How to: Start a Novel?

I journeyed over to Thaumauturgist‘s blog and saw she made a new post called ‘How to Start a Novel.’ This of course intrigued me, and I’ll be blunt here: I disagreed with nearly everything. There is no step-by-step process for writing starting a novel, unless you consider this:

  1. Think
  2. Write
  3. Repeat

This is starting a novel, mind you, not writing one. The process is a creative one, and thus has no set ‘guidelines’ beyond the standards of being a novel. I’ll let you know some of my thoughts on the subject, but remember that these are my opinions, and I encourage you to come up with your own, whether you agree with me or not.

The first step for me is simply an idea. It can come at from anywhere and nowhere, from a dream or a conversation, but at the start it’s usually a small flicker of a flame. Sometimes it’s a specific theme I would like to write about, or a situation with significant potential. Other times it’s a character or conflict that sets this idea alight, but it’s always an idea of some sort. For the sake of this post, let’s say there are two types of ideas: Matches and Candles.

Matches

Match

Image via Wikipedia

Lit matches are ideas that yearn to grow and spread the flames elsewhere. These ideas I write down, often by hand at first, and let them grow. I nurture them and care for them, letting the flames consume scraps of paper and kindling until the flame either dies out and I move on to another idea, or continues to grow and requires more sustenance to keep burning. The latter ones are the ones that turn into a novel. How you feed these flames is up to you. I enjoy mind mapping, research, and perhaps an occasional sketch (which I later scribble out because I think it looks ugly). Pick whatever you feel best represents your idea, writing style, and personality and go with it. Don’t be afraid of trying new things, either. Try preëmptively writing out a scene to two to see how it feels, and tweak your plot and characters based on that. Just flow with it.

Once this small flame turns into a bonfire, you’re past the ‘starting a novel’ phase into ‘writing a novel.’ I’ll talk more on that in a different post.

Candles

Candle Lantern

Courtesy Oregon Street Candle Co.

Candles are different. Candles don’t lend themselves to lighting other things on fire quite as easily. Sure, they can, but they’re better suited for lighting your way down a dark hallway, or lighting the other candles on the cake. These are the baby ideas, the ones that would suit a short story, or perhaps influence other ideas, but may not do well as a full-sized novel. This doesn’t mean they are bad ideas. Candles can be great practices in writing to help improve your character, plot, or theme development without all the time and complexities of a novel. Also keep in mind that candles burn for a long time. If you ever find yourself stuck on a novel, return to your candles (you did write them down, right?) and you may find that plot twist or supporting character you so desperately needed.


If you want to start a novel, then plan something out and start writing. Check out my Writing Resources page and try a few things out. Do some research, join local writing groups, go to conferences and lectures, participate in NaNoWriMo, whatever it takes to get you writing. In the end, however, it’s all up to you. You’re the one writing. You’re the one with the ideas. You’re the one with something to say. So say it.


Ishana Mayakashi
Stay Happy, Remain Beautiful

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About Squishy

Writer, dancer, gamer, and admirer of all that is beautiful.

Posted on August 26, 2010, in Ishy Writes! and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.

  1. Thaumauturgist

    I am flattered that you actually visited my blog again. Everyone is entitled to their own opinions. 🙂 I think I can “start” a novel better when I have already made a strong foundation on my characters and basic idea of what my story will be. THEN I allow my imagination to go anywhere it wants to.
    Anyways, great post! 🙂

    • I’m always interested in what other writers are up to. Reading other opinions help me create my own. Having a strong foundation does give you a better idea of what direction to go in, and since most fiction novels are character-based, that foundation often comes from character design. Just don’t hold too strongly to that foundation. Let the characters grow and change throughout their journeys. Blair Hurley has a post on Writerly Life on how to write a killer beginning, I suggest you check it out if you haven’t already. It has helped me bunches.
      Thanks for the comment! ~Ishana

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