Help – How do I Start my Book?
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You have had this story spinning around in your head for months. You have a few days break with nothing else lined up so it seems like a good time to begin putting it down in writing. You sit down at the computer and open a new document, imagining your story flooding the screen with a torrent of words. You flex your writing fingers and prepare for the rush from your brain, through your fingertips, and onto the keyboard. Nothing happens.
Why, you wonder? It’s all there in your head. Getting it onto the page should be a breeze, surely. Perhaps you’ve got writers’ block?
Probably not; to suffer this tired old problem you need to at least have started your book. There is a common saying that applies strongly to writers, `Use it or lose it.’ In other words, a writer needs to write something every day if they want their narrative to continue to flow and develop; regularity keeps the brain supple. Just like any muscle that seizes up when it’s not used frequently; regular use makes it stronger. It doesn’t matter what you write, it can be anything from a rhyming ditty; a letter to the editor; a short story – anything that requires you to test your imagination, skills, and knowledge with the aim of it being read by someone – even if that someone is only yourself – at some point.
Best advice: Write something every day.
So how do you begin to write your novel? Where do you start?
Well, if you simply have this story in your head and think it’s all a matter of just sitting down at your keyboard and letting it write itself – well, that’s what you were thinking, wasn’t it? – then you need to think again; particularly if you are a novice writer.
Yes, there have been, and are, and always will be, writers who sit down and dash off their novel without any preparation other than that they have made up their mind to do so – no background work, no research, no synopsis or character profiles, no plot or theme – just a long stream of words.
But these writers are few and, for the successful ones, generally quite experienced.
For the beginner, no matter how good the story line in their head, there needs to be a degree of work put in before the fingers, brain, and keyboard unite to type those potentially life-changing words – CHAPTER ONE.
First it is a good idea, and a lot easier than starting the novel from scratch as just mentioned, to jot down a story outline. This will give you a framework to work from. Some will write a few paragraphs, some a few pages; others will create a brief outline of each chapter.
I have used both of these methods but also keep a notebook in which I record dates, names, ideas, any adjustments to the initial outline, and a direction for where I want the following day’s writing to go.
It doesn’t mean you can’t change anything; if you find things aren’t going quite the way you originally envisaged, the notebook is a good way of developing the story day by day and/or chapter by chapter. Always remember that writing is a subjective occupation – methods that suit one person may not suit another so we all play around with things until we find a way that works for us.
Story mapping is a useful tool. This is where you take a piece of paper, draw a circle in the middle and write inside it a short plot phrase or whatever starting point you choose, then create more circles going out from it with incidents, characters etc. For those who think visually, this can provide a quite effective story outline.
Obviously it’s important to know your characters but, if you are not into writing detailed character profiles, you can use the mapping method and have a bit of fun with it. You’ll probably be surprised at what develops and how rounded your characters become.
As your characters are what your fiction tale will be built around, knowing them intimately is critical to the success of your story; hence you really need to do this before you start writing your book.
If you feel that’s too time-consuming and you are biting at the bit to get started on the actual writing, at least do a rough outline of each character and add to it as you go. Personally, I like to know my characters well before I begin, but that’s just me. Everyone develops their own method – what works best for them; and you will too.
Think of your first attempt as training for the next book and the next and, at some stage, you will have your own template for success. If you are very organised you will probably develop your personal writing strategy quite quickly.
If your book requires research and you don’t want to do masses of this before you begin, you can plan for it – perhaps during your writing breaks. You will need these to avoid becoming stale or going cross-eyed from looking at the screen for long periods. Again, practise will prove what works best for you.
Your Writing Day
You may decide that each day you will complete a certain number of words, say 2000; or you might set yourself a time schedule – “I will write from 10.00am to 2.00pm Monday to Friday.”
Whatever presses your buttons as they say.
So now you have a workable synopsis, or story map, or both, and you know your characters, at least tentatively. You have done some research or planned it into your schedule and now you are ready to type those magic words – CHAPTER ONE.
All that remains is to start writing so I wish you luck and good favour, and leave you with this observation from the master story-teller, W. Somerset Maugham.
“There are three rules for writing the novel. Unfortunately, no one knows what they are.”