There are two ways you can do this:
One way is to buy a super fancy writing software that breaks down bits for you.
The other way is my way. You will need blank index cards, post-it notes, or envelopes. I used envelopes in this instructable. I like envelopes because you can use them to hold the parts of your novel associated with the envelope. I like to break it down into tangible, movable pieces. It makes the task less daunting and your progress more visible, increasing the odds you will finish.
Step 1: Characters and Word Count
Ask yourself: what is their back story? How do they react in tough situations? That sort of thing. It is ok to think in general terms--characters tend to morph and change as you write them, developing their own voice. Just pull out your card for them, make a note and keep going!
Do it for your villains, too, if you have them. Any character you think will have repeated scenes. I like to do these first because I find as I create characters my story begins to formulate more in my mind.
Then do a card with a couple of places that may come up frequently and describe them. Again, continuity. In the photo I combined antagonist and scene--don't do that. Yes, it is a large number of cards to keep up with, but you can quickly file through them and find what you want.
Also, set a goal word count. I find 80-100k words is good to shoot for. The key is to keep your writing from being aimless--you want to write with a purpose, and goals make this feel attainable and exciting. 100k is nice, too, because it makes percents easier. So if you have 20k words written, you are 20% done. It gives small feelings of accomplishment as your fingers hammer out your tale.
Step 2: Research
As I write I commonly want to start an idea and realize I need to research it a bit. Make a note in your text AND on your research card, so you can do it when you are cleaning up a chapter or a final product.
This is where using envelopes is nice. You can write research on whatever you have--paper, napkins, post-its, whatever--and keep it in the envelope to pull out what you need. Sweet.
I feel this is where the most effort and time goes. A well-researched novel can be the difference in how well it is received.
Step 3: Act and Chapter Cards
Stick with writing tiny outlines that are a part of a greater whole. It is easier
After I finish the part I'm working on (Say, Act one, Chapter one) I like to print it out and save it. This does several things:
1. It makes you feel good to see what you've done, motivating you to keep going.
2. It gives you a hard copy of what you were working on. This is nice because sometimes computers go boom and we realize after that we forgot to save on an external hard drive or cloud and not that I know from experience (WINK) but there can be a bunch of heartache and tears over lost work.
3. Later, when it is time to edit, you can take everything out and put together. Editing on paper, I find, is more efficient than on a computer because I am "seeing" my work.
4. It is so, so nice to be able to go back and reference things you've written while keeping what your working on pulled up on screen.
Step 4: Conclusion
This can rely heavily on the genre you choose. For example, romance novels need to ALWAYS be resolved. Mysteries, too. But science fiction or post-modern (what does THAT mean anymore?) can be whatever you want them to be.
There is no advice beyond make a simple, concise outline for your conclusion and finish, finish, finish.
Step 5: Editing
1. I edit myself--I catch all my glaring mistakes-spelling, grammar, etc. I go through and change it all in my manuscript.
2. I let at least two friends edit my revised manuscript. Trust me, they'll find stuff you missed. They will also be able to help you with things that don't make sense.
3. Go through and change the spelling and grammar problems they found. Now comes the hard question: What can I cut out? This can be a painful but necessary process. I'm not joking--plan on losing about 3-7k words in editing. There are simply things you do not need, even if you love the sentiment. A good story is a clean story. If it gets too bogged down with extraneous paragraphs and descriptions, it becomes a poor story.
4. Cut the parts you can. Add only a little if you need to in order to protect continuity. Ok, put it down and walk away for at least a week.
A side note:
I recommend NOT going back and editing while still writing. Not even a little. It is too easy to get stuck in the same place and lose the momentum to go forward. Also, all that precious time and effort you spent editing before you finished may end up on the editing room floor later. Save yourself some time and grief. Just write--you'll clean it all up later.
Step 6: FINISHED.
That's it, really. If you've written to a specific audience or to publish, that is its own adventure. But maybe, like my first few stories, you did this just for you--that's awesome. It is a pretty good feeling to be able to tell someone you've written some short stories or a novel, even if they aren't published. It is a lot of effort, frustration, and sheer will power to complete a story.
However, I hope this instructable inspires you to consider tackling writing!