Michael A. Stackpole is a New York Times bestselling author and award winning podcaster, novelist, editor, graphic novelist, screen writer, computer game designer and game designer. His best known novels—I, Jedi and Rogue Squadron—are set in the Star Wars™ Universe. He’s written over forty-five novels, and his work has been translated into ten languages. His latest novel is set in the Pathfinder™ universe: Crusader Road.

When not working, he enjoys dancing and has great fun cultivating a taste for expensive Scotch whisky. You can read more about him, his work, and the occasional Scotch review at his website: www.stormwolf.com or you can follow him on Twitter via @mikestackpole.

21 Days to a Novel by Michael A. Stackpole

21 Days To a Novel is a collection of exercises which will set any writer up to successfully start and complete that novel they've been dreaming about. The exercises hit hard on the critical areas of book design: characterization, world building, plotting, description, dialogue and more. The exercises likewise serve as diagnostics for when things aren't quite working the way you'd like.

Distilled from over twenty years of writing experience, and rife with examples, 21 Days To a Novel is a clear roadmap to setting you up for writing success. If you've always dreamed of writing a novel, and didn't know where to start, you've found that place. 21 Days To a Novel is the booklet that will give your dreams all they need to grow into a fantastic and strong novel.


Michael A. Stackpole gave me one of my first paying gigs as a writer, to write a worldbuilding packet for a game he was developing. I was 17; he was 22. I won’t say how long ago that was, but I learned a great deal about writing a novel from my interaction with him. Mike has done a lot of online courses and a popular podcast on The Dragon Page, and if you follow the plan in this toolkit of 21 Days to a Novel, you’ll finish nanowrimo and still have more than a week to spare. – Kevin J. Anderson




Twenty-one Days to a Novel

This book is comprised of a series of exercises which, over a twenty-one day period, will have you well on your way to writing a novel. Writing a novel or short story is a highly individualist undertaking. It can truly be said that no two writers approach the task the same way. The exercises that follow touch upon all the aspects which must be considered when engaging in such a project.

I've chosen to present them in the following order and manner because this is the best way for a total neophyte to start in. The two critical components here are this:

1) You must write. If you just read through the book and never actually write anything, you're no closer to being a writer than someone who has read a flight manual is close to being a pilot. It's fine to just read the book over and put off actually engaging in the exercises, but unless you sit down and do them, it's not going to help your writing.

2) You must begin to think like a writer. That's really a tall order. To be a good writer you have to become a polymath—an expert at so many things that you end up wondering how your head contains all the information without exploding. You have to develop an ear for dialogue, you have to read people and their relationships. You have to learn to ask "What if," and ride your imagination through to wherever it wants to go. And then you backtrack, pick out the useful nuggets, and work with them to shape a great story.

The exercises build one on another, but they do break down into Characterization (Days1-8), Dialogue(9-10), Physical Description (11 and 15), World Development (12-15), Conflict (16), Plotting (17-20) and Writing (21). There are lots of books written on each one of these points, and they certainly can be used as supplemental material. In addition, my writing newsletter, The Secrets, has a wealth of material that emphasizes all the various points and provides techniques to enhance what you're writing.

If you choose to zero in on a particular aspect of the program because you think you need to work on that area, please read a couple of days before the section you want to reference. This will put things in context. In fact, you would be best served to read the book up to that point without doing the exercises, then do them for the area where you need work.

This book is not exhaustive, so supplementary material is highly recommended. While you can draw a lot of insight from other "how to write" books, I heartily suggest you study other works (novels and short stories) for techniques other writers use. Figure out how they do things and figure out how to make them work for you. More writers have learned from others in this manner than have ever learned from how-to books. The simple fact is that some writers don't actually understand how they accomplish what they do, and your analysis of their techniques is going to make things work for you.

This book does beg the question, "Do I follow this series of exercises for all the books I do?" Not always in form, but definitely always in spirit. As you will see, some of the exercises deal with layering and lamination. There are times you go over points again and again to make them work. Consider it the mental equivalent of a chef combining ingredients in a bowl to make batter. It's the mixing process that creates something wonderful. Having been writing for as long as I have, I tend to do the mixing in a rather chaotic order.

But that's fine because once you've gone through this process you'll use the steps as a checklist in future work. When you find something that's causing trouble, you can refer back here, figure out what's not quite right, and push forward. You'll adapt the process into something that works for you. That's great. It means you're a writer.

And in twenty-one days, you'll be an even better one.