Tips For Starting a Novel

A friend just asked me if I had any tips for starting a novel. He had been working on an idea for a sci fi/fantasy story and was finally ready to jump into the writing process. It can be a bit daunting for a first timer, so he naturally asked me since I had been through the process (more than once).

Oddly, I was at a loss for words. At first. My first reaction was odd because I had given a lot of thought to that very question, and the answer is quite simple: start writing. Don’t worry about whether it’s any good; just start writing. You will have plenty of time to shape and improve the story.

My process usually starts with a detailed outline (“guidelines” not a hard and fast road map). Then I write the first 100 pages or so (double-spaced). Then, I go back and revise to check to see how the characters and story are holding up. Then, I push onto to finish the manuscript. In most cases, my stories have taken dramatic, unexpected turns (and sometimes leaps). I’ve learned to embrace the uncertainty and circuitousness of the writing process. Even after I’ve completed the manuscript, I will go through a half dozen complete rewrites before I release it to a professional editor.

For those that have taken a gander at my most recent novel, A Warrior’s Soul, this process may seem at odds with the promises I seem to make to my readers. I included the first chapter of Book Two, Renegade, at the end of the first book. But I hadn’t completed the full manuscript when I included that chapter! (I have completed it now, however.)

I wasn’t committing fraud. The chapter found in A Warrior’s Soul will indeed be the first chapter of Renegade. Rather, having been through the process, I knew that: 1) my manuscript was well on the way to completion, and 2) the first chapter was, in fact, finished. By the time I was ready to release the first chapter, I knew which turns my story would take even though I had not put all the flesh on the bones of the story yet. The climatic scene is a doozy, and I didn’t need to have the details and circumstances forshadowed in the first chapter. And, honestly, I wouldn’t have had the courage to commit to that first chapter unless I had been through the process before.

So, new authors, don’t be afraid to simply write, write, and write. That’s the best way to get your manuscript done. Also keep in mind, however, that finishing the manuscript is just the beginning. Expect lots of editing and revisions once you’ve put together a complete manuscript and don’t skip the use of a good, professional editor as you finish the process up.

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