How to Start a Novel
I've recently been toying with ideas for WIPs, waiting for one of them to grab hold of me so I could put fingers to keyboard and start writing. When it finally happened, I opened a fresh word document and started typing.
Then stopped again.
I realized I needed to rethink my process.
Now, I'm no outliner or avid researcher. I'm not a pantster, either. Generally, when an idea hits, I let it churn in my brain a little, then jot down a short query synopsis (VERY flexible for change), then start at the beginning - a very good place to start. That's exactly what I did this time, only I realized that my lack of understanding of character, place, etc. was not going to get me anywhere. So, I did some thinking, scrapped most of what I'd written for the beginning, and started over fresh. I'm much more pleased with what I've written now.
For those of you also struggling with writing those first words of a fresh manuscript, here are some tips:
1. Love the query letter
Unless this is your first manuscript, all of you know how horrible it is to write a query letter, a short, enticing introduction to your completed novel--basically, a one-page pitch. Use this to your advantage. Before you've even written the first sentence of the novel, craft a pitch that you love and build the plot details of the novel around it. Not only will it help you focus the plot and make it intriguing, but you'll also have query draft 1 complete for when you're ready to start looking for an agent!
2. Consider your characters
Some writers (like me) are eager to dive into a novel without outlining or even knowing much about the main characters. But if you take even a couple minutes to figure out what they're like, where they come from, and what incident will upset their world, your brainstorming can lead to a clearer beginning for the story.
3. Use pictures for inspiration
Pinterest, anyone? If you haven't checked out this site already, I encourage you to do so, as it's chalk-full of fantastic images that can serve as a major source of writing inspiration. You can create boards for your novels that allow you to collect images related to location, period, and characters. A great picture can be enough to spark an awesome story. (If you're curious, you can glimpse the world of my novel Extraction here.)
4. Be open to mistakes
Sometimes, the best way to write a novel is to barrel through even when you're stuck. Remember that the fresh manuscript is a draft; it can be revised and polished. Maybe you'll have to write three or five or twenty openings before you find one you're happy with, but write all of them. You never know where they'll lead.