The Novel Writing Roadmap: A Guest Post by Katja Kaine

In this guest post, writer Katja Kaine breaks down her process for writing a novel from developing an idea to editing the final draft!The following is a guest post from Katja Kaine, writer, blogger, and creator of The Novel Factory writing software.

When I first started writing a novel, I felt like I was stumbling around in the dark.

I wandered around for a while making a lot of false starts, finding dead ends, backtracking, and staring into the darkness. But slowly, I learned the lay of the land as I wrote my first novel. Rather than repeat this tedious and time-consuming process for each subsequent novel, I decided I needed to plan a more concise route for next time.

And so my Novel Writing Roadmap was born.

It describes each of the steps I follow to take my novel from concept to completed manuscript. It’s the guide I wish I had been handed when I first started, and I hope it will save a lot of headaches for new writers.

In this article I’ll be giving you an overview of my novel-writing process. To help make this process easier, I’ve also developed the Novel Factory software to give writers extra guidance and support, and you can learn the full details about that here.

It’s important to know that this method will not teach you to write well. I don’t go into a lot of detail about showing not telling, adverb use, punctuation and grammar, and all that jazz. It also cannot give you good ideas or write your novel for you. What it will do is teach you how to turn your story idea into a fully-fledged, well-structured manuscript. It is a map, and you will have to do the walking.

Here is an overview of the steps:

  1. Premise
  2. Skeleton
  3. Character Introductions
  4. Short Synopsis
  5. Extended Synopsis
  6. Goal to Decision Cycle
  7. Character Development
  8. Location Development
  9. Advanced Plotting
  10. Character Viewpoints
  11. Scene Blocking
  12. First Draft
  13. Theme and Variation
  14. Second Draft
  15. Final Draft

Now we’ll look at each step in more detail.


Right. Let’s get started. You’ve probably got an idea for a story. But if your idea is going to turn into a novel we need to make sure it’s got all its arms and legs. So take your idea and make sure it has:

Here’s an example:

  • a protagonist – Joanna the plumber
  • a goal – save earth from alien attack
  • a setting – Earth 2050
  • an antagonist – aliens
  • a disaster – the government turn on her

Put all those ideas into a single sentence, like this: When aliens attack Earth in the year 2050, can Joanna the plumber save the human race before the traitorous government manage to turn her into a scapegoat for the whole disaster?

Outlining the premise in The Novel Factory


There is an established set of story beats that the vast majority of blockbuster movies and books follow to create a satisfying story arc, so I recommend following these closely when you’re first starting out.

Each of these beats can be interpreted in an infinite number of ways, so don’t be worried that it means your story will be like all the others. Also, once you’ve mastered them, you can deviate to your heart’s content. Here they are:

Act 1

  • Introduction to the protagonist’s world
  • Call to action / inciting incident
  • Protagonist commits to the goal

Act 2

  • Mentor teaches the protagonist
  • First challenge
  • Temptation
  • Dark moment

Act 3

  • Final Conflict
  • Return home

Expand your premise to include each of these story beats.

 Character Introductions

Your characters are the life blood of your story, so it’s good to get to know them nice and early. For step three, make notes on all the major characters in your story. Don’t worry about getting too in-depth at this stage, we just need an outline of the key broad brushstrokes of their personality, appearance and motivation. I recommend making notes on at least the following:

  • Name
  • Age
  • Occupation
  • Physical appearance
  • Key character traits
  • Motivation
  • Summary of their role in the story
Developing Characters in The Novel Factory

Short Synopsis

This is simple. Expand your story skeleton until it is about a page long. It should include all the key elements of your plot and anything else you think is important.

Note the word ‘short’. You will be tempted to put in much more, but the short synopsis is deliberately constrained to make you think hard about what is of key importance. You can add in more detail in the next stage.

Extended Synopsis

Now go through the Short Synopsis adding detail until it is about four pages long.

The Goal to Decision Cycle

Before you get too much further with the plot, you need to make sure it’s well structured, and not simply meandering around all over the place. One method of doing this is to pin each section to the Goal to Decision Cycle, which works like this:

Your character has a GOAL.

But when they are trying to reach that goal they encounter CONFLICT.

Things escalate and end in DISASTER.

Your character has an emotional REACTION to the disaster.

They are faced with a DILEMMA with no good options.

They make a DECISION.

Which means, your character has a new GOAL.

If you go through your story and try to identify or create each of these elements (GOAL, CONFLICT, DISASTER, REACTION DILEMMA, DECISION) then you will create a story that has momentum and feels logical to the reader, even if they don’t know why.

Note that these elements do not need to have equal weight, and how much attention you give to each of them will affect the shape and feel of your story. More exciting adventure stories will emphasize the goal to disaster section and only have a brief pass over the reaction to decision, whereas more philosophical stories will do the opposite.

Character Development

The story is really taking shape now, so let’s spend a little more time with our characters while that settles. There are a few methods you can use to get under your characters’ skin. Here are my favorites:

  • Consider their history, including: infancy, childhood, teen years, young adulthood etc., up to where they are now
  • Complete a questionnaire for them – this helps you think about new and interesting angles.
  • Think about what they ‘want’ as opposed to what they ‘need’

 Location Development

The title of this step is fairly self-explanatory. Take some time to make a list of all of your locations and make some notes about them. I like to think about all the senses, how each location changes in different scenes, how it reflects the mood and character, and I like to try to find some pictures and blueprints to aid inspiration and clarity whenever possible.

Advanced Plotting

During this step we take some time to look at the overview of our novel and make sure we have all our ducks in a row. Think about character development, plot threads, important items, clues, and foreshadowing. Make sure all of these elements tie in nicely, because it’s much easier to figure these things out now than to realize when you’re 50,000 words in that there’s a major flaw.

Character Viewpoints

The last step before you start sketching out your first draft (or pre-first draft, but we’ll get to that) is to go back and give all of your major characters their moment in the limelight. This means going through the story from their point of view.

This is a fantastic practice, because not only does it help you to develop each of the characters so that they are people in their own right and not just flat sidekicks for the protagonist, but you will add much more texture and depth to the story as a whole.

Seeing the story from the point of view of another character means you may see options the protagonist didn’t. Or you may realize that the best friend had a headache when the protagonist walked in, so instead of being clear headed and helpful, she is ratty and obstructive.

Scene Blocking

This is the last step before you actually start writing your novel properly, I promise. This is a sort of pre-first-draft. It’s not a first draft because you’re not writing actual prose; instead, you’re writing an outline about what happens in each scene beat by beat, sort of like stage directions in a play.

This stage means you can get the gist of each scene pinned down quickly, without worrying about what words you’re using or exact dialogue. Write the story all the way through in the present tense, without worrying about style. Just describe what happens in each scene, once thing after another.

First Draft

You made it! You’re ready to write your first draft. It may feel like it’s been a slog to get here, but the advantage of this is that you can probably get your first draft done in a month or so, and it will be in a hell of a lot better shape than if you hadn’t done all that planning.

When writing your first draft, don’t worry about good writing – just barrel on through as fast as you can and don’t look back. The purpose of the first draft is to get the words down. The purpose of the second draft is to make the words good.

Story overview in The Novel Factory

Theme and Variations

You’ll probably have learned a lot during the process of writing your first draft, and hopefully made a bunch of notes. Although you may be raring to get started on your second draft, it’s worth taking a little break to let things settle.

During this time you could make sure all your notes are in the right place, revisit your sub plots, and also consider themes and foreshadowing.

Second Draft

Now you’re really getting somewhere. Go through your first draft and make it better. Sort out the grammar and punctuation, get rid of any clichés, cut repetition, make sure you’re showing not telling, and weed out unnecessary adverbs. Make it shine.

Final Draft

If you have access to feedback, then get it and use it. During the final draft you have to be patient, ruthless and have painstaking attention to detail.

Now it’s basically just a matter of editing over and over again until your fingers are bleeding or you’ve lost your mind. Once either of those two things happens, it’s probably time to draw a line in the sand and call the novel finished.


Hopefully you’ve found my novel writing process useful, and some of the stages might help you formulate your own process and achieve your dream of writing a novel that will make you proud.

What does your writing process look like? I’d love to hear about it! Let me know in the comments below, or you can chat with me on Twitter or Facebook.

About the Author

katjaKatja L Kaine lives in a hippyish commune in Yorkshire with her husband, two cats, dog, escapologist baby, a chess genius and a Pole.

She spends her time furiously writing novels and short stories at breakneck speed and then pedantically combing through every word to transform them into something vaguely readable.

She is also the creator of The Novel Factory, a writing software that helps writers structure and develop their novels. You can learn more about The Novel Factory here, or browse more useful articles on writing at The Novel Factory Blog.

Intro to Creative Writing: A Free Mini-Workshop

In this FREE workshop for new writers you'll be introduced to the world of novel-writing. You'll learn the writing & publishing processes, how to make a living as an author, how to find a writing community, and more! Plus, there is most definitely a free workbook involved. So, I have something a little different to share with you today, friend. As you’ve probably noticed I usually write my posts, but this week I decided to shake things up. Are you ready for this? *dramatic pause* I’ve created my first YouTube video.

Yep, an actual video. With me talking. And saying all the things. And stepping wayyyyyy outside of my comfort zone.

So what did I whip up for you?

Well, of course I couldn’t keep my first video simple, because that would make too much sense. Instead, I’ve created a 35-minute mini-workshop called Intro to Creative Writing, complete with a free 17-page workbook. (Excessive, yet epic, no?)

This workshop is meant to be a companion/prequel to my Writing 101 series. While the Writing 101 series teaches you the basics of fiction writing like developing your plot, characters, setting, etc., the Intro to Creative Writing workshop introduces you to the world of writing. It covers things like the writing and publishing process, how to make a living as an author, myths about writing a novel, and more.

Basically, this is everything I wish I had known about writing before I started my first novel.

Sound like fun? You can check out the full workshop below or on YouTube, and grab the free workbook here!

Also, as I’m still figuring out this whole video thing I hope you’ll forgive the imperfections ; )

Resources Mentioned:

So, what do you think? Did you find the video helpful? Would you like to see more workshops like this in the future? Please share your thoughts below!



5 Ways to Hide Your Villain In Plain Sight

Sometimes, you want to hide the bad guys in your story to fool your readers--and your characters! Click to learn 5 tricks for camouflaging your villain!

Sometimes, you don’t want your readers (or your characters!) to know who the bad guys are in your story. And if you think about it, it makes sense for villains to camouflage themselves.

Villains are deceitful, cunning, and manipulative. They don’t always go around announcing they’re the bad guy! Sometimes, they need to go incognito to get what they want. And sometimes, the scariest villain is the one you didn’t see.

So how can you hide the baddies in your story for a deliciously wicked twist? You need to subvert your reader’s expectations. As in, take what your readers expect and assume about villains, and then turn that upside down. Here are 5 tricks to try!

*Note: This post contains spoilers of the following to illustrate examples: Frozen, City of Bones by Cassandra Clare, The Flash season 1, Teen Wolf season 1, and Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone by J.K. Rowling. You have been warned 😉

1. Handsome and Charming

Readers often expect villains to be ugly or scary looking. Think back to all those Disney films you watched as a kid–Cruella de Vil, Jafar, Ursula, Captain Hook, Maleficent. You knew right away if the character was the bad guy because he/she was ugly or creepy. But real life isn’t always so black and white. Dark things often come in pretty packages.

In Frozen, Disney subverts the expectations they’ve been setting for their audience for years. They introduce the character of Hans, a charming and handsome prince who seems like a pretty nice guy. Him and Princess Ana seem to really hit it off. Heck, even his horse seems nice. But then we discover that while Hans might have a pretty face, inside he’s rotten to the core.

2. Helping the Hero

Readers will never suspect that a character who’s helping the hero could ever be a villain. Because why would the bad guy help the enemy, right? But he might have ulterior motives that don’t become clear until later. This type of character could be a mentor, someone the hero admires/sees as an idol, or just someone who seems to be willing to lend a helping hand. What hidden agenda might your villain be hiding?

In City of Bones by Cassandra Clare, Hodge is the tutor of the main characters. But what they don’t learn until later is that he’s actually an ex-follower of the villain and was banished to the Institute, where he is trapped by a curse. He helps the characters secure an item Valentine is after–but only so he can hand it over to Valentine in exchange for his freedom.

In the t.v. series The Flash, Dr. Wells is Barry’s idol and helps him learn how to use his powers. But in reality, Wells is actually from the future and became trapped in the past when trying to kill Barry before he became the Flash. He needs Barry to become fast enough to open a portal that will allow Wells to return to his world.

3. Completely Harmless

The character in the wheel chair or coma can’t be the villain, right? I mean, it’s just not possible. Look at him, he could never hurt anyone.


In The Flash, Dr. Wells pretends to be confined to a wheel chair which makes the heroes less suspicious of him. And in the first season of MTV’s Teen Wolf, Peter Hale appeared to be in a coma, so no one suspected he could be the alpha werewolf terrorizing the town.

We expect the villain to be strong–both physically and mentally. Making him seem defenseless or harmless is a great way to camouflage him.

4. Incompetent Fool

Villains by nature are cunning, powerful, and vicious, so when we come across a character who seems to be a bumbling fool, we’re not going to suspect he’s actually a bad guy. J.K. Rowling does this brilliantly with Professor Quirrel in Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone. No one suspects the stuttering, timid, cowardly professor is actually working for Lord Voldemort.

5. Likability

Villains aren’t supposed to be likable. They’re dark, cruel, wicked, selfish, and unjust. So if you create a character who seems to be cheerful, kind, friendly, and even shows heroic traits, the reader won’t think they’re the villain. The more the reader likes the character, the less they’ll suspect him because they won’t want him to be a bad guy. He might even be their favorite character! That is, until he shows his true colors.

Let’s go back to Hans from Frozen. He seems sweet, charming, and a little silly/awkward, and when Ana goes looking for Elsa he helps look after the kingdom. Then when Ana’s horse returns riderless, Hans goes off in search of his love. Seems pretty heroic and honorable, right? Until we learn he just wants to marry Ana to kill Elsa and gain control of the kingdom. Talk about cold!

Have you ever read a book where the villain turned out to be a surprise? Let me know in the comments!



3 Steps for Creating Realistic Fantasy Races and Creatures

3 Steps for Creating Realistic Fantasy Races and Creatures | Learn how to #write realistic #fantasy races and cultures, plus a FREE worksheet!God bless Fantasy writers. I mean, seriously. We’re a crazy bunch, aren’t we?

As if it wasn’t already hard enough to write a novel and create realistic characters, we insist on quadrupling the difficulty level by creating places and races that don’t exist. Because real life is too boring for us! That stuff is for amateurs! We want a real challenge! *twitchy eyes*

Sure, Fantasy a lot of fun, but it’s also loads of work. And the expectations are high in the Fantasy genre. If you can’t create realistic races and creatures then your story is going to fall flat. No pressure, right?

I’m going to try to help out my fellow Fantasy writers here. I know this world-building stuff isn’t easy. So we’re going to break down creating a fantastical race or creature into three steps. Yep, three. Ready for this? Brace yourselves.

Psst, before you get started, click here to download the free PDF worksheets I created to go along with this post!

STEP 1: Appearance

One of the first things you’ll need to decide is what your race or creature will look like.

Now, pay attention to that word–like. Did you know it’s actually impossible for humans to create something completely new? We can only use what already exists, what we see around us. That’s why fantasy beings always look like something (usually a combination of somethings) whether it’s a human, animal, plant, or something else from nature. Observe:

Horse + Horn = Unicorn

Horse + Wings = Pegasus

Human + Pointy Ears + Immortality = Elf

Human + Fish = Mermaid

Human + Horse = Centaur

Eagle + Lion = Gryffin

See where I’m going with this? So don’t stress so much over creating something no one has ever seen before. Rather, use what’s already around you in a creative way.

If you don’t want to create a creature from scratch, another option is to use an animal that already exists, but give it a twist. For example, animals that are larger than usual, can speak, or have magical abilities.

This also applies to human-like races. You don’t have to make a fantasy race look completely foreign. They don’t have to have blue skin like they’ve just stepped out of Avatar. A lot of fantasy beings (elves, dwarves, faeries, witches/wizards) look similar to humans but with slight physical differences and/or added magical abilities.

Another option is to put a new spin on classical mythological creatures that already exist. Laini Taylor does this brilliantly with chimeras in Daughter of Smoke and Bone. Another great example is Rampant by Diana Peterfreund, which is about killer unicorns. (Yes, you read that right. Killer unicorns).

Lastly, you could populate your fantasy world with races that are (gasp!) just human. In Game of Thrones, George R.R. Martin’s seven kingdoms are filled with plain old human beings. Sure there are some characters with special powers, and you have the White Walkers running around, but most of the races are ordinary. Instead, he focuses on developing their cultures to make them stand out.

So let’s review your options for fantasy races/creatures:

  1.  A creative combination of elements
  2. A physical or magical twist on an animal or human
  3. Classic mythological creatures with a twist
  4. Plain human beings with distinct cultures.

STEP 2: Environment

One important element for developing a realistic Fantasy race is the environment in which that race lives. Our environment affects various aspects of our lives such as clothing, building materials, food, resources, jobs, and trade. These are all important elements of a society.

For example, Native Americans used natural resources like deer and buffalo hide to make clothing and tepees. The English had a lot of sheep, and used the wool to make cloth for clothes.

Our environment also affects what sort of food you can grow, what animals are available to hunt, and therefore what sorts of dishes can be made. In Mexico they grow chili peppers, avocados, and limes, while in Greece they grow figs, dates, and olives. Both countries have very different dishes! Also, note that when you have two countries that each have something the other does not, this can lead to either trade or war.

Another thing to consider is what sort of jobs your environment creates. If you have an area rich with coal, you’ll have a lot of coal mining jobs like in The Hunger Games. If you have a lot of land, more people might be farmers. If you’re on the coast, you’ll have a lot of fishermen.

For Fantasy creatures, think about what sort of habitat it lives in. Does it like mountains or forests? What does it eat? Is it prey to any other animals? Do people hunt it as a resource?

Put a lot of thought into the environment in which your race or creature lives and how it influences their way of life and you will add layers of realism to your story!

STEP 3: Culture

Developing a culture is probably the most daunting aspect of creating a fantasy race, which is understandable. Cultures are extremely complex. There’s a lot to think about and it can get overwhelming quick. Making up a culture for a race that doesn’t exist is no small task!

While trying to find a way to simplify what makes up a culture, I came across this article that suggests there are seven basic elements of a culture. I would argue there are more, but since some of the things that are missing like food, clothing, etc. we touched on in the last step, I feel this list fits perfectly for the purposes of our discussion.

So what are these 7 basic elements of a culture?

  1. Social Organization (family units and social classes)
  2. Customs and Traditions
  3. Religion
  4. Language
  5. Arts and Literature
  6. Governing Systems
  7. Economic Systems

I think if you spend time exploring these seven points you’re going to have a nice, fleshed out culture! Now, just because language is on here don’t think you need to create a whole new language (or several!). I would actually advise against it unless you can do it with the same finesse as Tolkien. It’s good to consider if you have races that speak different languages and how this could be important to your story, but you can imply a language barrier without actually creating the languages.

Additionally, I would suggest borrowing from cultures in real life. Tolkien did this in Lord of the Rings–for example, the people of Rohan are based off of Celtic culture. Drawing from real-life sources will help to add realism to your story.

I would also highly recommend studying sociology and history, either by taking a course or getting some books on your own. Studying these subjects will help you to understand how intricate cultures are, how they work, and how different cultures have interacted with each other over time. This will help you to write more complex and realistic cultures in your own stories.

Need More Help?

I know we covered a lot of information in this post, and when you’re trying to create a new race or creature this is all a lot to keep track of. So I whipped up some worksheets to help you out! Click here to download + print!

What are your thoughts on creating fantasy races? Share them below!