The first step in writing a novel is one I sometimes never move beyond. When I discover an idea that reverberates around in my imagination so strongly that I experience that a-ha! novel! moment, I get out a notebook and pen. I carry a moleskin around with me, and sometimes a legal pad (depending on the size of my purse), and these notebooks are full of characters half-developed and little scenes and turning points that I didn’t want to forget.
So I take my idea and I write down two Very Important Things:
– a sentence or two about the idea itself/external conflict
– character sketches of the protagonist/antagonist that help me locate what that character’s central internal conflict will be.
Because in order for a story to completely develop for me, I have to have a unique (or at least interesting) point of action/impetus for the plot AND one or two characters with whom I will co-create the rest of the story.
The original notes for my current WIP might look something like this (only messier and half in cursive):
Tell BEOWULF from the queen’s perspective! It’s never been done before and there’s soo much room to parallel Wealhtheow and Grendel’s Mom! Plus death and mayhem! SWEET!!! (I am usually very excited at this point, and exclamation points are key.)
W is young queen, raised separate from people, as a valkyrie? What does that mean? She was trained to conduct the sacrifices for the cult of Odin – very familiar with death (like grendel’s mom!). Her faith is her self-confidence and Grendel will throw that into severe conflict. Her internal conflict will be all about her faith/herself. Outer violence, inner violence! Admiration for G’s Mom, kinship? At war with duty to Heorot/husband and her own children?
I try to let the ideas simmer for a few days before I put any story-text down, and sometimes the idea loses a touch of its shiny. But when it doesn’t, I can move onto the next step.
I’ve never met a writer with the exact same first step as me – and I think that’s one of the coolest things about writing: you can truly make every part of it as unique to you as you want to. So how do you start out?