Writing fiction is huge fun. Getting started on a novel however can be a challenge. You want your story to be wonderful, and your story’s beginning to be irresistible. This means that you put huge pressure on yourself.
Take the pressure off. Look at it this way: it doesn’t matter where you start, you can always change it later. You almost certainly will change it later, so don’t sweat your story beginnings.
The easiest way ever to start your stories
Write a sentence. Kick the story off in any way you like. As I’ve mentioned in my writing journal, I’m writing an ebook of 25 short stories. I want to experiment with several different genres, a few of which I’ve never written in before.
I’m writing the stories in my “spare” time, so I don’t have time to mess around, dithering about HOW I will begin the story.
I just start, without any goal in mind, or an idea in my head. I write a sentence, or two.
Her first Christmas alone. Totally alone.
Devon hated her father.
Sheryl had no choice.
I wrote the above sentences off the top of my head, without thinking at all. The sentences have something in common; they arouse the reader’s curiosity, and my own. I have no idea where I’m headed, so I just keep going, accepting whatever pops into my head.
Set a time for five minutes. Here’s a simple online timer. Write a list of story-starter sentences, as above. Just write your sentences down the page, one after the other. Write as many as you can in five minutes.
Now choose one sentence. Set your timer again, this time for 25 minutes. Close your eyes for a minute or two, with your story-starter in mind. Can you see an image? Whether you can or not, start the timer. Now start writing, and keep writing. Don’t take your fingers from the keyboard.
Turn Your Story-Starter Into a Novel, or a Short Story
How did you do? You’ve now got at least one story character. Maybe you have three or more. It’s time to use the fiction writer’s favorite tool – “what if.”
Warning: you can keep writing if you don’t want to play “what if”, right this minute. If you’re writing a novel, keep going for 5,000 words. If you’re writing a short story, keep going for 1,000 words. NO MORE THAN THAT.
Here’s why you don’t just keep writing: you can end up with a horrible mess. This happens with pantsers who do NaNoWriMo. They tend to end up with messes – convoluted “novels” which are parts of novels, rather than a coherent story.
So, as soon as you can, play “what if”. Here’s a “what if” I could play with the Devon hated her father story starter.
- What if Devon’s father is a ghost?
- What if Devon lives in 1350, and her village is about to be engulfed by the plague?
- What if Devon is an orphan?
Remember to carry on with your story-starter for 25 minutes or so, so that you have enough material to play what-if.
Here’s Neil Gaiman on what-if:
You get ideas when you ask yourself simple questions. The most important of the questions is just, What if…?
When you ask yourself questions, you can start to build your story people into real people, and you can slowly develop a plot.
You Can Use Story-Starters Whenever You Like
You ca use story-starters anytime you like. Just write a sentence, and keep going for 25 minutes.
Let’s say your story is rolling right along. And then your inspiration fizzles. You’re tempted to tell yourself that you’re “not in the mood” to write, right now. STOP! Load up your timer, and write a story-starter. Keep going for 25 minutes.
Now ask yourself some “what if” questions.
Just like magic, you’ll find that you’re inspired again, and are keen to keep writing.
Writing fiction is fun. Story-starters are a wonderful tool. Try a story-starter session today.
Here’s the exercise in a graphic.
Start Your Novel Or Short Story In Just 30 Minutes With Our Story Starter Exercise
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You want to write a novel. Perhaps you can't get started. Or maybe you got started, and then you stopped.You need a plan, broken down into easy steps. This program began as a 30-day challenge which I organized for readers in 2010. Hundreds of writers joined the challenge and completed it. They wrote novels.More info →
Want to write short stories? If you answered yes, that's excellent… Here's why. Today, you can make money writing short fiction.More info →
Resources to build your writing career
Updated: May 5, 2019
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