Not sure how to start your novel? Perhaps you’re like my students, who procrastinate on their novels’ beginnings. I wrote this article for my students. If you feel that your novel’s beginning isn’t what it should be, I hope that these tips will help you too.
Your novel: who wants what, and why?
I’m a confirmed pantser; that is, someone who starts a novel as the mood takes them. I just start writing. However, I keep three things in mind:
- Who is this person I’m writing about?
- What does he or she WANT, and …
- WHY does he or she want it?
Once you’ve settled on those three things you’re well underway, but you’ve still got a major nuisance… how will you begin your novel?
These tips will help.
1. Start after the beginning: start anywhere you like
Writing the first few pages of your novel is intimidating. I know that if I read page one of a novel while I’m browsing in a bookshop or on Amazon, and hate the first page, that’s all I’ll read.
You need to hook your reader on page one.
How do you do that?
Trust me, you’ll figure it out, but usually not until you’re well under way with your novel.
For years, I hated starting a new novel because of what I called the Page One Dilemma. Should I start right in the middle of the action (always a good thing) leaving explanations of who the characters were, and what they wanted until later, or should I:
- Create atmosphere first;
- Start with dialogue;
- Make a foreshadowing statement…
I’d play around with beginnings day after day, until I got sick of myself and kept writing, figuring that I’d fix the beginning once I knew more about the novel I was writing.
Finally, I decided that any novel’s beginning was immaterial — all I had to do was BEGIN writing, and keep going. Sooner or later I’d figure out the best beginning.
And I always do. You will, too. 🙂
2. Frame your novel with a prologue
Prologues have gone out of fashion, but that doesn’t mean that you should avoid them.
I think of a prologue as splashing something vivid onto the page. I may discard the prologue completely later, or I may incorporate it into the body of the novel somewhere, but a prologue gets you started with a bang.
Consider how “prologues” are used when you’re watching a movie, or a TV episode. Law & Order for example always starts with someone’s murder, or serious injury. If you’re writing a mystery or thriller, you might begin with the murder too.
Think of your prologue as:
- Setting the mood of your novel;
- Foreshadowing a major event in the novel; and most importantly…
- As something you write casually, which you may or may not use in the novel.
3. Writing the ending of your novel FIRST
I love writing endings first, because I know that the ending will change. So you can write the ending easily enough; there’s no pressure.
However, once you’ve written the ending, you’ll find that you’re on fire to start your novel. And you’ll get started, without thinking about it, because the ending is “done.”
Yes, this is a psychological trick you play on yourself, but it’s a good one, and it usually works.
Try this simple strategy if you’re finding that starting your novel is a huge challenge.
I developed the tactics and strategies in this book to help myself. My students have found them essential to producing both fiction and nonfiction almost effortlessly.More info →
Your readers want to enter your novel's world. They want to experience your book -- they want to live your book with your main characters.More info →
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