Starting Your Novel

The first thing that pops in my head when I’m trying to start a book is: DON’T start with a cliché.  That means don’t start with the weather (it was a clear, sunny day) or  starting with a tragedy (car wrecks, health scare or death) or the common – parents divorcing and having to move locations. Starting a book is almost as hard as finishing the book. You have your ideas, possible outline, and may even know exactly what you want to get accomplished within the first chapter. I’ve already discussed much of this in Beginning the Rough Draft, however, this entry is to expand on it a little more.

I once wrote on the power of the initial opening sentence in the entry Word Importance. Save those powerful words for your revisions. They may come later or not at all. Don’t get hung up over it.

Your beginning of your book (the first 50 pages) should have:

  • Character(s) intro
  • Setting
  • Internal/external struggle for character(s)
  • What is at risk
  • The hook for the audience to continue reading
  • Story pace
  • Genre – remember your readability level of your characters. You want them to said age appropriate to the story.

The book, The Plot Whisperer Workbook Step-By-Step to Help You Create Compelling Stories by Martha Alderson, writes there are seven essential elements to a scene:

  1. Time and setting
  2. Dramatic action
  3. Conflict, tension, suspense
  4. Character’s emotional development
  5. The protagonist’s motivation to reach a goal
  6. The “protagonist who goes after something, fails, and tries again”
  7. Final layer of scene that helps set the overall theme of the story

Some books only have a hand full of scenes, others have one per a chapter or more. There is no real guideline into how many scenes a book can have. Just don’t confuse the reader by jumping back and forth between scenes to where it confuses them (and you) of where the characters are located.

Most books begin very early the description of what the character(s) look like to help the reader’s develop a mental image and then the setting.

Try to start your book with something unusual. Starting with action, helps draw the reader in quickly, but that doesn’t work for every book and it becomes hard keeping that pace. Think of something different for the genre you’re writing. If it’s drama/murder/mystery – start with humor. If it is fantasy – start with something that is very common for us today to relate too –  a stubbed toe, a broken tire on a carriage (think of a flat tire), main character’s belief that dragons are myths, etc. Romance – start with a situation of the character already in love with someone else, but don’t make them cheaters. To me, that sets a bad president for the overall relationship for any couples. Or make the main couple already together, then they fall apart and have set backs only to get back together at the end.

To challenge yourself further – make your intro into a metaphor or to parallel of what your final conflict will be.

As I said, it’s hard to begin the story. I have rewritten the intro to many stories before I found those that work. Don’t put much stock into it until you start on the revisions. It sometimes matter more of the flow of the book on to what works the best as the intro.

My best suggestion is to start with a conversation. You can reveal tone of voice, character’s appearance, their personal movement ticks, thought process, initial location, and the intro to the plot within that conversation. Now, this conversation can be overheard by the main character(s), the main character(s) having the said conversation, or it is about them.

Best of luck to you all. I’m starting a new story myself and I’m facing the same struggle.

L. R. Mauck

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