Once Upon a Time Again

I’ve got this new novel started. It has a pretty good opening scene (or at least the start of the opening scene), a few other decent scenes, a few other crappily written scenes, and an overall plot and theme dancing around in my head. It’s really just barely started, but it’s also been just barely started for quite some time, now.

A few days ago I wondered, how in the world do you start a new novel?

I mean yes, obviously you need an idea, a plot, a character or two, etc. I’m not talking about those kinds of basics.

But once you have all that, how do you… you know… start?

It seems like a silly question. I mean, after all, I did it before, why should it seem so awkward this time? I finally took the time to ponder it and landed on two things: One… when I sat down to start writing the first novel, I honestly didn’t think that was what I was doing. I was just starting to write again because I missed it and wanted to experiment with the creative juices again. Barely a month into it, the story that had been in my head for years took root and blossomed onto the page. Two… the main character and her basic story had been in my head for years, so it was much faster and easier to give it life.

My current main character and her story have not been living me near as long. I am not someone who has characters and stories in her head all of the time. I’m not one of those writers that has saved snippets of ideas upon ideas all over the place. I’m not even one who can successfully divide my focus among different projects. And since I’m still querying my first novel (which I’m doing spectacularly unsuccessfully, by the way, in case you were wondering), I have to really shift my brain.

So really, that is step one – get in the groove. I do this a number of ways. One of the biggest is my music playlist. I have a playlist of songs – both new and old – that I already know fit the mood and theme of my story, or remind me of my characters in some way. When I let my mind drift into Fictionlandia, I put more effort in pointing myself in the direction of my new novel. It doesn’t take much – it’s like a little nudge. Once I enter, I usually stay, and once I’m there, I begin to imagine my new characters in everyday situations, much like I described in a post a while back, “I Take You With Me, Everywhere I Go”.

Alright, so admittedly, getting in the groove is still the general “whatever, of course” stage of starting, but for me, it’s important, because so much of my drafting occurs in my head instead of on paper. What ends up in a first draft is really like a second or third draft, because I don’t do “word sprints” or create word count goals (because clearly, I will exceed them by 75k eventually anyhow, and will have to create wordslice goals, instead).

Once I start the drafting in my brain, the biggest, physical action to take is simply to jump in — anywhere. The related suggestion to “jump in anywhere” is “start writing”. The thing is, some writers get caught and stuck on how to do this – and often cannot overcome the obstacle of how to begin the beginning. If that is truly where you are stuck, I highly suggest junking that way-too-structured-thought-process and simply start in the middle. Or the end. Or wherever that most vivid image of your character is at the moment. “Just start writing” is excellent advice, but non-specific.

Instead, start writing any random scene that has been floating through your brain. That the scene does not have a precise location in the plotline does not matter. I am a non-linear writer, which works fantastically for me, but sometimes even I get tripped up when the scenes that are most vivid in my head right now are ones that come very late in the novel (at least that’s where they feel like they go right now). It does not matter. It doesn’t matter because who cares if it gets changed? Who cares if it gets axed later? What is important is that I have created a scene that is shaping the story, irrespective of plotline placement. Shaping the story is, of course, the entire goal of starting the novel.

At this point you might be expecting a third step. I don’t have a third step. Why complicate something unnecessarily?

Get in the groove and jump in anywhere. I guess that’s how I start a new novel. So very unmethodical and unscientific. Perfect.

Once you’ve got your story and characters in your head – and maybe an outline, if you are an outliner, how do you start? Does it intimidate you? Excite you? Surprise you? What is your process?

Here is a song from my current WIP playlist. I’ll let you muse, if you want, on how it pertains to anything in my story – if at all.

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4 Responses to Once Upon a Time Again

  1. I have characters in my head all the time. I have scenes from their lives. I just can’t seem to give them a completed story…and I can’t seem to start without knowing where I’m going. Sigh. BTW, I love that you make playlists for your novels.

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  2. Pingback: On Top of the World | It'll All Work Out

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