I understand the frustration when you don’t know how to start your novel, especially if it’s yet your first time. Everything is difficult. Confusion sets in as you stare at your blank page, frustrated and clueless where to begin.
Don’t worry, my friend. Everyone, including the veteran writers out there, have the same experience as yours. Even myself, I face difficulties when I begin my novel. But as time passes by and with experience, you can determine the best way to start your novel easier.
That doesn’t mean it will be really easy. Just so you know, writing a novel is like walking on the road of thorns. As Robert Frost says, “It’s a road less traveled.” Writing a book lives the same principle.
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How To Start Your Novel Easier
Honestly, there’s no easy start when it comes writing your novel. Your first novel. As I’ve mentioned earlier, it’s the most difficult endeavor anyone undertakes. Many can start writing now, but only a few can finish the race.
In this post, what I’d like to point out isn’t about showing you the easy way to start your novel. But how to make a clear path where you can actually start to make it easier for you to begin your first word. The process continues until the last word of your book.
I asked a few people to share their personal tips on how they start writing their novels. Many of them mentioned “just keep writing,” which is true. You cannot finish your novel if you won’t start writing even a single word.
Because you know what, you won’t notice that one word or one sentence becomes one paragraph and one chapter later on. Other than that important tip, I compiled 10 tips from different writers you can apply in your own piece of work.
They may appear simple to follow, but they’re actually not. Each of the tips requires discipline on your part. Even myself. I don’t deny I slack off at times and won’t write a single thing on a day or two.
But, if you really want to start your novel and finish with a bang, you have to get a grip on yourself and commit to it until the last word.
1. Write the first sentence that comes into your mind.
Start from there and you’d be surprised at the outcome. You’d notice you continue writing until the last word of that chapter. I experience that myself.
“You just write. Start with the end in mind and write (the entire work, even the first paragraph, should be working towards the finish),” M. Dandy pointed out.
2. Make your book idea as clear as possible using coherent sentences.
My editor told me once I love to write thoughtful and short sentences in my chapters. Yes, I prefer writing shorter sentences than having a lengthy description of a scene in my novels.
According to B.L. Alley, author of Arbor Day (Arosil Series), the common problem among authors is their focus to reach the word count rather than the thought of the paragraphs itself.
“Errors are going to occur, but even a beginner should be able to write coherent sentences to form a clear idea of what they are saying. The editing process must focus on honing the story to its most efficient and engaging form, not correcting every other word or having to delete entire passages because the author was more concerned with his word count than those ideas,” he said.
3. Avoid lengthy exposition.
This is where most authors fail. I remembered my younger sister, who bought a New York Best-Selling Book “Before I Fall” from her own expense. She thought it’d be nice, as the stellar book reviews and online attention recommend it.
But as soon as she reads the first few pages, she pauses to breathe and later, she stops reading the entire book. I asked her reason for her discontinued reading. “The first few chapters are too dragging,” she said.
Another example is Kevin Kwan’s “Crazy Rich Asians.” The book may have sold a lot in the market and garnered media attention enough to have it adapted into a blockbuster Hollywood film.
Yet, many reviews said Kwan’s style of writing the early chapters is overwhelming. They need to remember a lot of names as soon as they read the first chapter. To them, it’s too much.
Better start the book by stirring your reader’s curiosity. How to do that? I’ve compiled a few techniques you can apply in your books. Some of them I’ve applied in my own works, too.
Jacob M. Appel, Writer’s Digest writer and contributor, points out 7 approaches to write a killer opening. These are also applied in classic novels.
a. Statement of Eternal Principle.
You can start your first sentence with a general principle. Most European classics start the chapter with the same method.
I love this when the main character mentions it right from the beginning where he utters it as he stands at the edge of the ridge. “I wonder what love is. All I know is that love is intangible, yet it changes someone’s destiny.”
b. Statement of Simple Fact.
It’s the simplest way to start your chapter, in which your protagonist utters a narrative in one statement. In fact, most of the works written by young writers nowadays tend to use the same technique. For example, “I have been married once to a woman I never met.” That stirs curiosity.
c. Statement of Paired Facts.
It’s a method in which you, as an author, compel your readers to flip to the next page by giving them two facts combined to make a powerful statement than using one on its own.
You can do this by combining odd setting and characters creating an interesting interplay affecting the plot. Let’s say, two inseparable con-men trapped inside the purgatory, mistakenly judged to get to heaven.
d. Statement of Simple Fact With Significance.
I love using this method in my books. I start the chapter by allowing the protagonist to say the fact which will be considered significant later.
Let’s say, “Crowd. Noise from the murmurs of the people I couldn’t understand. Almost inaudible in my ears.” This is how I began my chapter in my book, “Accidental Quest.”
When you read the statement as is, you won’t get the context, right? But you’ll know as soon as you go through the next paragraphs and in the next chapters (with the interconnected plot).
e. Statement to Introduce Voice.
Authors use this method to give the readers the idea of how the protagonist acts in a particular situation. No plot, characterization, and setting. Yet. This is just how you start the first chapter with a “highly unusual voice.”
Most of the time, readers will know the tone of the book at this junction. It’s how you, as an author, design the first sentence and create that overall vibe.
f. Statement to Establish Mood.
To me, this sounds like the previous point, but it’s more into giving the readers the contextual information not directly related to the story per se. It’s just giving a hint to the readers what’s coming or the weight of the story itself.
Will they shed tears later on because of its drama? Will they expect a light romance in the book?
g. Statement For Frame.
“Once upon a time…” This how you usually begin your story when you’re a kid. It’s a brilliant idea to start the chapter as straightforward as that.
4. Actively engage the reader.
You can do this by introducing the problem right in the first chapter. Your readers don’t need to spend more minutes flipping the next pages to the next chapter without knowing the core why your story exists.
Right from the beginning, they should know what your protagonist will face. Remember my previous point.
In most of the stories I write, it’s somehow my habit to put the main character’s pleasure at the beginning and slowly build up the problem towards the end of the first chapter. So, when they proceed to the second chapter, the conflict will be the sole focus. That keeps them going.
Another technique you can take advantage of is to have the action take place right at the beginning of the chapter. Let’s say, your main character is chased by some goons and he appears ruddy, weak, or dying. Create a punch.
5. Create a character profile right when you’ve got the book idea.
When it comes building strong, phenomenal characters for your story, you look into their recognizable or distinctive physical attributes. That way, your readers can remember them perfectly.
In addition to that, you can dig into their background and show their stories how they ended up in their present belief or behavior. Perhaps, they have shared suppressed pain, waiting for a big reveal. Who knows?
- Are they lean, fat, or sickly? Perhaps, they have prominent features like a bald right at the center of their scalp.
- How about their language? How do they speak? Do they cuss a lot or they speak formally than anybody else in the group?
- What are their dislikes or likes, strengths or weaknesses?
As an author, you have to show whether your main characters have the past traumatic experience they couldn’t forget and move on. Maybe they have kept an object that prevents them from recovering the death of a beloved.
Sara Shepard, author of “Pretty Little Liars,” suggested that as an author, think in your character’s shoes. Would he tell you his side of the story when he just met you? No, right? He’ll do as you get closer to him and know him deeper than anybody else. Do the same thing in your novel. You can hint of your protagonist’s struggle, but not reveal everything at once.
If not, are there specific events that provoke his anger or emotional breakdown amid his stoic personality?
Show them in your first chapter. Start strong and develop scenes that will showcase your characters’ changes and challenge their limitations by putting them in the most difficult situations.
Learning how to start your novel requires a lot of practice. You won’t get the feel of it when you’re writing your first book.
But when you continue writing your next set of books and develop that style that’s unique to you, it’d be easier to begin your book based on how you see the book as a whole, the situation or the time your main character is in. The endless possibilities go on.
The main point is to start writing. There’s no perfect draft. It’s a draft. It’s obviously crap. So, it’s best not to expect a manuscript so perfectly written after a first try. Give it some time and don’t be too hard on yourself just because.
Writing isn’t a race. It’s not about earning money from your writing career. It’s about creating that world for your readers to enjoy and forget their realities by reading your awesome stories.
Those stories that once lived inside your heads, now put into words anyone can see and read over and over again. That’s how to start your novel even if you’re a sucker AF.
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