How to Start a Novel
Now, I’ve never really had problems with starting novels. Finishing them, yes, definitely. Starting them … not so much. It’s actually one of my worst habits, novel-starting. But a friend of mine asked me to write a post on starting novels … so here I am.
I talked about this a little in my post Plot Construction 101: Exposition and Inciting Incident … you can also find my opinion about prologues here. However, here I hope to write something new and inspiring. Something no one has ever written about before. Something so stupendous it’ll knock your socks right off your feet and blow ’em to the moon!
I will, too! Come on, guys! Have a little faith in me! 😀 So, now, from the author of all the other posts on this blog …
A Few Tips for Beginning a Novel:
When you begin a novel, you want the first line to say something stupendous and original, something that sets your novel apart from the madding crowd (no, I don’t know what that means), something that asks a question that the reader can only answer by reading on!
How can you do this? There’s only one way … and that was summed up in the last two words of the former paragraph. 😛
*suddenly decides to name all my daughters “Keira” or “Elizabeth.”
On the first line …
- Don’t fuss about it in the first draft. You can come up with something eye-catching later; I’m 90% sure “it was the best of time, it was the worst of times” didn’t come from a first draft.
- When it comes time to fuss (anytime after the first draft is completed), don’t think too complicated. Big words in the first line are not a good idea in most cases.
- Start with a sentence that reflects the mood of the novel. Going for a dramatic mood? A dramatic first line is best. A comedic novel needs a comedic first line. A wistful novel needs a wistful first line. And so on.
- Ask a question. No, I’m not asking you to literally write a phrase with a ? at the end. But the first line should contain something that makes the reader ask a question. For instance …
- “It is a truth universally acknowledged that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife.” ~Pride and Prejudice, Jane Austen. Who, in this story, is the person who’s rich and needs a wife? Who’s going to pursue him? Is that going to go well? Is that man actually willing to be married?
- “Elnora Comstock, have you lost your senses?” ~A Girl of the Limberlost, Gene Stratton Porter. Who is Elnora? Who is speaking to her? Why has she lost her senses?
- “A little girl, perhaps five or six years old, perched on a low bench sporting rose-printed cushions.” ~The Lady of the Vineyard, Kellyn Roth. Yeah, you all knew that was gonna happen. Who is the girl? Why is she sitting on the cushions?
As you can see, they’re all great beginning lines. And they all ask questions in their own way.
Now hold it, you say. All sentences ask questions if you put it that way!
Yes, they do. But do they ask the right questions? Answer me that! Think: What questions do I want people to ask about my story?
On the first paragraph …
Also a big deal; this is the “drawing-in” section of the “hook,” after all. 😉
- If the first line is a big deal, start a new paragraph as with example 1 (up there ^). After telling us about how men wants to get married if they’re rich, she skips to a new paragraph and makes a more specific claim … that if a gentleman moves into a new neighborhood, he’s automatically the property of someone’s daughter. 🙂
- If the first line is simply an introduction to an explanation or part of description, keep writing the paragraph. It doesn’t hurt to start a novel off with a little bit of description, of the main character or of the place the novel will take place. Or perhaps to explain what you meant by that outrageous claim or combination of intriguing words.
- Make sure you don’t bore your reader with too much description before action or dialogue. Or perhaps start with action or dialogue, although make sure you explain where you are, who the characters are, etc. at some point. If you can do so between action and dialogue naturally and without seeming to suddenly change the subject, that’s a good idea. I always feel sneaky when I do this. 😉
On the first chapter …
- Let us know who the protagonist is, but don’t summarize their entire life. It is easy with a word here or there, a statement there and here to give the reader a vague idea at least of who the protagonist is and why we like him/her.
- Start in a place where something important is happening or about to happened or has happened, something that brings forth or has brought for the inciting incident.
- Make sure the reader knows what the main problem is and possibly how it needs to be resolved.
Ok, guys, that’s about all I have for now. I know it’s not much, but hopefully it’ll give you an idea on how to start a novel. If you have any questions (or anything to add), comment, please! 😀
p.s. I’ve been thinking about adding some Christian content into The Lady of the Vineyard recently. What do you think? Good idea, bad idea, doesn’t matter either way? If you’ve beta-read it, do you think it could be added in without awkwardness? I don’t want it to be a main theme like in TDS, but I want it to be there. 🙂