A new beginning

How do you begin writing a novel?

outlineFor me, this time, it started with an outline. I wanted to begin actually writing the darned thing earlier, but life intervened. Not in a bad way, mind you (as my 1000 blogs will show), but my time has been limited and I’ve chosen to spend that time doing other things. Blogging. Getting a house ready for sale. Being with my new family.

But today, I finally got my ass in the chair and loaded up a blank screen and began to write.

So I wanted to share the process. Cuz, you know, everyone was just waiting for me to share.

For anyone who’s ever written anything, you know there are 2 scary moments. One is when you actually have to pitch the story to someone or explain to people at a party what you do and what you’re writing. “So, yeah, like I’m a writer and I’m writing a novel about a space vampire who dismembers virgins with laser beams implanted in his penis and…” Yeah. People usually walk away at this point.

blank pageThe other is to stare at a blank page and come up with something amazing. Something someone will want to read (no, HAVE to read). Something vaguely original.

And something that also inspires YOU to write more (also known as Not Sucking Complete Ass.)

Cuz that opening matters. It matters A LOT. (Assuming they get past the concept of the book, which I have to say, has sunk me more often than starting out a story with ‘it was a dark and stormy night, dude.”)

Now I don’t want to get into your head (as I often get into mine), but once someone agrees your premise doesn’t bore them, make them want to throw up or confuse them, most agents, editors and Amazon customers make a decision on your book like this.

Hmmm. First line is great. I wanna read on. Hmmm. First paragraph has me hooked, I’m going to put down my fat-free bagel to read the page. Hmmm. That wasn’t too shabby, what the hell is going to happen? *turns the page* *forgets about bagel*

To help me write, I relied, therefore, on a few of my favourite givers of advice.

Slater said, “Never bore. Never confuse. And always start off with a killer line.”

Scott-Bell said, “Begin your novel with a disturbance to the Lead’s ordinary world. No happy people in happy land. Have your characters in action. Avoid too much description and exposition.”

(He actually says a LOT more but this blog would be 20 pages long if I wrote it all down.)

And this from Clare Langley-Hawthorn: “The openings should establish mood, theme, threat, dissonance, character and world.”

So you see why this is hard. So you see why we can get into our heads as writers and never actually get a word written. So much to do. So little space. I mean, seriously, get that all done in a few sentences?

catI think there’s a simpler way. Just draw the reader in. (le Carré said “the cat sat on the mat is not the opening of a plot. The cat sat on the dog’s mat is.”)

So with that in mind, with my outline printed out beside me, with my cup of coffee steaming into the air, I began to write.

The group will take a look at on the 28th. They will tell me if it works for them.

But more me, it was a good start to what I hope will be a great novel!


So how do you start a novel? What goes into your first pages? What worries do you have?


New Facebook page set up: 1. Justjoebc.  Please like it. Please tell your friends to like it. Please get your cats to like it.

Pages Written on New Novel: 7. The novel has BEGUN!

Blogs Written This Week: Oh this is what I’ve been doing. http://justjoebc.wordpress.com

Queries Out this Week: 0 (only so much time) Just no time. Blogs. Moving. Writing

Rejections for the Last Week: 5 (I gotta assume at this point the 5 still out there have gone from possibles to no way. It still bugs me agents can’t even send a reply, though.)

Queries Still Out There: 0

Hope Meter: 80/100.  If it’s not at 80, how do you even start to write a novel

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About Joe Cummings

Aquarius. Traveler. Gamer. Writer. A New Parent. 4 of these things are easy. One is not. But the journey is that much better for the new people in my life. A life I want to share with others, to help them, maybe, to make them feel less alone, sure, to connect with the greater world, absolutely.

11 thoughts on “A new beginning

  1. It is so exhilarating starting a new book. I so wanted to outline this time, but since I am not 100 percent sure which story I’m going to focus on for the next year, I decided to ‘try out’ the first chapter to start with, to see if I like the setting, characters and pacing. My jury, of course, will be the 5writers, but if I’m going to spend 5months or so on the first draft of a book (and of course, possibly much longer) I need to know I’m going to love it! Can’t wait to here your thoughts on outlining and the ‘scary’ moments of starting a new story! And of course, I can’t wait to read the story!

  2. Why is the first sentence/paragraph so hard? I’m the same way – if that opening isn’t right, I can’t go on. But think about it – this is the rough draft! Who cares how good it is? Rule of writing is that first drafts have to stink on ice – they have to be awful. So that would imply that a first sentence and opening can also stink on ice, because that’s what revision is for – fixing all that stink. So really, getting the story down is what should matter, not how compelling the first sentence and first paragraph are. But it does matter, it kind of sets the tone for what goes on in our minds, I think.

  3. You have a mistake in the LaCarre quote. I think you meant, “The cat sat on the dog’s mat.” And my cats always sit on the dog’s mats, beds. . .

    As for starting the novel, I just plunge right in. My beginning almost always has to be redone and reworked, but not till I’m all done with the first draft. How in the world do you know what the novel will be about (essentially) in the first sentence you write down? Even with outlines, my novels evolve and often into something I didn’t expect.

    So my advice on how to start is to just start and don’t worry about getting it perfect. If you worry about the perfect first sentence and first pages, you may never get off page one!

  4. I think your first draft opening reveals your own dream of what the story will become. Maybe it gets jettisoned later, but it’s still a touchstone. So I do think it’s important to get the dream right, from the beginning. The words can be fixed later.

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