How to start a novel


You’re looking for a thread to pull on. An idea, a scene, a character, to lead you into the story.

You don’t need to know the details yet – you’re only looking for a path of less resistance in terms of your ideas. What’s the most compelling mental image you can conjure at this early stage? That’s the way into your novel. Take care of that first, and let your ideas open the floodgates slowly as you go.

You want your first scene to get you fired up, but no one says that you need to know the whole scene as you start to write. Let the thoughts come automatically, and let the story grow organically. It may be a paragraph, a sentence, or even a handful of words. Your own thoughts appear and grow organically, so shouldn’t your novel expand in the same natural way?

Picture writing a novel like you would climbing a mountain. You don’t climb the mountain in one action; you don’t even break it down into stages. You tackle the next handhold, and the next footstep, and just keep going one small step at a time. It’s only over time and with continuous effort that you’ll be able to look back and realise how far you’ve come. But without that first less-than-perfect footstep, you’d never have reached the top.

Or if you prefer, see your novel as a seed. Keep telling yourself that “big things have small beginnings”. It’s never going to be a giant oak or redwood on your first pass; that’s what revisions and refinements are for. Your only aim at this stage is to tell the bare-bones story, and get to the end. The style and amendments can come later. The roots, trunk and branches will expand in time. The time you spend on that sapling of a novel is the rain, soil and sunlight it needs to grow.

Crucially, just spend time with your story. It’s not just something you tell, but something you’ll learn. As more ideas present themselves, you’ll come to learn your story – and eventually, know it inside out. You can’t expect to know a subject inside out before you start to learn it, and it’s the same with your book. Just start the story, and spend more and more time with it. It’ll happen.

If you’d like to know more about planning a novel, or need tips on becoming a more prolific writer, click here to try a free preview of How to Write a Novel in 5 Steps. If you’re stuck, I hope it helps.


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