Thursday, July 14, 2011

Novel Work #1 – Start at the Beginning

Wow. That sounds simple, doesn’t it. But where exactly is the beginning?

This is a question I have to work through every time I start a new story. Over time I’ve learned that there are a few things I need to know before I can answer this question. Please remember, I’m a die-hard plotter. So if you’re a pantser, or just not as anal as I am, your mileage may vary.

The first thing I need to know is my characters. I need to know who they are. Their goals and their motivation for reaching said goals. I also need to know what the major conflicts are. I say conflicts because personally, I like an angst-y story so I want both internal and external conflict. And I’m talking skeletons at this point for plot because everything is subject to refinement, but it helps to have an idea where you’re headed so you can find your way.

During the process of critiquing and judging writing, I’ve noticed this is something new writers struggle with. They feel the need to get everything ‘set up’ before the story starts. That way the reader will understand completely when the action starts in chapter five.

Imagine meeting someone for the first time, and right after you’ve been introduced the person starts telling you their life story, from birth up until the moment you meet. Kudos to you if you can last through the whole thing. It’s an exaggeration to be sure, but you get the point. It’s boring! Isn’t it more fun to learn about people a bit at a time? The thrill of discovery makes things more exciting.

Not only that, but its way easier as a writer to just ‘set up’ everything. It takes work and creativity to delicately weave in the back story, setting details, and personality traits. But it also gives you, and most importantly the reader, a better reading experience.

The ideal place to start your story, IMO, is when the hero/heroine gets the call to action. In other words, at the point where their life changes forever. It can be good, or bad, and the character may recognize it immediately or not, but as a writer, you need to. You need to understand that after this particular moment, be it a choice made, a disaster unfolding, or circumvented, from here on out, they will be different. Change is the catalyst that drives the opening.

And the reader shouldn’t have to wait for it.

How you portray that change will be up to you. After all, it is your story.


  1. Excellent points! As a pantser, I often find the first three chapters are mostly backstory. All about doing the set up and learning the characters. Kudos to you for plotting beforehand. I found that just a little plotting and character ground work can really help the pace of the writing.

    Looking forward to your next book!

  2. Awwww. Thanks, Morgan. Thanks for stopping by, and congrats on your awesome new release!