|“A Lady Drinking and a Gentleman (detail)” – Johannes Vermeer|
How do you begin a novel? Start writing!
Kidding. Kind of.
This is a question I’m asked a lot by people who have always wanted to write a novel but aren’t sure where to start: Where do you start? How do you even get going?
It’s not quite as difficult as you might think!
A mistake people make that deters them from even writing the novel or memoir they have always wanted to write is that they’re intimidated by how big the task can loom. And no doubt, it’s big and intimidating.
But the real trick is to avoid trying to imagine the whole novel all at once. That’s impossible.
J.K. Rowling and J.R.R. Tolkien did not, contrary to belief, wake up one day having magically conceived of every spade of grass and glass of butterbeer in Middle Earth and Hogwarts. You don’t have to have everything figured out before you start. Don’t be intimidated. There’s plenty of time for detail work later.
When you’re starting a novel there are only two things you’re looking to find: Voice and Plot.
That’s it! Just two things that you can totally wrap your head around.
So. How do you find your voice and plot?
Well, as you may know, there are two kinds of people in the world. The outliners, and the pantsers. The outliners plan ahead and have a fairly good sense of where their plot is going to go. They map out the opening incident and the major plot points, with varying levels of detail. The pantsters just get words on paper and revise revise revise later.
Outlining can help you figure out your plot (and please read this post to make sure you have a plot), but there’s only one way to find a voice: Start writing, and keep writing until you find it.
Don’t worry about polish, don’t fret if the first chapter comes out horribly. Get words on page. Keep going. It may come to you instantly, it may take fifty pages, it may take a hundred and fifty pages. Just keep at it.
Check out this post on what makes a good voice, but the thing about voice is that you’ll know it when you find it. All of a sudden you’ll have it, and it will just feel right. It will feel like it’s coming from you, and not from those other novels you’ve read in the past.
Once you find your voice and plot you can always go back and revise to make everything is consistent and trim the parts where you were on a hunting expedition for your voice and plot.
But again, what does this boil down to? Start writing. You have nothing to lose and a whole world to gain.