.

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