How To Start A Novel

September 1, 2020 Off By The Writers Pen

HOW TO START A NOVEL
—by: Tim Hawken 🖊

1) DECIDE ON AN IDEA
— The first thing you’ll be asked by any prospective editor is “what is your book about?”. You need to have a good answer; one that you can ejaculate clearly in a few sentences or less. This is the same when you start writing. It can’t be about nothing, Seinfeld has done that already. This will of course evolve as your story does, but it is best to start simply.

2) DECIDE ON A LOCATION
— Where you set your story is going to have massive implications on who your characters are and how they react to their environment. ‘When’ can also be added in here, for example: a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away.

3) GET TO KNOW YOUR CHARACTERS
— It would be a strange book without any characters in it. Some will pop up as you go, but you should at the very least know who your main two characters are and how they interact with each other. Personality, looks, odd habits: the more specific you are the better. They will soon take on a life of their own and help write the story for you. Some people, like Clive Barker, actually sketch their characters first, so they become real in their minds.

4) OUTLINE THE STORY INTO 3 ACTS
— Parts 1, 2 and 3. This is a formulaic way of writing, proven to maintain structure. You might think it’s mechanical, but when you’ve written 200,000 words and the story hasn’t progressed, you’ll be kicking yourself you didn’t have at least a simple plan.

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5) DECIDE ON THEMES
— Books are a platform to explore key issues within society. Love, hate, racism, homosexuality, depression, or how you’d react to the pending zombie apocalypse. The best novels speak to us on multiple levels. This is your stage — shout your complex views from it and then contradict them, just for fun.

6) CREATE A CHAPTER SUMMARY FOR THE ENTIRE BOOK.
— This follows on from your ‘3 acts’. Again, this will change, but figure out how you’ll get from point A to B to C, when you’ll introduce characters, or drop a twist on your reader’s heads. This is your roadmap. I keep mine at the bottom of the manuscript so I can add or subtract notes as I go along. Without this, I’d get totally lost in tangents about things that don’t matter.

7) WRITE THE OPENING LINES.
— The first sentences of a book can decide whether someone will go on to read the next thousand lines or so. Hone it. Make it sizzle. If it doesn’t yet, you can refine during editing, but it has to entice.

8) WRITE THE ENDING.
— You need to end with a bang, but more importantly it will motivate you to finish. I find that if I have on paper exactly how something will conclude it’s easier to fill the gaps in between. Things might change as the story develops, and that’s okay. But, if you have some goal posts at the end, it’s easier to run in the right direction.

9) “BEGIN AT THE BEGINNING AND GO ON TILL YOU COME TO THE END; THEN STOP.”
— Some of you will know that this is a Lewis Carol quote. It makes sense. Don’t get lost in writing bits and pieces and trying to shoehorn them in somehow. If you go from start to end then the story will flow much better. Should inspiration strike for a later part, you can write it and use your chapter summary to slot it in, but don’t get distracted by things that aren’t relevant to this book.

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10) EDIT, EDIT, EDIT.
— The editing process is painful. It’s like slicing away bits of your own flesh. Mostly it’s warts, but sometimes it can feel like you’re amputating a limb. People aren’t flogging this horse because it’s dead. Often a good book can be turned great with the right adjustments.

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