May 22, 2018

How do you start a novel

How do you start a novel? It’s a question asked a lot online.

Some other variations I’ve seen are:

  1. “I want to write a novel about (idea), but don’t know where to start.”
  2. “I want to write a novel, but I don’t know what about.” (Seriously)
  3. “I have this idea for a novel, but I’m not sure how to begin.”

The first and last may seem the same, but there’s a subtle difference.

The 3rd speaks to a problem many writers have – nailing that all-important beginning, be it the first chapter, the first page, or even the very first sentence (or word).

The first is speaking more generally, though, and questioning how and where you even begin writing a novel. This could include the mechanics and structure, the premise and concept, the setting and characters – basically any and every element a novel contains.

The questions is kind of like, “How do you make a cake?”

And the answer has at least two answers, one obvious and the other more probing:

“With ingredients. What kind of cake do you want to make?”

And therein lies the biggest problem the writer asking the second question faces. Without knowing what kind of cake you want to make or book you want to write, you won’t know what kind of ingredients you have to work with.

Before we begin, some caveats:

Is this the only way to write a novel? No. Volumes, courses and scholars have spent years writing and studying this. The internet has infinite data stored on the topic(s). This article is just one example.

Is it the best way? Unlikely. There is no “best way”. And I’d suggest you be wary of anyone proclaiming they have the “best way” above all others. Peer behind the curtain and you’ll usually find they’re selling something, and it’s usually their course… Does that mean their course is wrong? Not at all. But theirs is one of many, and many others sell you guidance without the absolutes. They, in my mind, are the genuine.

What Are You Cooking With? Ingredients To Cook Your Story

Just like cakes, all stories have their base ingredients: mix and change those ingredients and you’re going to have a very different one come the end.

All stories generally have at least three things in common: they contain a person or people (characters); they take place somewhere (setting – involving time and place); and something happens (plot – which can be as simple as an idea or premise, or detailed enough to be considered a concept, generally informed by genre).

Characters, setting, plot: get these three base ingredients down and you’re ready to start cooking.

Is it that simple? Short answer yes, long answer no. Because with each, there’s a bit more layering to do.

Personally, I see these three as interlocking: each individual piece will inform the other and shape the direction and outcome of your book.

None of these elements can exist in a vacuum without the other(s).

Change one, and you’ll almost certainly need to change another.


2 Comments on “How do you start a novel

Bibi McMurray
May 22, 2018 at 11:43 am

Great post Rory. I like the cake metaphor. It is true that a story is made up of base ingredients and you need these ingredients to begin writing a story. Their are different methods to get ideas, my favourite is using what if. I find that allows me to combine different ideas to create an exciting plot. Can’t wait to read your next post. You’ve given me the oomph I need to begin writing articles for my website. Thanks.

Keith D Guernsey
May 27, 2018 at 1:05 am

Great information-Thanks for sharing.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *