4 Things I Work On When I Start a Novel


As I begin writing my next book, I thought it might be cool to share how I start the process. Also, I’d love to hear what steps YOU take when you start a new manuscript.

But enough about you. Back to me…

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What was I thinking about? Oh yes, world domination.

With every new writing project, I’ve been fine-tuning my approach. I’ve got an attack plan now, and the list below is it.

Disclaimer: I’m no expert on writing a book and haven’t been published. Here, I’m sharing what I learn and struggle with as I work toward the goal of improving my craft and getting published.

There’s a bit of bad news with this list, though. I still struggle. It’s coming a bit easier. But there are things I’m working on that will, hopefully, make my manuscripts better.

1. GMC

Goal-Motivation-Conflict, or GMC for short. When I learned this acronym of awesomeness, it was like the clouds parted, the sun began to shine, and I saw a rainbow of labradoodle puppies.

Once I figure out the GMC for my characters—what they want, why they want it, and what’s standing in their way from getting it—I have the backbone of the story.


The road to a sound GMC is a lot easier when goals are tangible. For instance, he wants to buy the farm. Or she wants to get the promotion. Or she wants to solve the cold case. Or he wants to develop the life-saving vaccine…

“Make your characters want something right away even if it’s only a glass of water.” – Kurt Vonnegut

Tangible goals makes it easier to create actionable items for the hero, as well as obstacles that might be in the way.

Speaking of obstacles…

2. Antagonist

I’ve underestimated the power of the antagonist. I write romance books, which has made it tougher for me to figure out how an antagonist fits in the equation.

Although, with the enemies-to-lovers story I’m working on now, it’s pretty fun to have the protagonists also be each other’s antagonists.

But for good measure, I have a secondary character who will serve as another antagonist, mounting pressure on the heroine and hero, and stirring the pot a little. I have a feeling she’s going to come in handy at turning points in the plot.


3. Trope

I used to think tropes were, well, trite. But not anymore. Now, I love them. They are trends that readers and publishers like. They are battle-tested, tried and true.

I correlate the trope concept to going on vacation, and deciding whether to do the tourist stuff or go off the beaten path.

Yeah, the tourist route may be a little crowded. But it’s a tourist route for a reason. People know they’re going to see the best sights, get the best selfie pics, and stop at the best gelato shop on the way.

Following a trope keeps me grounded and on a path to somewhere good. It’s my novel-version of GPS.


4. Theme

This continues to be tricky for me. There are so many themes out there, it’s daunting to figure out which one is the right one for each story.

Sometimes I don’t figure this out until I start writing the story. On page thirty, I’ll have a lightning-bolt moment, and it’ll become clear.

But getting a good feel for the character’s motivation, and tapping into their background, can also help identify the theme.


The list of items above, for the most part, is how I attack a new story. But the order changes. There’s also a lot of jumping between one item to another. Exploring one item can glean insight into another.

Exploring. That’s a good way of describing this part of the novel-writing process, isn’t it? What do you tackle first when you start writing a manuscript?

Want to check out more? Here’s Part 2 of this post.

Published by Rene Penn

Author. Blogger.

11 thoughts on “4 Things I Work On When I Start a Novel

  1. This is a great post, thanks for sharing. And you’re right GMC is awesome, first time for me for that. Thank you, I foresee it helping me…

    I’m working on my first novel…well it’ll be the first I publish but honestly I’ve tried starting several. NaNoWriMo 2017 helped me kick it into gear and make it official.

    That said, I don’t honestly have a process. An idea comes to mind and I sit down to write what’s in my head then I follow my thoughts from there. I plan to write some posts on how writing works/goes/doesn’t work/is difficult/is exciting (you know just what I mean) for me as well. I appreciate you sharing your insight. But when I don’t already know what I’m going to write about I ask myself questions similar to yours. What is she doing? Why? What’s their background? How did their history get us to where we are today? What does this other character think about this info? I’ve always been more of a pantser but I’ve been recognizing that I need more plotting in my life.

    Look forward to Part 2!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks, eLPy! It sounds like you’re asking all of the right questions as you come up with an idea. I’m going to start using one that you mentioned, “How did their history get us to where we are today?” What a great way to address background–I really like that approach. Thanks for mentioning that.

      It’ll be great if you decide to post about how you approach your writing. I think everyone’s process is different, and we can all learn from each other. Cheers!


      1. Yeah 😊 Happy I was able to help. Asking myself that has taken my story in a cool new direction. I’m excited. I’ll be interested to hear how it effects your story.

        Thanks for the encouragement with my post. 🤗

        Liked by 1 person

  2. My usual M.O. Is to throw down everything I have been mentally imagining for the novel into the page on any order to start with, then doing a plan, which will already have half formed. But your advice sounds a lot more useful. Thanks for the tips.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Reblogged this on Ann Malley and commented:
    Are you starting your novel? Wondering where to begin?

    Check in with my pal, René Penn, for a reality check on how to tackle that beast. Having a defined process is such a blessing. So take the load off and let your creativity fly.

    Write on!

    Liked by 1 person

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