Sunday, August 9, 2015

5 Steps to Starting a Novel from Scratch

Okay, okay, these aren't necessarily consecutive, all-inclusive steps that will guide you from the blank page and blinking cursor in front of you to a tidy 90,000 word book. But it's a start. And hopefully it will give you a good idea of how to get started and what to expect as you plow through.

May the force be with you. I don't even like Star Wars, I don't know why I said that. May the odds be ever in your favor? That's better, but hopefully no one dies...

Step 1: Be crazy. 

You need to be just the right amount of insane to come up with a books' worth of thoughts, write them down, read through them, and then berate yourself repeatedly until you questions your whole purpose in life...And then try and convince someone that it's the best thing since The Bible. If you're not crazy enough you will likely get a chapter or two into the book (one or two sittings) think "Well, that was fun..." and put it down forever. That's fine. It's what most people who start a book do, but you need to be prepared to push through that feeling. Write when you don't want to, even if it's just 500 words and it's junk that you'll inevitably throw out in a fit of rage. Eventually you'll get your groove back and you and Stella will have a finished book!

Free stock photo of fashion, legs, notebook, working

Step 2: Start with something.

You don't have to know exactly what is going to happen every step of the way but, good god man, start with something. As a freelance writer I wrote short stories, novels, non-fiction informative e-books, and I've started several of my own books and it feels like I do something different every time. I've started with no plan except one character (basically me in the flesh...or at least how I like to think of myself...) and a general idea of what I wanted the genre to be. That's right, the genre. I was pretty sure I wanted it to be Young Adult, but I didn't know if it would be fantasy, sci-fi, romance, etc. And then I really liked typing with a potty mouth so I almost threw the Young Adult out the window. Trust me. It doesn't work. Have a plan.

I've also started with a very detailed outline complete with every character, their back stories, and their backstories' backstories. Sometimes this can be better, but it's easy to write yourself into a corner. You don't want to stifle yourself, that's how you wind up dreading writing. You may begin writing and suddenly become inspired to make two characters fall in love, or kill off someone, or add tension somewhere to mix things up. Keep your options open.

My personal favorite MO is a sparse outline. You should know where the book starts, some general scene pacing to get a feel for the story arc, and generally what you'd like to happen at the end. That's not to say you can't change the ending, you'll get to know your story better as you write it and will be a better judge of what should happen and when. Trust your instincts! Unless your instincts are telling you to kill John Snow, then maybe you should take a break...

Step 3: Prime your writing pump.

It's hard to start any book or story since the first few pages are crucial. You have to introduce your characters, your hook, and let readers know what they can expect from your book. You have to sell it. This is a lot of pressure and it can lead to writers trying to cram too much info in, be too clever, not want to be overwhelmingly anything, and ultimately lead to an awkward, clunky intro.

I am constantly writing and re-writing the first lines and pages of anything I write. Did my character enter with enough pzazz? Can readers get a sense of the character and the story pretty quickly? Was that rant about Emma by Jane Austen actually pertinent to the story or did I just include it because I just finished it and needed a place to air my grievances? (This actually happened in my first novel. I don't know why I felt the need to hate on Jane Austen in the most crucial pages of my book. Maybe I thought I was being surly, relatable, and clever?)

Start with a short story featuring your characters or start somewhere earlier than you want to begin your book to give them a chance to warm up and give yourself a chance to work out any awkward jokes, tendencies, reviews.

Step 4: Picture it, then write it.

She kicked him. He fell to the floor. She ran past him and escaped.

That was boring. Don't be boring. Be anything but boring.

Before starting a new scene, especially busy scenes with a lot going on, picture it going down in your mind and hone in on what the character is seeing, hearing, smelling, and feeling. Have a good mix of simple and unique portrayals. Not every line needs to be a snail's pace account of what's happening. Switch up the tempo, keep readers on their toes.

She channeled every ounce of strength she had left as she launched her foot into his groin. His face was like lightening before the thunder, folding in on itself as he fell to the floor, followed by a piercing cry. He was down for the count and she saw her chance to escape.

Not perfect, but better. One exercise that the authors of "Your First Novel" suggested is to take a section of your writing, something manageable like a paragraph or a page, and double it. Double the descriptions, the thoughts going through characters' heads, the action sequence. Another exercise is to take a section and half it. Keep doing this until you come out with a well-worked piece.

Step 5: It's not the end of the world, so have fun with it!


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