You’d like to write a novel … but how do you even begin?
I’m not thinking here about ways to write a great opening (if that’s what you’re after, check out this excellent article from The Write Practice). The issue of “getting started” deals with more fundamental questions like:
- How do you come up with a novel-worthy idea – one you want to work on for months, possibly years?
- How do you grow that idea into an actual story – with a setting, plot and characters?
- How do you find the courage (and the time!) to sit down and start writing?
I imagine that if you spoke to a dozen different novelists, you’d find their novels had a dozen very different starting points. You’d probably find that some of those seemed unpromising or simply odd.
Chances are, though, you’d also find some common ground between those starting points. Here are some potential ways in which novels can begin
#1: With an image. C.S. Lewis’ famously said that The Chronicles of Narnia “all began with a picture of a Faun carrying an umbrella and parcels in a snowy wood.” Perhaps you have a particular scene, or part of a scene in your head. Like Lewis, you might have carried that image with you for years, even decades.
#2: As a short story. The second novel I attempted began in this way (and the short story, as I recall, began with an image). I finished the short story, then realised there was a lot of backstory to it that I wanted to write about.
#3: From a prompt. My very first novel, when I was 14, started in response to a competition entry … and kept going. If you’re coming fairly new to creative writing, try spending a few weeks playing around with prompts and trying out some freewriting – you might find that a particular idea catches hold.
#4: With a concept. My novel Lycopolis began with one clear concept: “a group of online roleplayers summon an evil demon into their game … and into the world”. A ton of things changed from planning to drafting to second draft, but that core idea is still central to the novel.
#5: With a character. Some authors come up with a compelling character then develop a story around them. If you enjoy character-driven fiction, this could be a good way to make it work. (Most often, though, you’ll probably find that a character comes to you along with a concept or an image.)
#6: From other art. (“Art” here including literature, music, etc, not just what you’d find in an art gallery.) Perhaps something you’re reading inspires you – it could be a particular character, a plot point, or even a single line of dialogue. Maybe the lyrics in a piece of music speak to you, or there’s a photograph or painting that you keep returning to. A novel could grow from that seed.
(If you want to read several authors’ descriptions of where their novels began, check out What Inspires Authors to Write Their Novels? on the Huffington Post.)
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