Why You’re Starting Your Novel in the Wrong Place

Does your book start at the most interesting point in your character’s life? It should. 

The number one problem I see with sample material, and even client material sometimes, is that the book doesn’t start in the right place. If you are starting with the beginning of the day (waking up or eating breakfast) I don’t trust it’s starting in the right place. If you take 50 pages to introduce the conflict there is no way you’re starting in the right place.

HOW TO START YOUR NOVEL IN THE RIGHT PLACE:

  1. At the end, go back and rewrite your beginning. There is no way by the end of your novel you should have the same opening when you started the draft. Characters change, plot trajectories change. You don’t know what your novel is going to fully become until it’s over. So why keep the same opening? Revise to make sure it is the proper opening for the novel it became.
  2. We don’t need a car crash, but we do need a secret. “Starting with action” is often misconstrued as starting with a bomb going off. For some genres that works, for many it doesn’t and shouldn’t! What we do need to start with is knowing that your character has a secret. Action can be many things, but no matter what we need to know something big is coming. We can’t be reading about a normal day in your characters’ lives.
  3. Are you introducing too many people? We should meet the main character on page one and maybe one or two others–but that is it. Introducing too many characters is very confusing to the reader. We don’t know who’s who yet. And we don’t know who to care about. Establishing a bond between main character and reader starts on page one.
  4. Alternately, information dumping won’t win us over either. Want us to know everything right off the bat? Guess what…we don’t want to know everything on page one. Or else what are we reading about?! Give the reader some credit and let them connect the dots. Trusting that your reader is smart will win them over too.
  5. How do we know this is a novel? Something happens. As I said at the top: your book should start at the most interesting point in your character’s life. Or else why are we reading about them? What is the moment when everything changes? Why? And why does the reader care to find out what happened? These seem like simple questions but they’re the crux of getting readers’ invested in your characters from the moment we meet them.

Q: What do you worry about with your beginnings?

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3 Great Things about a First Draft

It’s easy to lament about first drafts. The blank page is one of the hardest things for writers. So let’s take a spin on first drafts and think about the great parts of writing your story the first time around. Because there are a lot! You’ve got a world in your head that demands to see the light of day.

1. Inspiration is still there. No matter where that first draft takes you it’s easier to plug into where the idea came from. It’s like an energy source full of power that you can tap into. You can go back to the originating idea or outline and remember why this story needs to be told.

2. It can still go in different directions. Like an infant, you don’t know what it’s going to be when it grows up and that can be liberating. There are no mistakes because there is no end yet. So don’t be hard on yourself, just get those words down.

3. You’re proving to yourself you can (still) do it. If this is your first or fifth book, many writers question whether they can do it (again). Writing a novel is an exercise in patience, foresight, discipline, imagination and so much more. Novelists are sensitive but tough super-humans. 

Q: What’s your favourite part about your first drafts?

Q: What craft advice would you give to someone who just finished their first draft?

Lauren Spieller asks: What craft advice would you give to someone who just finished their first draft? 

Thanks for the question, Lauren.

My first big piece of advice would be to take it easy on yourself when you’re reading through it afterwards and starting to think about revisions. You did it! You got all the words on the page! This is more than a lot of people get so pat yourself on the back.

My second big piece of advice would be to take a critical look at the structure of the story and go looking for places to fix. This is the difference between those writers who write for a hobby and those who want to be published. Now’s the time to make a plan to:

  • Make sure your premise is strong enough to stand out
  • Think about if you chose the right POV for the story you’re telling
  • Fill in setting and plot holes with research
  • Think about adding and how to conclude sub plots
  • Add character depth
  • Adjust dialogue to suit each character’s voice
  • Increase the stakes of the novel, build it in your second draft to have high stakes for the characters (i.e. what are they at risk of losing?)

Don’t get too worried about doing this all at once. Start by making a plan for how you’re going to execute it. It all starts with asking the right questions.

Once you have that down here are some other points to think about in your next draft: Continue reading Q: What craft advice would you give to someone who just finished their first draft?