A lot of first time writers come up with a great idea for a story but have no clue on how to start writing it. In this post i will try to give a couple of pointers on how to do just that. But first let me point out that there is no one way on how to begin your novel. I do not claim that how i do it is the best way, everything i tell you here is just how i start my writing but hopefully it will help some of your guys out there. Understand that there is no correct order for these tips, they all are related in some way and creating one thing will lead to another in a different category. That being said, let’s begin!
Make a timeline
I always start by creating a timeline on which i can mark different events in my novel. I will assume here that, like me you have thought of at least one scene when you got your amazing idea. This is a great start which you immediately can put on your timeline. This timeline is going to become your best friend so i suggest you place it somewhere where you can access it easily.
Now i name each point on my timeline with a short title, things like: this character dies, this battle occurs, this character get’s bad news,… Things like that. Then i place this title in a separate document and clarify what i mean with this title. I describe how i imagined the scene, which characters are present, what it is about, … everything i can think off off of the top of my head. Then before i start writing that scene i will reread this piece and maybe add a couple of things.
Normally i tend to categorize and color code each title in my timeline and the separate document. I categorize them by something that suits the story: per point of view, per area they are in,… If done correctly (and by that i mean with a summary with a description what each category or color means) it can help you keep the timeline neatly structured so you only have to glans at it to know what is going on.
Start to build the basics of your world
In one of my previous posts i talked about world building, Here is a link to this post and i suggest you check it out to learn how to easily build up a world.
World building consists of two parts: culture and environment. You need to create or now in which kind of culture your story is going to take place and choose in which environment this culture is going to exist in. Both influence the others greatly, for example you can not have a people who live in wooden houses live on a barren wasteland. They will need to live in stone housing and thus the environment influences the culture you create.
So start by brainstorming and try to come up with answers to questions like: Is it a fictional place or a non-fictional one, is it going to be in an urban setting or in the woods outside of the city, in what time period is it going to take place, …
This is the part that is going to take a lot of your own creativity to make your story unique so i won’t talk any more about this part. Check the link for a full explanation on how to easily create a world.
Create your first characters
In one of my previous posts i already talked about character development, you can find that post here. But the things i talked about in that post are a bit more advanced, what you want to know is how to create your first character. There are different ways to do this: you can create the character you want or create the character the story needs. Many a writer would critique the second way by saying that this makes the characters flat and ensures that the character has a lacks of an interesting character arc.
Now i am a big fan of the second way so i beg the differ, i think when you create the character the story needs it ensures that your character fits the setting. It is then the job of the writer to make that character interesting. But we will get to that in a bit.
Whichever way you choose i always suggest you create and develop the basic characters first and with that i mean your pro- and antagonist(s). It makes sense that, because the story revolves around them they are the most important and thus they need the most development. As i have stated before the easiest way to remember how every character is are the character questionnaires which you find all over tumblr and other writing blogs. But in my previous post about character development i also stated that these questionnaires alone are not enough to make a character feel real. Definitely check the link out to know which tips i gave about that subject.
When you created the main characters you are going to need to brainstorm. For example i will make a character called Tony (and let’s just say i already tried to develop him to the fullest i possibly could). Tony is going to need a set of parents and so i create Maria and Jack. My backstory requires him to be best friends with his cousin so i create Jenny. He is getting a masters degree so he is going to need a couple of teachers and since he is kind of popular he is going to need at least six good and a couple of semi good friend. BAM, i just created another twenty characters. You just keep this brainstorming going until you have been through your entire story and you will have a complete list of characters which you need to describe and create. Does every character need to be fully developed? No, If for example one of his professors only get’s mentioned once you probably don’t need to know who his parents were and how he defines himself as a human being. But his best friends do need the full treatment.
Lastly i want to point out that you need to keep a list with all of your created characters where you sum up everything that is important about that character: his appearance, his personality traits, backstory, … so you won’t forget about their characteristics halfway through working on your book.
Filling up the timeline
The easiest way (and sort of the way i always did it before i even knew about it) to do this is using the Pixar story structure:
Once upon a time there was ___. Every day, ___. One day ___. Because of that, ___. Because of that, ___. Until finally ___.
Pixar are as most of you know the masters of originality and deserve to be an influence on new writers. What this story three folded structure entails is that it begins with sketching the origins and habits of your main character, then describe the factor that disrupts the main characters pattern and the effects it has on his life and finally describe how it all ends. This is a great and easy way to come up with your timeline so use it!
After you have done this you will have at least have a couple of scenes in mind which you put on your timeline. Most importantly after you have combined this with your world building and your character creating you will probably have the beginning of your story. a point where you are sure the story of your character starts and probably the point which messes the world of the main character up. From then on it is easy to fill in the blanks, try the following step: how do my characters get from scene A to scene B, what happens in between and how do i make this interesting. This is applicable for every kind of story. I will give two completely different examples to demonstrate this.
- Let’s say you are writing an action packed novel where they get from one action scene to the next needs a break from the action. So a thing you could do is let them get to a hideout to resupply (how they get there) and so they can figure out what will come next (how to make it interesting).
- A completely different example for instance is a love story where you have two romantic scenes but don’t know how you link the two up. Maybe one of them bumps in to a past romantic interest (how do i make it interesting) which makes him doubt his/her love for the other mc so he/ she wants to see the other mc to see what happens (how do they get there). But seeing her might make him forget all that.
You just keep using this rule until your timeline is filled up and voila! You have a basic timeline to work with.
Mixing it up
As you are doing all of the above you will notice that none of the above steps stand on their own. Creating a part of the world will lead to you coming up with an interesting scene, creating that scene will lead to creating new characters to put in the scene, creating that scene may help you shape the place they are at and thus help you build up your world further, … And before you know it your story will write itself! And like i said in the introduction, there is no one way of doing it. Some stories require a lot of attention on world building, others need attention in the character development department.
First let me make clear that i don’t like to plan a story out until i have every detail. I don’t do this because wile you are writing, you will get new ideas which will replace old ones and thus it would be a waste of time to develop a complete idea only to have it replaced. But on the contrary a lack of research will make your story seem unbelievable so you have to find that perfect balance.
Now what are you suppose to research beforehand and what do you research wile writing? Well i always suggest you try to have a basic understanding before you start working and research the specifics when needed. For example if you are writing about a wood worker you need to know what his daily activities are, what tools he has in his shop, … But only when your character is making a chair do you need to know which steps he undertakes to make it.
Writing can be intimidating and is something that takes up a lot of time. But if you ask any writer whether he he would want to go back to a time he didn’t write a guarantee you that none of them will say yes. Writing is something beautiful and helps writers in so many ways and it is just something that we enjoy. So don’t let the huge pile of work scare you off, in the end the whole process is something you will enjoy and once you start it you will find out that this is what your life has been missing all along.