Where Do I Start?
I want to write a novel, but I’m terrified. How do you know what words to put down? How do you open the story? My goodness but they’re thick. How on earth can I get that much typed? What if I do it and it doesn’t make sense? What if it’s stupid?
Yep, every writer has gone through this. In fact, most of us go through it each and every time we sit down at our computers or pick up our pencils and pens. Every book has problems. Every novel has to be written by a human – they don’t write themselves no matter how much writers wish there was some sort of apparatus that we could stick on our heads and it pull the words out and order them seamlessly into the perfect novel. Every one of us suffer from huge ginormous self-doubt demons that try to eat our creativity. Especially me. I suffer from self doubt immensely.
That being said – I have no answers to the above questions. And I bet you were hoping I did and that’s why you read this post. Sorry. But I don’t.
I don’t because every writer is different. Each novelist has their own methods. It doesn’t matter how many how-to articles you pore over. Stalking writing blogs is completely pointless. You have to find your own way. You have to force yourself to just sit down and start. I can tell you that the first draft is nowhere near as important as your think it is. Its sole purpose is to get ideas on paper. The real story crafting begins with revisions and rewrites. Force yourself to get your ideas down, even if your inner voice screams idiocy. Write anyway. Write even if you don’t think it will ever amount to anything.
Sure reading articles and blogs and the like will give you ideas, things to try. But do NOT beat yourself up over the fact that you didn’t do something just like New York Best-selling Author XYZ. They aren’t you. You are you. Write like you! Not anyone else. You.
That being said, here is a brief outline that I tend to fill out to get a story started. This is a modified version of the screenwriting formula 30-60-90. Because I’ll bet you didn’t know I wrote scripts long before I ever attempted a concise novel. I did. I still do. Keep in mind that things change, shift, sometimes they wind up deleted in later revisions – but they start here.
~ Pages 1-10: Attention Grab
~ Pages up to 50: Act I/ Building
~ Pages 50-100: Act II/ Climax
~ Pages 100-150: Act III/Receding
~ Pages 150-170: Closing and Ending
These 170 pages will give you about 51,291 words (National Novel Writing Month anyone? 😉 ). Which is generally too short of a word count unless you are writing category romances, but it gives you an amazing start. (Quick note on word counts for debut novels that you hope to query someday – Unless you are writing Fantasy or Science Fiction which has immense world-building, keep your word count lower than 100,000. Word count varies due to age of intended audience as well as genre of novel, but as a general rule of thumb stay below 100k)
Now, where was I? Oh right, my start!
This outline forces me to focus major ideas and is generally void of character emotions and only has sparse descriptions. I just jot down a few words here and there as an idea of what I think it should look like so I can remember when I begin rewrites. Honestly, it reads more like a 170 minute film script – I even start them using screenwriting software (Celtx has an amazing free software for download on their website, if interested.). The novel doesn’t form until I switch to novel writing software, WordPerfect for me, and add in the characterizations and descriptions and thus watch my word count rise without losing sight of the plot and subplots. Then when I have the novel done, I send it out to readers for an overall opinion. When I hear back I start fine-tuning it. Once I’m happy with it (my ‘final’ draft – a term I use loosely here), I send it out to readers again. Which allows me to re-do it again and do final edits/copyedits. While waiting on my readers to get back to me, I work on treatments/synopses and query letters. Sometimes I do write treatments/synopses before I even start my outline draft. Which means I will fine-tune them again before querying. Happy with everything?
Then I start the querying process!
So, that’s how I do it.