Where to Start Your Novel

E very story has a beginning, middle, and an end, right? That's the easy part. The problem starts when you try to answer the question "Where does my story begin?"

Currently, my novel starts at the beginning of the story; that is, it starts more or less when the actual events of the story begin to unfold. This is an easy, straight forward way to get things moving. But is it the most exciting? Is it the best way to start my novel? My task is to look at my story as a whole and pinpoint the moment when
the novel will start. With so much content, that's easier said than
done.

It's not that I'm unhappy with the beginning of my novel. I'm just not
convinced it's the best possible beginning. And if I'm not convinced, how
can I convince anyone else?

The reality for every aspiring novelist (and even those who are published) is that if your novel doesn't grab the reader (in this case potential agents or editors or whoever might be in a position to get your book published) quickly, your precious pages will go nowhere. Literally nowhere.

I've heard different figures tossed around: grab me in 50 pages. grab me in 5. Hell, if the first paragraph doesn't grab me, forget it. I've heard agents say most writers should throw out the first 5 pages of their book and that's the beginning of the novel.

It's enough to drive a writer a little batty.

We all know the story of Little Red Riding Hood. Her mother fixes her a basket to bring to her grandmother. Unfortunately, grandma is gobbled by a wolf before Red gets there. In order to fool the girl into thinking grandma is alive and well, the wolf disguises himself as the old woman. When Red confronts him, he attacks her and a hunter comes and saves her.

This is the traditional way the story is told, but what if we mixed it up a little. What if it began with a chase scene between the hunter and the wolf where the wolf hides out in grandma's garden then peeks in the window and sees the old woman, thinking he'd like a good meal? (Actually this story has been told and re-told so many times I'm sure it has started this way in one rendition or another).

The answer to the question of where to begin your novel may be intuitive. It also depends to a large extent on your genre. I'm writing a mystery, so my goal is set up the crime as soon as I can. There's a lot of facts that need to be laid out as soon as possible, but if you do too much too quickly, there is a chance to confuse, or worse bore, the reader.

I wish I could give you a no-fail way to come up with your beginning, but unfortunately, I can't. Every story has it's own beginning and it's the writer's task to find out where it is. For me, it will be finding the perfect balance between action, set-up, and intrigue. Seems like it would be easier to spin straw into gold.

The lovely "E" at the top of this post is courtesy of Daily Drop Cap.

Holly West

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