A writer named Amanda Hatfield posted the following question on a terrific site for mystery lovers:
“I need some tips on how to start writing my novel. I have a plot, characters but I dont know how to start it out. Can any one help me?”
So I wrote back the following:
The first thing I would do is sit down and see what comes out. Start with “Once upon a time” (you can always cut it later) if nothing else leaps to your fingertips. Writing is 90% about sitting in front of your medium (computer, tablet, stone side of a cave) and putting in your time there. At the end of the day (or three hour block, or one hour one) you should have something to work with, and editing is easier than creating (or hard in a different way).
Ask yourself some questions. What is this character you’ve come up with doing when the story opens? What “incident” starts his or her story off? At what moment does the character’s life begin to change?
I would also buy a book on writing the novel, a practical guide on the subject versus a great writer’s musing on his particular process (such as the terrific ON WRITING, which has been talked about here). Writer’s Digest has a great series on various elements of the novel (plot, character, dialogue, description) and James Frey writes volumes I & II on the novel overall. It’s not that this kind of concrete advice will teach you what to do (although it may), but I’ve found that it really triggers ideas and can be a great source of inspiration.
If you find that you yearn for more explicit teaching, you might look to take a writing workshop at your local community college.
Finally, I would not talk too much about what you’re doing, at least at first. I know this differs from writer to writer, but personally, I find that it can drain the energy off your gestating baby, that there’s a secret source of excitement when you anticipate unfurling this great thing you’re working on once it’s finally done. That alone can propel me toward the finish (although it helps to really, really, really need to find out what happens)!
I think this writer asked a great, elemental question here, and I admire her bravery, not just in posing it, but also in beginning this momentous process. What’s the quote? The journey of ten thousand miles starts with the first step? Amanda really nailed what that first step is.
I have a story. Now what do I do with it?
Some people think that finding the “idea” (the plot/characters) is the hard part. That’s why sooner or later, if you admit you’re a writer, you’ll probably get the ubiquitous, “I’ll give you my idea, you write the book, and we’ll split the proceeds.” (Assuming the thing, once written, gets published, AND that there are proceeds to split, you, the writer, have now done 99% of the work.)
Good luck, Amanda! You’ve begun a great journey.
Do other writers have different answers? A writer named Terry Odell talks about her method today. Maybe we could start discussing a stream of approaches right here, and between them all, this writer will find the way to HER way of writing a novel…