How To Start A Novel – A Guide For Those Who Want To Start Writing A Novel For The First Time

Two years ago Monday, I had the feeling that New Year’s Day would be a wonderful time to start a novel. I don’t know if anyone else is feeling that, but either way I feel like this a great post to start the New Year off with (a couple days early).

And no, this isn’t about how to write a good opening for your novel. This isn’t about how to hook your future audience in at the first sentence. This is how to start writing once you’ve sat down at the computer with a blank word document (or other variations on other devices like phones or paper) for the first time, and decide to write a novel.

Personally, I don’t outline, but I think this will apply to whether you do or don’t.

First, you, as a beginning writer, have to understand a few things:

One, when you’re writing the first draft, quality does not matter. There are some writers who still feel the need to write well, and that’s fine, but a lot of us end up shoving dirt into the first draft just to get the general idea of what we’re writing. This is like fertilizing the ground for a beautiful garden. Accept the fact that it might stink, and that it’s okay. You can edit it later.

Two, if you’re concerned for how good of a writing you are, realize that the only way to become a better writer is by writing. Yes, reading and blog posts and advice helps, but you have to write to become a better writing. There’s no way out of it. So don’t worry if it stinks at first – just keep going, and soon you’ll be writing better than you could have ever imagined.

So now you’re here, in front of a blank page of some sort, understanding that what you are about to write might stink, and you have no idea where to start.

Ask yourself: where does your story begin? For JK Rowling, it was when Harry Potter was dropped off at the Dursleys. For my novel, it’s when everyone woke up looking different, and no one could explain why.

Choose a place where your story starts, and remember you can change it later. The important part right now is just starting.

That scene probably has a person in it, so choose/figure out who that is. Is it the main character? A mysterious figure? A parent?

Then choose how you’re going to write this – first person, limited third person, omnipotent third person, present tense, past tense. Honestly, I think this is best solved by what your favorite style to read is – mine is third person limited in the past tense (like Harry Potter and most of Shannon Hale’s work). The Hunger Games series is written in first person present tense, the Gone series in omnipotent third person past tense, and Percy Jackson and the Olympians in first person past tense, for some examples. If you have problems choosing, there are probably a thousand blog posts and the like out there to help – but again, don’t stress to much about it. Right up until the book is published, everything can be changed.

Now, you have a basic plan for what you are going to write, and you have a scene and a person to write.

Write the first thing about this scene that pops into your head. 

Don’t worry about what that is, just get it down. If it’s the lighting, describe that. If it’s a cloaked figure, then write that. If it’s a statement of your character, then put that down.

Just write something. 

And then, let that first sentence and a good deal of stubbornness lead you through the novel.

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