Start at the Very Beginning

I have heard it is a very good place to start. But the road to writing a novel is terrifying. It can be particularly daunting when I am looking back and forth between a blank document and my boyfriend’s copy of Infinite Jest. Come on, that thing has thousands of pages. How do writers knock out epics of hundreds of thousands of words?

Where do I even begin to write a novel?

Before sitting down and writing, I guess the place anyone really can start is by having an idea. And then we cross our fingers and really hope that it is a good one.

The mind is a truly scary place and mine is no exception. Comprised of an odd assortment of trivial facts, The Office quotes, and memories from living an extraordinarily average American childhood, somedays a unique idea just falls flat. But there are days when I feel inspired. I pull out my notes app on my iPhone and I feverishly jot down an idea.

A tale as old as time

Most people might know after talking to me for about three seconds that I am a huge nerd. This is especially true when it comes to all things Disney. A sucker for a good story and some magic, Disney delivers. Animated films also provide a great way to observe story structure in a simplified format.

Once upon a time… A main character has some big problem to overcome. This is followed by a series of challenges that meet them.  There is a turning point and the main character solves their problem. Good defeats evil. The day is saved. Your childhood is complete!

What I learned by studying plot structure

Looking at plot structure, is a way that I have grown more familiar with the ideas surrounding my story. The basic premise might start as an obscure void, a half-baked idea with no clear direction. But when you start manipulating your premise by the laws of structure, your story can actually take shape (and start making sense) write before your very eyes… see what I did there.

“Structure is to a story what the skeleton is to the human body.”

Jerry Jenkins

There are several ways to attack story structure. Most writers follow one form or the other. The Reedsy Blog has a fantastic post in which they go in depth about different types of story structure, and it includes some lovely, easy-to-understand graphics. Who doesn’t love a good chart?

As a Newbie, I find it easiest to look at the classic three-act structure as a great way to start pulling together my thoughts. But all novels and all writers are different.

Whether you use the three-act structure or some other kind, using a structure forces you to think about things like key points of conflict. Looking at the structure allows you to take your premise and play around with the series of events. In planning my current novel, I had the story start right at the climax of act one. After I let the idea breathe, I realized I needed a lot more room to let the action build.

Just write the first draft

Sit down and write. Four words I tell myself often.

Whether you identify as a plotter or a panster, the book will only start when you start writing it. I personally deal with some degree of self-doubt with every word I key in. And the worst part is, I don’t think that doubt will ever go away. What I have found as my saving grace is that lovely and tedious process: the editing phase.

I’ve learned that it is okay if you don’t start your novel the right way on a first attempt. For me, it may even take several attempts. But the best answer of where to begin is to start (preferably at the beginning) and write the dang thing.

All this to say–  Start your novel at the beginning of the story. Start it where it makes sense. And finally, start it in whatever way you think is going to create the most compelling story.

To all my fellow Newbies out there, happy writing!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: