How to Write a Novel Step 1 continued: Story Ideas

Part 2 of my novel writing process is here! Or, part 1b, I suppose… we’re talking about story ideas again today!

In my last post, I went over the big picture things, now we start trying to get into the more nitty gritty. It’s taken a while to write this one, but there’s a good reason.

I’m going through this process with you!

For this series of blog posts, they could be quite far apart (or not) and they may be short or quite long (like this one is). To be honest, it really depends on where I’m at with my work in progress. I need to take the time to develop my ideas, so I can then share the process with you. But, without further ado, here is part 1b!

So, after a few days or weeks or months of brainstorming, you start to crystallise the essence of an idea. You have a rough idea of what you want to write about, a sense of some sort of setting, characters, conflict, theme, plot. Where to from there? Well, here are five places you could go next…


Brainstorm in more detail, with more specificity.

For me at least.

I know, I know. It’s so enticing to want to just get stuck into writing, getting a story on paper. But, for me, I really, really need to know where the story is going before I start.

So, what does going deeper in your brainstorming look like?

For me, it’s a mix. On one hand, it looks like general musings, ponderings, and ‘noodling’ around, honing what I want to write and how I want it to feel or what I really want it to be. This is usually just in a notebook, or even in my head while I work on some other task or other.

On the other hand, the process looks a bit more ‘concrete’. For instance, it looks like taking those four key pillars I mentioned in my previous blog post – see The Twelve Key Pillars of Novel Construction by C. S. Lakin – and really digging into them. This book is particularly useful, because at the end of each section Lakin provides some handy questionnaires to get you thinking about your characters, conflict, themes, etc. Taking the time to go through these exercises has paid massive dividends for me – both with Seregn and with the project I’m working on at the moment.

With my next work in progress, I’m starting to go deep in my brainstorming with the characters. One of the best ways to do this is to consider the character’s core ‘need’ and ‘want’.

The view at my desk as I work on my new story – with The Twelve Key Pillars of Novel Construction beside me!

C.S. Lakin discusses this, as do many other authors in one iteration or another. Note a core ‘need’ and ‘want’ are usually two very different things. I’m sure you’d agree that, in life, what we want and what we need are often not the same thing! This concept works on a physical and spiritual level. For instance, a character may ‘want’ revenge, but what they ‘need’ is to learn forgiveness. A character may ‘want’ to fall in love, but maybe they ‘need’ to learn their own value as an individual. A character may even want to slay the dragon, but what they actually ‘need’ could be relationship, acclaim… the list goes on!

Once I know what the character wants and needs, I can begin to craft the story around them with more clarity, cohesion, and purpose. The themes start to crystallise – (e.g. love, forgiveness, mercy, courage…). The conflict can start to take shape (if someone is our for revenge, the story could be about how they were wronged, what they have to do to get the person back, how they succeed or fail along the way, do they have a crisis of conscience or go through with the act(s) of revenge etc…). I can begin to think about how to make it harder for the character to accomplish both what they ‘want’ to achieve, and grow to attain or become what they truly ‘need’. The struggle, the conflict, is what your readers are there for, after all!

Additionally, you can use this concept of want/need to craft a compelling backstory. For example – why does the character want a relationship? Were they ignored as a child? Unhealthily attached or co-dependent? What is driving them forward?

All of the above focusses on the characters as the start of growing a story, because that’s where I naturally gravitate as I start to take the general idea and grow it. But, not all authors work that way. For other writers, the story world and plot comes first. And that’s just as valid! If you have a cool setting, start to think about who could live there or what could happen in that environment. If you have an awesome plot point, consider where it would happen and who could be involved.


When you’re trying to plan or write a book, it’s easy to get overwhelmed. For me, thinking of potentially trying to plan a series became so frustrating and difficult recently that I said ‘you know what, I’m going to take my two favourite characters, and just write a book about THEM’! I gave myself permission to not try to accomplish something massive, but simply focus on what I was most interested in. It was releasing, and allowed me to play with ideas without having to try to fit them into a larger narrative.

In the end, an idea sparked, then another, and suddenly these two characters who were going to be in a standalone of their own were grafted back into the idea of a series – because without the stress of having to figure out how they fit, I could just write what I wanted for them, and in the end it tied in amazingly well (and I’m so excited to write their storyline!).

So, if the idea of planning a whole novel is a bit much, just pick something small to focus on, and give yourself the time and grace to work on it!

The Waitomo Glowworm Caves in New Zealand (which two friends and I visited in 2016) were a massive inspiration for a location in Seregn.


If you’re like me, you might have vague pictures in your head already of scenes, characters, places. But sometimes, if you take a step back from all your attempts at plot and theme and story, you can visualise some amazing image or specific scene in your head without even trying to ‘make it fit’ into what you’ve got already.

Let me encourage you, if you’re struggling, take a step back, and just try to imagine an important, or epic scene. Or a simple one. Doing this gave me some incredible ideas and at least two are now fairly firmly cemented in my idea for my next book. One of those scenes I stumbled upon is even the climax of a storyline!

I truly believe sometimes, we just need to give our imagination space. A break. Let the inspiration of something amazing pop up, even if it makes no sense at first. Don’t be afraid to step back, and just imagine. What looks super amazing in your head?


Often our own lives can provide some fantastic fodder for the imagination.

For instance, two of my characters are married. When my husband Gabriel and I were engaged, part of our church’s ‘policy’ was to have a session or two of marriage counselling before the wedding. This wasn’t anything big or dramatic, but we chatted with the counsellor and each filled out a questionnaire, which the counsellor then compared and ran through. It meant if we scored very differently in a particular area, we knew we needed to focus on it and ensure we came to a good understanding with each other before we got married.

So, I did that for my characters! I looked at the categories our questionnaire covered – e.g. finances, time with friends and family, how to spend leisure time – to prompt thoughts on where my characters might disagree. If I found something that was interesting enough, I added it into my brainstorming.

Suddenly, I had ideas about where conflict might arise and how each character would have to grow to overcome it. Hooray! In the end, even if those ideas are only hinted at or don’t make it in, it’s helped me understand some of how the characters may interact.


Ok, maybe, besides your amazing writerly talent, you have a keen (or even general) interest in science, in outer space, in botany, in knitting, in the history of artillery, in the fashion of the 1860s. Whatever it is, there’s a reason you are drawn to these things. Indulge your curiosity a bit, and explore. You never know what may spark a thought that leads to an idea for your story! Now, be careful not to get stuck in the research loop, but also, don’t be afraid to take the time to learn about things you’re interested in. It sparks new thoughts and creativity that can be expressed in many ways – including your writing.

So, that’s my thoughts at the moment. The planning is still messy, vague, and optional, but I’m slowly starting to find a story I want to tell, and I’m so excited by that – and also a little intimidated!

It’s undoubtedly a long process, but for me, it’s so, so worth it.

How about you? How do you start working on a story idea and making it a little more ‘concrete’?

Let me know!

Seregn‘s first three chapters are still available for free! You can sign up to my email list below and they’ll be on their way (just don’t forget to check you spam folder if it doesn’t appear)!

Happy writing!

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Seregn is coming…

It’s been a crazy couple of weeks.

I anticipated continuing my series on how to write a novel this week, but so much has happened, I feel like I need to dedicate a whole post just to everything that’s been happening – and some personal reflections.

Seregn’s prologue and first three chapters are now available, for free! Since putting them up a couple of weeks ago, it’s been great to see the interest start to grow. If you want to grab them right now, you can sign up to my email list at the end of this blog and they’ll be sent to your inbox (don’t forget to check spam/junk)!

One of the biggest helps this past couple of weeks is a new rule Gabe and I have instituted – the No TV Rule. It sounds dramatic but, essentially, it means we don’t watch TV from Monday – Thursday nights. Friday – Sunday though, we do. It means we have the evenings to dedicate to things like going for a walk together, sharing dinner at the table talking, then tidying up or completing other tasks that are so easy to put off when you’re watching Netflix. So, if you’re struggling to find time, cutting down on TV seems to really do the trick!

Anyway, back to all the exciting Seregn news.

The proofread is underway.

This is it.

No more editing.

No more going over and over the manuscript.

It’s done.

It’s locked in.

All that a proofread is, is checking there aren’t any typos going on in the manuscript. It’s super important, but the story is complete. My incredible publication coordinator, Sarah, is reading the manuscript for the proofread herself, and I’m so thankful for the time going into making sure Seregn is the most high quality product possible.

The cover design is locked in.

This was one of the most fun parts, to be honest. Watching a design brief become a first draft, then a second, then a third, was incredibly exciting. And it really didn’t change very much at all from that first iteration – we tried a few different fonts, a few slightly different placement options… and that was about it. Now I’ve got this glorious cover sitting, waiting for the day it can be unveiled. It’ll be showing up sometime in the next few months, and I’ll explain why below…

The book endorsement query process is underway.

You know on book covers, when an organisation, author, or other celebrity is quoted stating how wonderful the book is? That’s what I’m looking for at the moment.

I’ve had a couple of wonderful authors show a lot of generosity with their time to take a look at Seregn for a potential endorsement (including a personal favourite author, whose books have been on my shelves for years). It’s incredible to think these people would take the time to do something kind for me – a writing nobody! It reminds me of the incredible value of paying it forward, and demonstrating kindness to others who may not really be able to pay you back in any real way.

We will wait and see if any endorsements are forthcoming, so they can be added to Seregn’s cover before the books are printed.

Excited, and a little exhausted!

The final print run number has been decided and locked in.

This was actually pretty scary. It’s easy to put a number on how many books you want for your first print run, but actually thinking it through realistically is something different.

How many can you sell?

How long will that take?

Can you store them all?

What can fit in your budget?

It can feel pretty intense. And there’s more to it than just the number of books, it’s whether you want to print locally or overseas? White or cream paper (btw, definitely cream for me!)? What are the production timelines? There’s several elements to consider. Overall though, I’m so happy with my final choices. That decision is made, now it’s just a waiting game.

Marketing materials are in production.

Business cards. Bookmarks. Flyers. A pull-up banner. It’s all happening.

It’s making me realise in a whole new way this isn’t just producing a book, it’s producing my image as an author. Pondering these materials, a book launch seems to be a whole lot more real. Imagining myself with my pull-up banner set up, books and bookmarks spread across the table… it’s kind of crazy and wonderful to realise how far I’ve come from the uni student sitting on my bed tapping away at my laptop.

Looking ahead…

Soon enough, I’ll have a final timeline for when my books will be in my hands. The cover will be completed, the proofread ticked off. Soon I’ll be able to start organising a book launch, and set up the pre-sale for Seregn.

I can’t believe I’m at this point.

It’s exciting and terrifying and wonderful and amazing.

I’ve been so busy I haven’t really had time to do much brainstorming on a new book – hence the delay in my next post on that topic. But, I’m hopeful when things with Seregn slow down a little, I’ll be able to jump into that creative process properly.

So, what do you think? What would you be most excited about? What would you like to hear more about in the publishing process thus far?

And to receive Seregn’s prologue and first three chapters, join my email list below!

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Seregn’s first chapters! And… what’s in a book cover design?

What a week! In the past 7 days Seregn’s formatting has been completed, I’ve received the preliminary cover design, it’s locked in for a proofread, and I’m just awaiting printing cost quotes to work out the first edition print run size, recommended retail price (RRP), and start considering a release date.


Most excitingly, I have Seregn‘s first chapters ready for YOU! They’re available to all my email subscribers right now. So, if you’d like to receive Seregn’s prologue and first three chapters, you can sign up at the end of this blog post!

But, on to the topic for this blog – cover design…

Of all these recent happenings, one of the ones that took me most be surprise was the book cover design. The wonderful team at Ocean Reeve Publishing had been working on it in the background based on a brief I supplied at the start of the process with them. So, you can imagine my delight when, out of the blue, an email arrived in my inbox with the preliminary design!

It’s got me thinking back over the various cover ideas I’ve had for Seregn. It’s strange, as an author I have a sense of the story, and how it feels and ‘looks’, in my head, but pondering what the cover would look like almost felt strange.

As I thought about what the cover could look like, I started googling fantasy books to see what sort of covers came up, I began looking over my publisher’s catalogue, mulling over free images, and coming to decisions about what I do and don’t like.

Covers seem to be such a strange thing… they’re an image encapsulating part of your story, but also need to appeal to industry trends, and – regardless of the cover – everyone will envisage your story differently.

But, on personal preference alone, here are my thoughts on book covers. I should note this is specifically for fantasy – different genres have wildly different styles and expectations.

1. No characters please

I don’t want a character’s face on the front of Seregn. When I’ve read books with this, the characters never quite look the way I imagine them, and sometimes look completely wrong. I’d rather leave it up to the reader’s imagination, and save the book cover for something else. That said, some cool art can sometimes work. For example, I enjoy the Australian paperback covers of the Stormlight Archive, with their colour decisions and stylised art. There’s enough in that artistry that means I don’t feel like I’m expected to envisage the characters that way.

2. Give me the moody vibes – with brilliant text

I love covers that are dark and moody – not black mind you, but deep blues or purples are *chef’s kiss*.

And the title? Give it to me white, brilliant, stark against the darkness, so it almost glows on the page.

3. Simplicity is key

I’ve found some book covers can end up looking messy or overcomplicated if there are too many elements going on. To me, when I look at a front cover, it should entice me in, spark curiosity, so I flick to the back cover blurb. The blurb should take it from there. To that end, I enjoy a book cover that is simple, elegant, and draws in the reader.

4. Some illustration can be gorgeous

Not going to lie, who doesn’t love a stunning illustration for a front cover? I’m thinking a hard cover The Lord of the Rings with Alan Lee’s beautiful watercolours, or the Stormlight Archive’s beautiful paintings. For me, this is a little out of my price bracket for Seregn, but I do love a good piece of artwork.

So, those are my top picks for fantasy book covers. I’ve got some examples of personal top picks here to show you what I mean…

House of Dark Shadows

I LOVE this cover. It’s dark, but still has colour and depth to it, with a bit of artistic application with flourishes and a slight pattern in the background. It has a clear, visually pleasing image that perfectly encapsulates the story (without showing any character faces), and that gorgeous glowing title? Stunning.

King Raven Trilogy

Once again, I love the dark, moody vibes of this omnibus edition of the King Raven trilogy. A simple castle graphic with a dark blue background, and the bow graphic amidst the title… gorgeous! And, like House of Dark Shadows, bonus points for a lovely hardcover edition!


I love the simplicity of this cover. It’s elegant, gets the point across vividly, and is simple while still conveying some symbolism and mystery. It’s not a fantasy book, but the rules still apply. This is not at all the genre I tend to read, but I saw the cover and was instantly intrigued!

The Priory of the Orange Tree

This cover really stands out for obvious reasons. Not my normal choice, but the strong colours and gorgeous illustration makes it absolutely stunning. It’s bold, there aren’t any (human) faces in sight, and it’s really just and gorgeous!

The Wolf of Tebron

I love the illustration here. I love the colours, the way it blends, and (though you can’t really tell in a photo) the cover itself has this incredible, slightly-pearlescent shine to it. I’ve never seen it on a book before and I adore it.

So there you go, my personal taste in book covers. What about you? What do you like or not like in a book cover? Let me know your thoughts below!

As for my thoughts, you’ll definitely see some of these preferences in the final cover for Seregn. It’s been so much fun and I’m so keen for it to be all done and ready to reveal!

Now, as promised, if you’d like to read the first chapters of Seregn, you can sign up to my mailing list here and they’ll be on their way! Just don’t forget to check your junk/spam folder in case it ends up there!

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