How to Begin

The “alpha” of fiction-writing is deciding where to begin. This is a decision that presents a roadblock to many writers, especially beginning writers. They begin by worrying over the opening sentence, paragraph, or scene. A writing student can spend hours, days, or weeks trying to make up his or her mind.

However, it may take writing 150 pages, or even the whole novel, before experienced writers decide what will make the most impact as an opening.

My answer is: Begin with what’s taking your attention. Do not imagine the whole novel all at once. Instead, imagine one scene and begin there.

Is it difficult to get a grip on a scene? Here’s what to do:
• Close your eyes,
• Quiet your mind,
• Imagine something that happens in the novel – a scene that rolls like a movie in your mind’s eye. Start here.

If, as sometimes happens, you cannot yet imagine a scene, here’s what to do:

Just before you fall asleep at night, give your mind something to work on. After all, your “sleeping mind” is hard-wired to produce dreams. Tell it to produce scenes from your novel, and it will. In the morning, go right to your computer, put your hands on the keys, and start typing. If this doesn’t work on the first night, try it again and again for a week.

I suggest that you begin writing with a scene that involves conflict. Write down a main conflict that you expect to occur. Use only one main conflict involving two people, groups of people, nations, or other opposing elements. The conflict could be between two elements of one character’s personality, such as internal flaws, fears, and prejudices.

Once you’ve started with what’s taking your attention, you can add other scenes that are needed to make your scene happen, and other scenes that are the result of what you’ve just written.

Some writers feel the urge to outline the novel before writing – this is especially true of mystery writers. It’s OK to go with this urge so long as it does not impede your creativity.
Aim for writing a new scene every three days or so. If you find yourself troubling over an outline, and not getting any new writing accomplished, forget the outline.

Whether you create an outline or not, make a list of each scene after you write it. You will use the list later to rearrange your scenes for maximum effect.

Do not go back and rewrite. Don’t worry if a scene seems to you like terrible writing. Just write. Put words on the page. You are embarking on a first draft. The time to rewrite is much later.
If you have developed any tricks of the trade to start your novel, please let me know. I’d like to add your ideas to the blog.

Marc Schaeffer


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