In the beginning, my advice when starting a novel

In my last post, I talked about the process I used when starting Rhune, and I mentioned that while this worked well for me, I don’t suggest it for others.  So, what do I suggest?

Well, first it’s important to note that the opening is the most important portion of the novel. Agents and publishers will decide, usually within the first page, whether to cut bait immediately or whether you are worth a more thorough read.  Readers, too, are going to go through a similar process. In the days of ebook samples and Amazon’s Search inside the book, few people will purchase a new book (especially if by an author they never read before) without reading the beginning.  Even those in browsing bookstores are going to read the first page, and might even find a chair and read a bit further before proceeding to the checkout counter.

Because it’s so important, it’s easy for authors to get wrapped around the axle and spend days, weeks, even months on their novel opening.  My best suggestion for authors just starting out is to get past the opening as quickly as possible.  Think of it as a burning building that you have to sprint through as quickly as possible to reach safety.  Spend as little time as possible and get distance between you and your opening as quickly as you can.

Here are my thoughts on the subject:

  • More often than not what you “think” is your opening won’t be your opening when all is said and down.  What was once page 1 in Nyphron Rising ended up on page 105 of the finished book.  What was once page 1 of Avempartha didn’t make it into the book at all. I deleted the entire first chapter as I hadn’t yet realized “where” my story should start.
  • Writer’s block is common when just starting out, and there is no easier way to get blocked then to churn on something. The best way to beat the block is to produce. Word count has its own momentum. Sometimes it doesn’t matter that what you are writing is going to be thrown away or heavily edited. But at least if you feel progress you’ll not obsess and become paralyzed.
  • Once you have the novel completed, and you know the whole story from soup to nuts you’ll be a much better position to determine what should be your opening.

Now, don’t take what I said here as carte blanche to be lazy in regards to your opening.  On the contrary, I spend a huge amount of time on it.  And polish, polish, and polish some more. It’s just that I do all that much later on.  Heck if you add up all the hours I spent on multiple revisions to a first page it probably weighs in at 5 – 10 hours, over many, many sessions, with dozens of approaches tried on for size.

As you can see, the two approaches are very different, which points out an important aspect of writing…each author has to discover what works best for themselves. It’s all fine and good to find out what others do, and try their approaches on for size, but eventually you’ll start to develop your own sense for how you should approach things, and that’s all that really matters.

2 thoughts on “In the beginning, my advice when starting a novel

  1. I love the idea of trying to run away from your beginning as if it’s a burning building. Many a story has never made it past the first 1500 words because of endless tweaking to the beginning. I finally learned that I just had to get it out of the way and revisit it when I was finished. Heck, more than half of the tweaks I wanted to do before I finished didn’t even make sense after the story was completely written.

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