Wednesday, May 26, 2010


Q: I am always curious what first goes through an author's mind when they begin to write a book.
 A: Pure, unadulterated panic!
 Q: No, I’m serious! I’m just not sure how to go about it. I have character names, as well as the general plot. I’m just always confused as to how to ‘start’ a book.
 A: In two previous posts, I discussed why some writers may begin with great enthusiasm, but lose momentum along the way. They run out of story before they have enough pages to make a book.
But sometimes the problem is getting started. Nothing happens until you put something down on the page. But how?
The cool thing about writing as opposed to, say, building brick walls, is that writing is easy to revise and reshape. Sometimes at first, you can’t really tell where your story begins. My advice: don’t obsess about it. Get something down, and then make your decision in revision. Slash away at the fat at the beginning into you cut into the muscle of the story. That’s the beginning.
For me, books begin with a character, what the character wants, and the obstacles in the way.  For example, in Twilight, Edward and Bella want to be together, but the fact that he is a vampire and wants to kill her from time to time is an obstacle. Then other obstacles surface—Jacob, for instance.
In The Demon King, reformed thief Han Alister wants to earn a living for himself and his family without returning to the gang life. What’s in the way? It’s really hard to make a living in Fellsmarch, because of the ongoing wars, he’s been accused of a series of murders, his mother thinks he’s demon-cursed, and the most powerful wizard family in the Fells is out to get him.
Usually, a book begins with an inciting incident. In The Demon King, Han Alister encounters three young wizards setting fire to his hunting grounds. He takes an amulet from one of them, and that brings a whole load of trouble down on his head.
I think it’s best to begin your story in scene, with characters on the stage, ensnaring us in their story.  The opening of your story should establish voice and point of view, introduce conflict, and make a promise to the reader about the story to come.
It may be helpful to try reading opening scenes in books in your genre. How does the author begin? What does he or she choose to include, right up front?
As I said in my post on plunging vs plotting, you don’t have to have everything figured out in order to begin. Just know that there may be considerable clean-up at the end.


Jessie Silbaugh said...

I'm an avid writer myself, and I've never struggled over how to start, but I'm pretty sure that's just because I was too eager to start. It's really interesting how you describe the typically 'beginning' of a book, because it's totally true in retrospect. It's the same in a lot of the classics as well, like Frankenstein and Heart of Darkness, which is revelatory in itself. Analyzing other literature, and finding a pattern, seems to be incredibly helpful in my own process. Gotta dissect something before figuring out the mechanisms that hold it together, right? Then you rebuild! But for the better.

Amelia said...

Lovely advice. :) Great advice, actually, considering I'm a little shaky on my strategy when it comes to attacking my own story. XD


-Amelia R.

Unknown said...

This comment is off topic, but since I'm here anyway...I just finished listening to The Demon King and I wanted to tell you how much I enjoyed it. I downloaded the book to my ipod through my library and to be honest I was wary because there wasn't much of a description, but I enjoy fantasy so I was hopeful. To my pleasant surprise, I thoroughly enjoyed the adventure! Thank you for the fun!!