January 13, 2013 by jcfarnham
Anyone who writes has probably encountered this problem before, whether your poison of choice is fiction or non-fiction (naturally I’ll be focusing on fiction here).
You get this fantastic idea for a book or short piece, but then what? And that very problem often progresses into something more insidious for some of us. We’ve finally managed to stretch our idea out into a working outline, we can see the basic shape of the story but again, what now? Where do you start? What’s that magical first word?
It only gets worse what with all the pressure we get to write the perfect hook…
Don’t you positively hate it when, what ever you do, you don’t know how to start?
Well, it definitely doesn’t have to be that way. You just have to find your own personal way to beat it. Usually I tend to type a single word, then another, and keep typing until that switch is flicked and the metaphorical flood gates open.
- Why do you have to start at the beginning? If what you have the most inspiration for is the final scene, write that! While as a human being you like a good chronological order, there’s nothing saying you have to start at the beginning.
- I’ve heard it said that you can consider the first few paragraphs you write (or chapters even) a complete warm-up. It’s probably going to be rubbish anyway, because let’s be honest, you don’t know the plot well, you don’t know the characters… Just write whatever comes to your mind and once you’ve got the hang of the story you can rewrite.
- A novel goes through plenty of revisions. Are you sure this beginning is the one you’ll end up with? The answer is; probably not. Faebound has an opening I’m pretty happy with, but I haven’t finished writing it yet! Give yourself the permission to not care. If this beginning gets you to the bits you are sure about, then all’s well!
One technique in particular you may find useful is Late in, Early Out. The theory goes that the only things that really get readers going are the exciting bits. Rather than wasting time, start your novel and your scene, as close to the fun as possible.
Let’s work this through with an example:
Sally works in a call centre. She gets off work and goes with some friends to the pub. On her way home, a little worse for wear, Sally encounters a portal to another dimension.
Some writery advice will swear blind that you need to get your readers invested in your characters before you land them in the proverbial. What’s the point in a bad thing happening if no one cares about the guy it’s happening to? While that’s sound advice on the face of it, I can’t think of anything more boring than a chapter or so of day-in-the-life. I’m writing genre fiction, not literary.
By employing Late in, Early out I can cut out all the rubbish I’m really not that interested in writing anyway, and there by the problem of where to start:
Sally leaves the pub and encounters the portal.
(Incidentally, the early out part of the technique would lead you to say, ending the scene/chapter/book straight after someone has died. Don’t forget, the most common cause of a flat ending is writing too much, over explaining and ruining a perfectly good poignant moment)
Not only has this helped me out of many of those what now? moments, it also stops me from wasting anyone’s time. Time is valuable in this modern age and most readers are probably short of it. Get to the point quickly, hook them early and you’ll have less chance of losing them. That’s pretty important.
So. If you’re ever stuck for how to start, give yourself some time to think things through. Analyse.
Do you know where you’re going with the story? If not, try and sort that out and see that isn’t the problem.
Still stuck? I’ve not even begun to list the things you could do to trick yourself into starting. Everyone is different. What works for Joe Bloggs, may not work for you.
The best thing I can say on the subject is this:
You have the permission of every writer out there to write total dross in the beginning. It’s going to be bad anyway, and very few people write a perfect first draft. Don’t stress about it.
Once you get that fear out the way, the sky’s the limit.