Novel Beginnings

April 2, 2010

I hate beginning a novel. Some authors love starting a new book, but not me. It’s painstakingly difficult for me to write the first few chapters. Why? Because I don’t know my characters yet.

Sure, I’ve done character development sheets, but they don’t really come to life until they’re on stage. Then I have to describe their physical mannerisms, type of dress, speech foibles, etc. Once they’ve made an appearance or two, the story flows much easier. I don’t have to stop to figure out how to describe them. But getting through those initial pages is tough.

This is where the Doubt Demons show up. Will I be able to write this entire book? Do I have enough conflicts to keep the story going? Am I writing crap? And deep down, there’s always the question: Have I lost my touch?

Yet invariably, the book gets finished. My heart is satisfied. And we move on to the next story.

I am in writing nirvana during the second half of a book when the story flows and my fingers fly over the keyboard. But the first five pages? The first chapter? The first appearances of each character and the first setting details? Ugh. Only by being disciplined and forcing myself to do my daily writing quota do we get past this awkward stage. Is it crap? Yes. Can it be fixed later? Yes. What’s important is to get the words on paper.

You can’t fix what you don’t have, but oh, how glorious it is when this stage is passed. Compare it to a baby who starts out crawling, then learns to stand, and then can walk. Soon he’s running around the house driving his parents ragged. So let’s swat those Doubt Demons away, practice Bic-Hok (Butt in Chair, Hands on Keyboard) and pound out those pages.

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  1. I’m the opposite. I love the opening chapters and usually get into a “zone” where the story just flows. I always start with a premise and characterizations, and that process springboards me into my opening chapters. I’m kind of writing on faith at that point – with the wind at my back! But after a euphoric beginning the plot demons often do attack and self-doubt sets in. Where do I go from here? Do I really have enough conflict, etc., to sustain the entire book? That’s when I have to step back and do some careful plotting to avoid a saggy middle.