by Dawn Seewer
You wake up one morning with a wonderful idea for a book. You let the idea play in your head for several hours, several days, several weeks, several years. Finally you decide to get that story down onto paper. You switch on the computer, open up a new document, or grab a pen and blank sheet paper. You’re ready to write, but nothing happens. Frustrated, you sit back in your chair, wondering how in the world to begin writing a book.
Pat yourself on the back. You have already completed the first step in writing a novel. And you thought you were going nowhere. The time you’ve spent mulling over your idea was the first step, the gestation period. This period is a very important part of writing a novel. This is the time when you get to formulate the idea, mold it from a spark to a thriving plot line. You have to have a direction for your story to go before you begin writing it.
So now you’ve got the idea. On to the next step, which is not writing chapter one. First you should get your basic idea down on paper. Write down as much of the book as you know up to this point. Then take a few days and expand on this. It’s okay if you don’t use some of the things you write down. These notes are to be used for brainstorming not as character development or an outline, which we will get into later. Don’t look at this step as a road map for your novel. It’s more of a compass, giving your novel a basic direction.
Now it’s time to really get to know your characters. Write a biography for your main characters, their lives from birth to the beginning of your story. Include as much detail as you will need to effectively create this character in the beginning of your novel. The majority of the information will probably not end up in the finished novel. The purpose of this exercise is not for the reader but for you as the writer. It will give you a better understanding of who your characters are and what their goals, motivation and conflict are. Thus, in the end helping you to create more rounded characters. Also, don’t forget about secondary characters within your plot.
After character development you move on to mapping out your plot, usually in the form of an outline. Some writers use outlines, some don’t. A beginning writer should create an outline. Any preparation work you do is going to help you to create your novel. The purpose of the outline is to organize your ideas so that one event logically leads to another, thus further developing your plot. Play around with your outline for a while, adjusting things until you have a sequential chain of events. The amount of detail in your outline will be determined by how much information you need to develop your plot. There are many formats for outlining and you do not need to stick with the traditional forms. Some writers do short chapter outlines that briefly describe the events of each chapter. Some writers prefer to do a detailed scene-by-scene outline. Use a form of outlining that will work for you.
You’ve come up with an idea, expanded on it, created characters and outlined your book. Now it’s time to write that first line. There are several great ways to begin a book. You can use a line of dialogue such as ask a question or make a socking statement. Set the stage for the book by describing the setting for the first scene. Give insight into your main character by describing where s(he) comes from, who s(he) is. Draw the reader in by starting in the middle of an action scene. No matter what method you use to begin your book, start where it feels right. This tends to be the place where beginning writers stumble. They want their first line to be compelling, engaging, shocking. Here’s a bit of advice to keep in mind when you go to write that first line: it doesn’t matter what you write because you can always go back and change it later! At this point your goal should be getting the novel started. Remember that this is just a rough draft. If your having trouble getting past the first line just write down the first thing that pops into your head and don’t look back, keep writing.
Once you’ve started your book, the trick is to keep writing until the end. You will hit slumps, times when you just can’t seem to write. It’s perfectly natural and every writer goes through this. But don’t let it discourage you. You will make it through as long as you stay determined and focused. Remember this is only your first draft. Nothing is set in stone. Now go write that book!
© 2001 by Dawn Seewer