Wednesday, February 26, 2014

How Do I Start My Book?

This week, 25 Ways to Beat Writer's Block is free on the Kindle. To celebrate that fact, we're going to look at some of the basic questions new writers ask. We've looked at planning, but now for the age-old question:

How do I start my book?

Different writers have different things to say about this one. Some suggest writing any scene first, just to get yourself going. I prefer to follow a more linear route: start at the beginning. Don't worry about making it perfect. Find a point to start. One of the following usually works:

- Describe the setting, if it's important for the book. In terms of plot, this is only a useful way of starting if something significant is going to happen at the very start of the book that you'll then go on to describe.

- Describe an important character while they're doing something of significance to the plot. The fun thing about this is, they don't necessarily have to be doing something remotely similar to what they'll do in the rest of the book. Having the "ordinary life" before the events of the book is important, if that's the sort of story you're going to tell.

- Describe an event that's of importance to the plot, but that doesn't focus on your main protagonist. In Eragon by Christopher Paolini, the book opens on a woman walking through a wood about to be attacked - not the "hero" of the book.

- Introduce your protagonist. The reader should know who they are at some point, anyway, so why not from the word Go? Again, focus on the plot. If your protagonist is at school, there needs to be a reason. If they're on the bus, there needs to be a reason. Make your protagonist do something while the readers gets to know them.

The important thing is to start as you mean to go on. Keep the tone consistent. Establish certain rules that will be kept - in Harry Potter, the rule is that magic exists. Just because Harry doesn't know that, doesn't make it any less true. The rules are there, to be discovered if they're different to what we currently understand about the world.

Think in terms of how the world works. If your character goes to school, there has to be a good reason why they're suddenly abandoning their studies for a great big adventure. If your character has a job, they have bills to pay and can't just up and leave without consequences. If your character has a family, how will they feel if they leave? Those are all "rules" to be kept - not every hero in every book is a loner without a family or friends. Use your opening chapter to establish what's important in the regular life of your protagonist, and/or establish something important to the plot.

The most important thing, no matter how you start your book, is to give people a reason to keep reading. Make them want to know about your protagonist, or about the world you've created, or the events that open up the book. Read the first chapters of your favourite books for some clear examples of how others do it, and try figure out what made you want to keep reading.

Don't forget, you can get 25 Ways to Beat Writer's Block for free at the moment! Read more about it:

Have you ever struggled with writer’s block? Have you sat at your desk, looking at your work in progress, wondering what to do with a character who just won’t budge, or a poem that just won’t take form, or an article that just won’t work for you? Have you ever joined thousands of authors in the search for a way to beat writer’s block?

From the author of Planning Before Writing comes a solution to the problem of writer’s block: 25 ways to tackle one of the biggest issues facing writers, each with an exercise to help you to develop as an author and improve your writing skills.

With exercises to suit every writer, and drawing on over ten years’ experience in the craft, 25 Ways to Beat Writer’s Block is a must-have reference for your collection.

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Nicole Pyles said...

I'm downloading the book now!! :) I read once that one way to get yourself out of a writing rut, is to start your book/story at the ending! I did it recently and made for an interesting story that I didn't expect!

Paul Carroll said...

Thanks Nicole!

I haven't tried to write a book that way before. My reliance on a plan sort of prevents that. It does sound fun, though!