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Beginning a Novel

Updated on August 8, 2013

Whether You Pen or Type

Making it your best work
Making it your best work

Getting Started

You have an idea for a novel. You cannot wait to get started. You sit at your computer or writing desk. You begin.

Does your setting make a difference in your first scene? If so, be sure your reader has a clear idea of where you are? Is it the desert? Is it a snow-capped mountain top? Where the heck are you. If you've written about the heat in the desert, but are inside a house, where are you in the house? Is it hot there? Or do you have air-conditioning?

Next when you introduce your main character, make sure they have first and last name. Sally is sitting in the dark waiting for her wayward husband to stagger in, tells me absolutely nothing. Where is Sally waiting? Who the heck is Sally? Why is she sitting in the dark? Do they have children? What is she wearing? Is she angry? Is she fed up? Is she ready to leave him? And why does she expect him to be staggering? Is he an alcoholic? What makes him wayward? You have left way too much to my imagination.

If I have trouble with your first sentence, I'm not sure I want to read further. If you are submitting a work to me, I'm going to ask you all those questions. I'm not picking it apart, I need to know as a reader.

Do you have an idea where your story is going? Some people work from an extensive outline. Some people (me) write as we go. I have the idea. I know where I'm starting and I know where I want the story to go. You have to do what works for you. I make notes on the things I don't feel are working, or for my next scene. I write on any paper available, napkins, place-mats, any scrap I can find. Sometimes I even carry a notebook.

Storyboards work for some writers. They can see how things are going to go. Some writers also draw. They actually draw their characters and look at them while they are writing. I'd love to be able to draw my characters, alas I am not an artist.

Our Setting

Pouring rain
Pouring rain

Grab Me

Your first paragraph has to grab your reader. I know you've been told this over and over. You think you have it down. Does it grab you? If it doesn't rework it until it does. If you can't get beyond the first paragraph ask for help.

Sam Wade was a big man, almost six foot four, as he staggered out of the dark alley, people gave him a wide berth. The rain was pouring down as he made his way to the nearest police cruiser. Someone handed him a cup of steaming coffee. He took it as he slid into the passenger side of the car.

We know Sam is big, he's been in an alley, and it's raining. Do we want to know why Sam has been in the alley...of course. Is the rain going to make his job harder? We're not sure. We don't know his job yet. Why are people hanging around in the rain? I sure want to know. What is in the alley? Why was he staggering out? Who gave him coffee and why? Why did he go to a police car?

These are all things your reader will want to know. As you work with Sam, you need to build him a background. You need to know him as well as you know yourself. I don't know Sam yet. He was a thirty second write for this blog. Do I know if there is a story here? Not a clue. I'm not yet ready to tell you why he was in the alley.

I am going to assume Sam is dripping wet. I read the rain was pouring down. Which could be the reason someone handed him a cup of coffee. I don't even know if he likes coffee, but he did take it. But the whole thing has possibilities.

What Next

To the drawing board
To the drawing board

Where Do I Go From Here?

The first thing I'm going to do is a biographical sketch of Sam Wade. How do I do that? Well I've created a worksheet I fill in.

How old is Sam?

What does he look like? Hair color?

What is his occupation?

What is his family like? Does he have a family?

Where does he live? Apartment? City? Country? House? Condo?

How long has he worked his job?

How did he get to where he is?

College education?

How does he think?

Is he a religious man?

Who are his friends?

Who are his colleagues?

All of this gets in depth description. I want to know Sam. I want to know his habits, his quirks, his faults. I could be a bitter person stuck in a no where job. He could have just been promoted. Maybe this is his first day on a new job. Before I am done, I will know all of this. Sam is going to be my new best friend.

He is going to be with me night and day. I'm going to walk in his shoes until he thinks we're attached at the hip. He's going to haunt my sleep telling me which direction this story should take. We are going to argue. Some days I'm going to let Sam think he's in charge and let him run with the story. Other days I'm going to rein him in because he's done something out of character or his idea isn't working.

Until Sam's story is written and has made fifty to sixty thousand words, Sam and I are going be be a team. If you don't know your characters as well as that, keep learning who they are.

My first novel had two different starts before I finally wrote the third one and it worked. In the first few pages I killed the town's lovable librarian. It took the rest of the novel for my main character to figure out why anyone would do such a thing. As it was a small town, he had to wade through all the secrets to find the killer. Hence the title for my book: Secrets. I knew I had a good book on my hands when all of the sudden my characters took over. I was just the conduit to get the story out. Yes, it's a weird feeling, but it works. Which is what I mean about having to sometimes rein them in. I do so on the days, it's not working.

And my mind never sleeps. I put a notebook and pen next to my bed so if I get an idea while sleeping I can turn on the light and write it down. Sometimes the ideas are good, sometimes they don't fly at all.


When your story/novel has finally come together, it's time to prepare it for an agent or publisher. The first thing you have to do is find someone who can edit your grammar. Bad grammar will get the door shut before it ever gets open. Then, if you belong to a writer's group, test it out on them. Don't be offended at their feedback, you want the good with the bad. It's the only way to make it better. If you don't belong to a writer's group, find one, create one, find one on-line.

Check with your local library, they will most likely know if there is one in your area. Check at a local community college or university. Their English departments can point you in the right direction. If all else fails, attend a conference where you can get feedback on your writing. I did for my third novel. I spent an extra $25 and sent the first five thousand words of my work in progress to be critiqued. It was the best money I ever spent. I've also done an on-line writer's workshop where all the authors were anonymous until the end of the sixteen week session. The feedback I received from the other two authors made my book the best it could be.

Send you best copy off to agents/publishers. They want to see your best work. That doesn't mean they won't have ideas on how to make it better. But they won't look at it if you haven't done these things. Best of luck.


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