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Where/When Does a Novel Start?

Updated on July 31, 2013
This is how it all starts.
This is how it all starts. | Source


I am pretty confident when I say that most of the people who spend their lives writing articles, stories, posts, etc. gave a little bit of thought on taking bigger projects, such as a specialty book or a novel. But because of the lack of time and ideas, or some other modern-day reason, the projects remain abandoned in the "idea" or "draft" phase. The reason for discussing the work of fiction is that the idea behind it takes more time to conceive then, for example, a lengthy book about Shakespeare's life where the research and documentation would probably require a larger amount of work. Furthermore, the novel has a more complex structure; it is basically an enormous worksheet where the author can place as many techniques and plot twists as he wishes (bestselling author George Martin's Game of Thrones is a perfect recent example of such pastiche).

Focus! | Source

Before the Beginning

Before beginning a story, or before beginning a novel, one must have a plan. In general, writing should be among the last stages of the process. Even though almost all writers make a certain form of preliminary work, others create elaborate notes on how the action should unfold, character development and even C.V.s , punchlines, diagrams, jokes, situations, and so on. On the other hand, some of the best selling novel authors go right for it; while this is in a sense counter-intuitive, writing creatively is a form of art that can (and will) bypass the conventional techniques. Here, I am only trying to expose a few book writing tips and tricks to a more general audience that could help you (or not) in devising a scheme for your next bestselling novel.

With that being out of the way, what happens to the reader?

As stated in the summary, the reader will almost always be drawn at first by the cover of the book, and the first few lines at the beginning when opening it. And then comes the other line, and then the other paragraph, until the reader is completely "hooked". The problem is whether he or she will accept the writer's beginning or not. A best selling novel often has a strong introduction that works as a barrier. When picking up a new book, and I am sure it is a general opinion, one is very skeptical about it. He has to remember the characters, the relation between them, the framework, the time, place, and all the other details. The skeptic attitude is thus born out of curiosity, because one does not know what the author tries to convey at that point early in the book. But then, in a very shrewd and perverted manner, the reader is usually compelled to read more as soon as the first few paragraphs.

With this, another question arises: "where does the beginning end"? To put it simply, it ends when the reader moves beyond that initial barrier. It might be the first line, it might be the first pages, but the beginning of a novel marks a crucial point between the "real world" and the entire setting that the author imagined. What sets bestselling novel authors apart from the rest is the ability of drawing the readers in a very short time period.

Ways To Do It

In general, the introduction summarizes the plot. If you have a little bit of experience in reading novels, you can "guess" what the book is about. While this only emphasizes the author's talent by giving a couple of hints regarding the plot, here are a number of techniques that you can use when writing your next bestselling novel!

  • The "classic" introduction may be about the description of a place, town, or landscape that is crucial for the development of the plot (in cinema is called mise-en-scène; a fancy terminology for placing something in the foreground). No need for an example here, as there are tons of novels that make good use of this technique.
  • Many bestselling authors choose to start a novel in the middle of a conversation. This is an extraordinary way to attract a readership. For example, The Odyssey, or Plato's Symposium have a very abrupt start, as if the narrator arrived too late at the scene. Another example is James Joyce's Finnegans Wake, where he begins in the middle of the sentence, and the final lines of the novel complete the beginning.
  • Short sentences that create a state of imminent danger.
  • "Call me Ishmael". A self-introduction of the narrator might prove useful when choosing to create a character through the eyes of somebody else.
  • Philosophical reflection.
  • With the modern period, writers were getting bored of writing the same introductions. As a consequence, modernism is filled with the demolishing of previous autobiographical techniques.
  • Stories about stories. This connects with my fourth bullet point.
  • In postmodernism, a crucial technique is the pastiche. Numerous postmodern novels begin with a reference to another book, time, place, or popular culture.
  • Try to draw attention to your work. As you have probably noticed by now, all the techniques described here are meant to arouse curiosity. Making the reader aware that this is a work of fiction or a commodity is bound to make them feel intrigued.


Ways to Jump-Start

To conclude, I would like to give you some guidelines to become a bestselling author in no time! They are of course, a bit general, but nothing bad can come of it if you follow them:

  • Keep reading! Reading fiction can make you aware of the techniques, the styles of writing, themes, and it is needless to say that your vocabulary is enriched. Also, reading fiction can boost your ideas. It's unlikely that you will invent something completely new. All literature is connected, and, without being harsh, it can be reduced to a simple set of rules and recurring themes. What differs from book to book is the author's ability to combine the simple set of rules, techniques, and themes.
  • Keep writing! You wouldn't be much of a writer if you stop writing. You are not going to publish all of it anyways.
  • If you have a good idea write it down. You can learn all the techniques there are to learn about writing fiction, but the idea is something that is closely connected with your talent as a writer. Even if it is just a character's profile, a scene, a metaphor, write it down because who knows when you'll be using it to devise your new novel.
  • Don't write if you don't feel like it.You are branding yourself as a writer, meaning that you have to write a certain number of words/pages per day. Especially when writing creatively, you should not "force" it. It's unlikely to happen. Perhaps when writing some articles about a boring topic you might find the strength to carry on, otherwise just take a break.
  • Keep experimenting. As you're already a well-established bestselling author, you should diversify the usage of techniques and topics.
  • Go for the problem. Try and write a piece outside of your comfort zone. Some authors are specialized on writing love stories, for instance. Who knows what impressive results might yield when writing about war?

If you have some more pieces of advice for jump-starting a writing career, feel free to write it in the comment section!


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    • The Touch Typist profile imageAUTHOR

      Walter Dark 

      5 years ago from Amsterdam

      Hello Gail, thanks for stopping by. It took me some time to find the right amount of information for this hub. I did not want to sound too academic or too relaxed. Either way, I just "made" those tips up from my own experience. When writing something that has an artistic value, I believe it's better to let your talent speak through. The techniques and tips that I wrote about are only tools for expressing that talent.

      Again, thanks for your kind comment, and feel free to share the info! Stay tuned for some more literature-related hubs!

    • Gail Meyers profile image

      Gail Meyers 

      5 years ago from Kansas City - United States

      These look like some good tips for starting a novel. Even though I am not writing a novel, I especially like the tip of not writing when you do not feel like it. There just seem to be days when writing flows and other days when it just doesn't. Thanks for the writing tips! Voted up


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