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How To Begin a Novel

Are you someone who sees life in a fairly optimistic way? Or do you see life through pessimistic eyes?

When it comes to starting a novel, there are no glass half-full or half-empty people when you’re staring at a blank page. Every writer sees a blank page as something that offers possibilities. Hope. Adventure. Excitement.

When a novel is good, it can inspire people to follow their dreams. Cause deep emotional connections. Even induce negative feelings, like panic, guilt, and fear.

So you want to know how to begin a novel. You’re staring at that blank page right now. Here’s what you’re going to want to do.

#1. Create a point of no return for your main character.

You’ll need to naturally build-up to this point as you’re starting your novel. You can do this by making sure the reader has bought into the need to follow your primary character. You’ll also need some sort of disturbance or action happen to this character. Then make sure to include these key points.

  • Create stakes for your story that the reader cannot ignore. The higher the stakes for your character, then the better the story will be.
  • Force your character into a scene where they must confront the conflict you are creating in some way.
  • Make your confrontation scene strong enough so that the character must walk through the point of no return.

A weak confrontation where your character could potentially walk away will cause your readers to feel the same way.

#2. Limit your backstory so you can drive the narrative forward.

When you include a backstory at the beginning of a novel, it really leaves a bad taste in the mouth of the reader. You’re basically saying, “Stop. Wait. I know this story is important, but first you need to know about THIS story.”

Through character movements, dialogue, and scene interaction, you can show your readers at the beginning of a story what your intended backstory happens to be. Drive your story forward by keeping readers in the present and you’ll be able to keep the light bulb on.

#3. It’s all about the sense.

In the world of “show, not tell,” many authors unwittingly fail. This is because they fail to let their characters call upon their senses. Think about it like this.

Bad: “The pot roast smelled good.”
Good: “The pot roast reminded him of his grandmother’s house. The roasting meat, mixing with the aroma of veggies, brought memories of sitting on Grandma’s knee, hearing the wisdom of life.”

All of the senses of a character are important. Add in the details that define the experiences, like the depth of color or the feelings that are created, and you’ll be able to draw connections to the reader through similar experiences.

#4. Don’t leave your secondary characters out of the mix.

Although the main character of your story will draw the most attention, the secondary characters should still have an important role in the narrative. Otherwise why are they even there? If your secondary characters are inactive in the opening pages of your book, it’s more likely that they will stay inactive and unimportant.

So have your secondary characters do more. Have them interact with your protagonist early on. Keep them active throughout the story. This will add more depth because there will be more reader buy-in as they identify with each character.

#5. Ignore the idea of writing what you know sometimes.

It is true that writers need to know about something they’re writing about for the subject matter to be authentic. Yet it can also be the worst advice to offer new writers in certain genres. How many fictional writers have actually been secret agents? Maybe three… ever?

Sometimes it is more important to write what you are feeling as a writer. Offer action, but also offer emotional interactions and advice. Then you can expand into what the daily aspects of those interactions mean. If being a secret agent is thrilling, what actions make the character feel that way?

Then describe those actions and you’ll still be able to create a certain level of authenticity, even if the closest you’ve ever been to being a spy is watching a James Bond movie.

Knowing how to begin a novel means tapping into your creativity. It means being will to explore more of what your characters are going to encounter in the early pages of the book. But most importantly, it means putting your emotions into every word.

If you can do this, then you’ll be able to hook readers like never before.

Melissa G Wilson

Melissa has been a leader in the book writing, publishing and marketing arena for the past two decades. To date, she has helped more than 100 thought leaders write, publish and market their books. Her clients include executives such as Dan Weinfurter a seven-time Inc 500 winner and Orlando Ashford, President of Holland Cruise Lines.

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