Notes from An Alien

~ Explorations In Reading, Writing & Publishing ~

How Do You Begin A Novel?

Ever written a novel?

Ever started to write a novel?

Ever thought about starting a novel?

Do you plan-out the plot first?

Do you decide on who the characters are first?

Do you do all the research first?

Do you do some of all those things first?

Like many things about writing, it all depends on the individual writer; and, a writer may start one novel one way and another novel another way.

Plus, a writer may start a novel one way, tear it up, and begin again another way

If you’re a reader who’s never thought about starting a novel, take a moment and consider the issue………

I found an article in an online magazine called The Millions — “…offering coverage on books, arts, and culture since 2003.”

The article was written by Edan Lepucki, a staff writer for The Millions as well as a fiction writer and instructor.

The article is called, Ask the Writing Teacher: Novelists on First Drafts, and begins with a letter that says:

“I am a published fiction writer who is about to start writing a new novel. You would think, since I’ve already done this before, that I knew what I was doing. But I don’t. I am lost. Where do I start?”

Does that seem hard to believe?

I certainly hope some of the writers who read this blog will explain in the Comments how often this situation looms in the author’s life and how often the first draft of a novel can take a path the writer never imagined.

One comment I’ll make now is that each book (if it isn’t part of a close-knit series or is being written to some genre-formula) has “a mind of its own”—demands different approaches, working conditions, mind-set

And, for any writer who wants to disagree with that last statement, I offer a consideration—would your work be better if you approached each book as a new creation that demands a fresh conceptualization?

Here are a few more excerpts from that article—the first sentences from responses the author received from some of her favorite writers:

Emily St. John Mandel—“My opinion is that you want to figure out character and plot in the first draft.”

Emma Straub—“I think my answer might be a little bit controversial — I think almost nothing is worth sweating in the first draft.”

Ben Fountain—“My expectations for first drafts are pretty low.”

Ivy Pochoda—“There’s a huge gap between what I need to know and what I do know when I begin a novel.”

Ramona Ausubel—“For me, the first draft is really just a big mud-rolling, dust-kicking, mess-making time in which my only job is to find the story’s heartbeat.”

Margot Livesey—“The thing I try to resist in writing my first drafts is getting too caught up in the sentences.”

And, the response by Antoine Wilson is so short I’ll leave it, plus the rest of the others, for those of you who actually follow links :-)
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4 responses to “How Do You Begin A Novel?

  1. Karla Telega February 28, 2013 at 9:02 am

    Whoah, I’m right there. The second in a series, back story, fear of a sophomore slump … I’ve got a great start, a great ending, and no middle. I’ve been waiting for inspiration and thinking that this should come more easily, but I think I just need to start writing and see where it takes me.


  2. W E Patterson March 1, 2013 at 12:46 pm

    I have few problems starting a novel, but I do have problems finishing one. I usually have the basic plot, location and a few main characters rattling around in my head for a week or two before I start writing. After I start, I find I have to maintain momentum, which means writing every day. If I stop for too long I loose my pace and it gets harder to start back up again. Good author responses.


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