Tag: books are like films

How to start writing your book

How to start writing your book

Want to start writing your book? Are you itching to write that memoir, that sweeping romance but are stumped for a place to start? How do you start your book? Starting something is often the hardest part of any project. Concede this and that is a start in itself. Get organised. Write down some ideas. Do phrases or images come to mind when you envision your book? Well, jot them down to.  They could be memories, scenes, snatches of dialogue or you may even have some plot sorted. This is your inspiration that will kick start you into writing mode. You need to use some, but maybe not all of this for the start to your book.

In school they teach that there are three main parts of a story. First, (surprise!) there is a beginning that leads into the conflict which is the longest part. In this part the plot develops so characters interact in a way that should captivate the reader and want them to read on.  Then follows the resolution or ending that usually tidies things up.

Making a start

The beginning of any book must act as an introduction. If it is a non-fiction or fact-based book, then the beginning introduces the topic and aspects of it that will be covered in the book. Sometimes there are chapter headings at the start or an index at the end to make this clear. For fiction, we don’t have these. Sometimes authors include a prologue to introduce a historical period or give some background. Publishers have told me that this is not so popular now. Everyone is in a rush to get into the book as everyone is always in a rush these days. That is why we need to chill out with the slower pace of a book! Reading books is good for you.

The start of a fiction book establishes the setting, time and characters.  It sets the story in motion and if done well should carry the reader along with it into the following chapters. Think of it as the start of a movie. If the first ten minutes of the film don’t grab you, then you are inclined to switch channels. For me, I love a film set in exotic places. The scenery can suck me in. But if the characters are not exciting as well, if they just talk and don’t engage me, I will flick channels.

Start with some action

For men, the beginning of a film and probably a book often needs to be action packed or they get bored. But action takes different forms. There is physical action and there is action dialogue wherein two characters are interacting. They may be arguing which could include some physical action too. Or they just be talking about someone or something that is interesting. They could be plotting a murder or robbery or talking about how they can get away from one they already have committed. Either way, the viewer wants to know more. So, we keep watching.

A film can start with the actual murder and proceed into a ‘who dunnit’. Click the link to read the interesting history of this genre. That is pretty addictive too and this works in books as well. Agatha Christie is the queen of mysteries or ‘whodunnits.’ Whatever the beginning it has to hook you. That is why the beginning is often referred to as ‘the hook.’ They use this term in advertising too. You will watch an ad if it hooks you early on. Cute animals always do this for me. But others like sexy women or hot men or cars.

The start is the appetiser.

A good start of a book as in film makes you anticipate more. Like an appetiser for the main course. It must tantalise with a little but not overwhelm the reader with names and details. It’s tough but worth taking the time to get it as right as you can. Now, one mistake many writers make, me included, is starting too early and trying to explain everything. This is the undoing of a good beginning. For the start of a novel, you do not have to start at the beginning of the character’s story. It is better to just hop in at some interesting point in his/her journey than ramble along for pages telling us about him/her. Just like a film. Start with some action not just a long shot of the scenery.  Overly descriptive starts to novels are not so in anymore.

Descriptions can set the scene. They tell us where we are in place and time. However, overly long descriptions of the setting can bog us down. Novelists of previous eras did use description a lot more. If you read any Jane Austen, Conrad or Dickens you sure notice the slow pace of the action compared to today’s novels. They lived in a slower paced world, so their writing reflected this. Now we live in an instantaneously gratifying world that is fast paced so we aren’t into that anymore. So, with that point, I should move along myself.

Introduce the characters

Start with the character’s dilemma. It could be a letter or parcel they receive, an unexpected visitor or event that plunges them into a dilemma or situation. In my novel The Last Hotel, my beginning includes the unexpected events in the lives of a few of my characters that leads to their eventual meeting at the last hotel open on the French Riviera. So the book starts there in the beautiful French Riviera village of Beaulieu-sur-Mer and presents Lotte and her father who will later host these characters at their hotel. It is a short chapter about the dreams of Lotte and her father. The second chapter skips across the world to Australia. Sasha has just won a ballet scholarship for The Nice Opera. Chapter after chapter introduces the rest of the characters. Readers have reported this worked for them. They wanted to keep reading as they had become interested in the characters and their situations.

Tangling the characters

You may have watched films presented this way. Snapshots of people’s lives that will soon cross and tangle. I used this tangling method in another book. Colour comes to Tangles. In this one, ‘Tangles’ refers to the tangling of the characters but also it is the actual name of the hairdressing salon, Tangles, where the characters meet. A dilemma soon arrives wherein Tanya, the hairdresser’s friend goes missing. Also, to confound matters more, a new interesting tenant arrives to set up practice upstairs from the salon. Tanya at first only catches glimpses of this colourful new tenant but she knows from the business plaque and brochures that she is a colour therapist. How interesting, she muses. She anticipates meeting her as does the reader. The arrival of Vidisha this exotic Indian woman and the disappearance of Josie are more than enough to keep Tanya and the reader occupied and continue reading.

Note that I didn’t have to tell the whole story of Tanya’s divorce or how or why Vidisha came to Australia. That will emerge later. It is better to emerge later as by then we want to know these things. Telling us all this too soon will be more like reading a newspaper article or biography. Novels must enthrall and entertain not just inform. If you are asking questions as you read then that means the book is working its magic. And books should be magic. They should transport you to another exciting world of places and people where anything can happen.

starting your book

Photo by Marcos Paulo Prado on Unsplash

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