Developing a Novel

I’ve been asked recently just how I go about planning and writing a novel. It’s not an easy question to answer, as I don’t always do it the same way. I decided, though, to explain how I’m going about planning and writing not just any novel but the novel I’m currently writing. I’m only about a third of the way through, and I haven’t done much work on it lately because I’ve been busy promoting Seduction of the Scepter. However, I will be buckling down and working much more on it in the coming days and weeks.

The novel is a fantasy novel in the Arucadi series. I’ve titled it A Mix of Magics. Bear in mind that the title may change, either because I come up with something better or because a publisher doesn’t like the title and requests a change.

Currently, the published books in the Arucadi series are A School for Sorcery, A Perilous Power, When the Beast Ravens, and Bryte’s Ascent. A Perilous Power is the prequel to A School for Sorcery; it is actually the earliest book in the Arucadi timeline. However, two earlier novels, already accepted by my publisher, Double Dragon, are the actual beginnings of the Arucadi series, and A Mix of Magics will follow them.

I’ve had the idea for this novel for some time, but until the two preceding books were accepted for publication there seemed no point in trying to write it. Now I’m eager to get it written. The basic plot is that a villain from the preceding book,  who was left in  a presumably safe place where he could do no more harm, has escaped from that place and is seeking revenge on those who put them there. They have to foil his plot and either kill him or reimprison him, this time much more securely.

Okay, that’s the plot but it’s really bare bones. I have to decide several things. Obviously, I know who my antagonist is, but who is the protagonist? The protagonist of the preceding novel was Ed Robbins, but that novel went into several viewpoints and had a large cast of characters. The protagonist of the first novel in the series was Kyla Cren, and that entire novel was told in her viewpoint. How will I write this novel? All in one person’s viewpoint, like the first novel, or in many viewpoints like the second and immediately preceding novel?

I decide on several viewpoints, bearing in mind that each viewpoint character must be the principal character of a subplot. The first novel was fairly straight-forward without a lot of subplots; the second novel had several. This new novel will be more like the second in that respect. So whose viewpoints will I go into and who will be the protagonist? I’m not sure, and the idea for the whole novel is at this point still rather nebulous, but I know that some of the principal characters of the preceding novel will carry over into this one and that several new characters will be introduced.


At the end of the preceding novel,  Ed and Marta marry and move away to settle down and live a quiet and peaceful life. Kyla takes in Veronica, a young girl (9 years old at that time) who is highly talented but does not know how to control magical abilities that can be extremely dangerous. Kyla, Veronica, and two other principal characters head for another city where Kyla intends to establish a community of the magically gifted.

I start the new novel five years after the end of the preceding one. Kyla, Veronica, and their two friends are living in the large west coast city of Port-of-Lords, and they have established a Gifted Community there. Ed and Marta have a happy life in a small town in central Arucadi, their happiness marred only by the fact that they have not been able to conceive a child. In the novel’s opening chapter they receive a letter from Kyla saying that she has an orphaned infant girl in need of adoptive parents, and if they are willing to take her, they must come to Port of Lords to get her.

So that is the set-up. Kyla, Marta, Ed, and Veronica are principal characters of the new novel, and I already know a great deal about their backgrounds from the previous novels. But which of them will be the protagonist? Not knowing that answer as yet, I start writing. I write the first chapter, consisting primarily of the receipt of the letter, Ed and Marta’s reaction to it, and their decision to leave immediately for Port-of-Lords. I go on to write the second chapter, by now having decided what the first plot complication will be–the kidnapping of the baby on her Naming Day. In the second chapter Marta and Ed arrive at Port-of-Lords, are greeted by Kyla, Veronica, and friends, see the baby girl, fall in love with her, and decide to name her Dreama. They make plans for her Naming Day.

So what’s a Naming Day? I have to do some background here, deciding just what this practice is and how it is observed. Is it a religious rite? Or merely a tradition? What beliefs surround it? So I work all this out, writing it into my notes before I continue writing. When I have it worked out, I write the chapter, but in writing it I see that members of the magically gifted community that Kyla has established would be guests invited to the Naming Day ceremony. So who are these people and what are their gifts? I have to work all that out and develop a list of these characters, who will include major and minor characters. I have to know what their magical gifts are and how well they are trained in their use. So I work on that enough that I can write the third chapter in which the Naming Day Ceremony takes place, immediately after which baby Dreama disappears along with her wet nurse and Kyla, Marta, and Ed quickly discover who the kidnapper is.

I still haven’t decided on a protagonist. At first I think it may be Veronica, who by this time is 14 years old and a typical teenager with respect to being moody, rebellious, and convinced that she knows more than her elders. But if Veronica is the protagonist, the novel may be labeled Young Adult, and I don’t want that. So I decide that Kyla should be the protagonist, although Veronica will have a very important role.

I am still not ready, however, to continue writing. I have decided that a major plot complication, one that continues throughout the novel, should be that the various members of the Gifted Community, eager to help recover the child, should use their gifts in varying ways and despite meaning well, get in one another’s way and actually hinder the search. That’s when I get the idea to title the novel  A Mix of Magics.

Now I have to do much more extensive work on these characters. I need to know their backgrounds, their ages, their relations with one another, their feelings about their magical abilities, their wants, their fears, etc. And I need to know each one’s relative importance in the story. That is the point at which I presently am in the writing.

I do not outline; I go about the writing step by step. However, I do know how the novel will end. I have known that from the beginning. I hope to write other volumes in the series, and I know how the entire series must end. And this novel’s ending will tie into the series’ ending. So although I don’t have an outline, I do have a definite trajectory to follow. How to get from here to there will come as I work out background details on characters, places, and motivations. Some of these details, perhaps most of them, will never appear in the novel itself. They are worked out and written down in my notes for my benefit, to guide me as to how the characters will act and react in response to the problems they encounter.

So that is a description of how I go about writing a novel. Or at least this particular novel. It’s the method that works best for me. It isn’t the way all writers work, by any means. Every writer has to find the method that works best for him or her and not worry about what other writers do. But we can learn from each other so long as we recognize that no one holds the magical key to success. We have to stumble along, finding our own way, and hoping for the best.

I do hope this lengthy exposition helps some of you. Let me know if you find it helpful.


About E. Rose Sabin

Fantasy and science fiction author.
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5 Responses to Developing a Novel

  1. So, you DO have an end in mind before you start. And, you have a beginning by virtue of these already-established characters, who are a carry over. And actually, you already know exactly, almost exactly, what will happen in between, because this is probably a character driven plot. Consequently, you know exactly how the characters will behave in any given circumstance; they will simply follow their character traits.
    The antagonist will do what it is he does, and the protagonists will simply respond characteristically.
    I think my trouble is a moving target. First, I have no previous events upon which to draw, but of course, that can be cured as it is revealed as the story progresses. And, I have only a couple of specific characters, but I do have something of a profile for them. So, I know how they are going to behave.
    But, I don’t have a specific end. It keeps shifting on me. I get an idea and get started, then I get a better idea and start again, and again, and again. Before you know it, I can’t even recognize what I was trying to do in the first place. I think this is why I need that end and I need to make if firm. And I need a firm outline………or not. Argh!

    • Terry, it’s true that I know how this novel must end, but I’ve written novels that I didn’t know the end of until close to that end (Mistress of the Wind is one ) or that I thought I knew how they’d end and they wound up ending very differently (The Gift of the Trinde Tree is an example). By the way, Mistress of the Wind is not yet published but is currently with my publisher and being edited. It is the true first novel of the Arucadi series. But for me it is knowing the characters, doing extensive background work on them so I know what they would do and how they would react that moves the plot to a conclusion. In the case of The Gift of the Trinde Tree, the ending I’d anticipated simply could not happen, given the characters’ personalities, interests, attitudes, etc. And it turned out much better and was a better lead in to the third book of the Terrano Trilogy (it’s the second) than it would have, had I forced the ending I had originally planned. And of course when I start a novel that is not a part of a series (as Seduction of the Scepter is not), I don’t have anything already established and have to build plot, characters, resolution from whatever germ of an idea I set out with.

      • I understand. I guess I just have to force the issue and move forward and start writing using a word goal or page goal for each day. I just need to make some progress.

      • I have one more question. I have heard you read from your manuscripts several times in the past but have not actually read one of your works in its entirety, so I have to ask this quetion. Do your works have any kind of a message beyond the entertainment value?

      • I am sorry that I can’t think to write all this in one reply. I just wanted to mention that I appreciate you writing this and explaining how to tackle the writing challenge. It was good and helpful. Thanks for writing it.

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