For better or for worse, I belong to a handful of writer groups on Facebook. Every once in a blue moon I’ll ask a question, but I mostly lurk among the more interesting ones and give a few tips or tricks if I have a bit of insight into a particular topic. One of the questions that I always, with out fail, come rain or shine, scroll over is this:
I have an idea, but I don’t know where to start. How do start writing this book?
Better question: How do you answer that in a Facebook comment? There’s so many styles and approaches (not to mention all the commentators clamoring to have the right answer), that I never know where to start. Maybe it’s because I tend to overthink things, but that’s a whole lot of answer for not a lot of words. It is for me anyway.
It is, however, still a valid question and a daunting one at that, so I put together five simple, flexible, (hopefully) no stress ways to get working on that project clamoring to get out of your head and onto paper.
1. Make an Outline
I personally think outlining has gotten a bad rep in the writing world. It’s often seen as being too structured and too restrictive when I’ve often found the opposite to be true. An outline is whatever you want it to be. It can be paragraphs, one-line chapter summaries, character interviews, whatever you want. I’m personally a fan of the Snowflake Method, created by Randy Ingermanson. It’s quite a detailed method, but long story short (*bada* *tsu*), you write a few statements about your story, then build on them until you have a full picture from start to finish. A key part of that picture for me is writing every chapter on a sticky note so I can edit/rearrange events before getting them all down.
If the Snowflake Method isn’t your cup of tea, there’s hundreds upon thousands of outline formulas that might work. I also really like Beat Sheets, for example. Or you could always make up your own. Like I said, outlines are whatever you want time to be. 🙂
2. Write the Middle Scene First
No one ever said you had to write chapter one first when writing a novel. Well, I’m sure plenty of people do , but no one ever said you had to listen to them. If all you’ve got to go on is a scene or two and a handful of characters, then work with it. Get it on paper or on your computer screen. Pretty soon all sorts of questions and plot threads will start popping up. What leads up to this scene? Why do these characters feel the way they do? Who else knows about what’s going on and what are they going to do about it? What did they do before? Now you’re off and running with the rest of your novel!
3. Study Books You Love
Maybe the best way for you to begin your book is to look at one that’s already ended. Go through someone of your favorite books and see how they start their stories. How do they introduce characters? What sort of events are you dropped into on the very first page?
For me, Holly Black’s In the Darkest Part of the Forest had a huge influence on the tone and set up of Portraits of a Faerie Queen. I loved the way you know right from the get go that it’s a dark fairy tale and that readers should be wary of this new town and the surrounding forest. While I my style is a bit more upbeat and simple, I’m still always learning a lot from Miss Black’s work, including how to get a book rolling. I’m sure you could do the same for whatever genre you love to write.
4. Watch a TV Show in Your Genre
I’ve written before about how TV and books don’t necessarily have to be at odds. Figuring out how to start a book is no exception. Just like reading in your chosen genre can have a wealth of insights, so can watching TV in your chosen genre. How do the shows introduce characters and conflict with dialogue? How do they do so with action? Where does one episode start and another begin? Take notes on what you could implement in your writing. Those notes could give you the perfect set up to get your novel going. Not to mention that, like reading in your genre, watching in your genre helps you get a clear intended audience in mind for when your book is all done, so good on you for thinking ahead!
5. Get Outside. Go Somewhere. Anywhere.
It might sound counterproductive to leave your desk if you want to get a book going, but getting on your feet will probably get your creative juices flowing. Where does your main character live? Hows is that place similar or different from where you live? Where would the like to go if they were in your shoes? Who would they meet once they get there? The questions and possible plot threads are only limited by how far you want to walk/run/bike/drive/unicycle/whatever you want to do. You’ll also be getting exercise, which we writers often don’t get enough of, so you’ll body will thank you later along with your story.
Rina’s school, James-Child college, borrows a lot of elements from my old stomping grounds. I spent so much time walking to and from class that the place left a permanent imprint in my mind. I knew one day I’d have to use it in a story eventually and I’m glad I got to sooner rather than later. The scene where Jocelyn meets Rina at school is one of my favorites in the book.
These five ways to get writing are only the tip of the creative iceberg. For those of you out there who have been writing for a while, how do you get started? What advice would you give to a writer just starting out? For those newer to the craft, what scares you the most about starting? How did you overcome those fears? Leave a comment below and lets talk!