First, make sure you really want to write a novel. Novels are hard to write. Here’s my scale of literary difficulty:
Short story 1
Short play 10
3-act play 1,000
It’s usually best to start with short fiction and work your way up to more difficult material. Novels have a cachet that short stories lack, but there are shorter forms that are almost as good as novels. With a lot less effort you can write and publish a novelette or a novella, and still wear a tweed jacket with leather elbow patches and refer to “…my book…” at every opportunity.
¿What is the difference, you ask. Here it is:
Novel 40,000 words or more, Difficulty 100 (and up)
Novella 17,500 to 40,000 words, Difficulty 72 (average)
Novelette 7,500 to 17,500 words, Difficulty 62 (average)
Hint: the longer the name, the shorter the work. Novelettes are lot shorter than novels, novellas are in the middle.
Second, write to be read. Shoot the sheriff on the first page. Skip description; put action or a powerful hook in the first line, then fill in below that with the setting, the dark and stormy night garbage, etc. An example:
“Put down that wrench!” (Opening line, “Blowups Happen,” Robert A. Heinlein, 1940.)
Once you’ve grabbed the reader, don’t let go. End your chapters on high tension points:
Tenirax watched the torturer’s shadow flicker slowly up the stone stairs until he found himself in total darkness.
Another room straight ahead. Tenirax put his head in to take a quick look. It was too dark to see. I must light a candle, he thought, stepping inside. Suddenly, close at hand, he heard the most ominous sound anyone can hear.
Third, don’t just take us somewhere and back. Your hero must be different when he returns. Readers, in some way, should also be changed:
Bad reader change: “Why did I read that crap?”
Good reader change: “I must buy the sequel!”