Before starting a novel, it makes sense to make a few plans before beginning. A little pre-planning will give a new writer confidence and make the first draft go more smoothly. If a few items are decided upon and gathered beforehand, the writer will have necessary details and information at their fingertips.
1. Get Organized
Before starting a new project, get organized by preparing the computer and paper files. You will need to to name computer files for a first draft that can be saved and kept separate from a second or any following drafts. It helps to keep the latest draft of the novel in progress carefully marked and separate from the working drafts. Also, find some way to copy the final draft to a flash drive or to a file-hosting service such as Dropbox, so there is more than one copy in case of a computer crash.
You will also need paper files for notes and research. Always keep your research in a separate file from the book notes so you won’t have to shuffle through tons of research to find notes related to the actual writing.
2. Make a Character Bio for Each Character
Before starting a novel, make a character biography for each main character. This handy reference sheet will provide a description and background information for each character. This detailed character information will become invaluable later on. It also serves as a quick, handy reference as to a character's eye and hair color when writing about a character.
3. Create a General Plot Outline
Make a general plan of events. A plot outline is usually broken down into chapters. Key events are planned that will happen in the first part of the book, the middle section, and the ending. Though it is not necessary to work out every single detail of the book before writing it, the more that is planned or plotted ahead of time, the more smoothly the actual writing will go. Plotting the book ahead of time also saves revision.
4. Describe the Setting
Having a ready-made description of the setting keeps the writer from having to stop working on the story to create a background. The writer should know beforehand the general area in which the story will take place. Writing down a description of a town, the landscape, and other important settings within the story will allow the writer to focus upon the characters and action of the book.
5. Gather Necessary Research
If research is needed for the plot, gather and organize it ahead of time. If the novel is set back in time, then a general knowledge of the time era is necessary so the writer won't have to stop in the middle of a scene to see how people talked or dressed. If a novel is a police procedural set in Los Angeles, then knowing a little about how the police department is set up, and having a good idea of what the area looks like is helpful for giving the book a sense of reality.
While the actual writing of the novel does not need to be delayed until all of these steps are completed, the more knowledge the writer has about plot, character and setting beforehand, the easier writing the first draft will be.