12

Let’s say I’ve created an outline, have explored my characters properly, and have properly broken down each scene to an appropriate level of detail. I know the story, I know the pacing, and I know where I’m gonna got add conflict and emotion.

I’m ready to put pen to page.

Where should I start writing?

Should I start with the opening scene to explore the story as I go along? Should I start with the end so I know exactly where I’m trying to get to? Or should I start somewhere in the middle so I can explore a little further before plunging into the big chapters?

  • 1
    Standard answer will be. Just pick a point and just start writing. See where it goes. – Totumus Maximus May 30 '18 at 7:14
  • 1
    You might find some cathartic humor regarding starting your work by watching the beginning of Throw Momma From The Train. – Todd Wilcox May 30 '18 at 14:11
  • 3
    It was a dark and stormy night... – sirjonsnow May 30 '18 at 15:12
  • I don't know how to put this without coming across a little like a jerk, but if you haven't written scenes with your characters, you haven't really explored them. – corsiKa May 30 '18 at 23:03
11

As everybody else says, all options are viable. You can start from a scene that's bright in your mind and write to it and from it, you can throw scenes on paper and then connect them, you can start from the end and then write towards it. For every writer, a different approach works. So, listen to advice, but above all be guided by your own instinct, by what feels write to you.

For myself, I start at the beginning. Here's why.

I am not a complete discovery writer: I sort of know where I'm going. But I'm not a neat plotter and outliner either. I plan some waypoints along the road to the end, and then I let the story sort of take me there. As I go, I discover that scenes I've sort of planned happen in a different way than what I originally had in mind, because the original plan no longer works with the way the characters have developed. Other scenes move within the story, and yet others stay on the cutting board of my mind, not because they don't work, but because they slow the overall pacing. And yet others show up unbidden, born from the story's demand. I sort of go gleaning for my story. And that's not something that I could do from the middle.

Another reason to work from the beginning, for me, is pacing. As I write, I can see where the story is getting too slow, and I need to chop a scene to speed things up. Or I can see that it's moving too fast, I need to slow down, develop some aspect a bit more for it to make sense later in the tale. You can take care of those issues in a different stage of the writing process, but this is what works for me.

However, @Secespitus is right - don't get bogged down writing the perfect start. In fact, don't get bogged down writing the perfect anything. Write a version, a draft, and move on. Come back and edit it later. Compare this to the work of a painter: if one sets out to draw a tree, it makes little sense to spend hours on the shading of a single leaf, when the bole and the branches are not yet so much as hinted yet.

  • Usually if I decide to paint a tree, I start with finding the paint my sister stole – Redwolf Programs May 30 '18 at 18:13
8

I start on Page 1, Line 1, Word 1: The main character's name.

If you know this much about the characters, the first scene introduces the main character and her status-quo world. You have 5% to 10% of the story to let your readers get to know her, how she lives her life, deals with problems, deals with other people, and what she wants out of life.

The first scene should contain a "throwaway" conflict, some minor problem or disagreement. I say "throwaway" because it may play a role in the plot, but is not itself going to change any characters. For example she wakes up on her own, which is unusual, looks at the clock and the power is out, and she has overslept an hour. Now the story is not about this power failure; the lights can come on half an hour later, but this power failure can be used to instigate something else; a chance meeting because she is not on her usual bus, or other people being late to work, etc.

I am not a plotter, I am a discovery writer with more of a loose plan. I don't begin writing until I know (in my head, not on paper) something about my main character (MC) and my secondary character (SC); the primary one she will interact with. I may have a notion of other things about my MC and SC, their love lives, professional lives, family lives, etc. But that's it, if she has lovers I don't plan them at all; I'll decide who appeals to her when I know her better through writing her.

I also know what her big problem will be (whatever drives the story), I also always have a loose written outline of how the story might end. For me this has NEVER been the actual ending. As I write, I am always checking my scenes against the ending. If the ending I had stops being viable, I stop and either come up with a new ending that will work, and then revise anything necessary to support that ending, or I revise the scene to work with what I have. Usually I revise the ending, or scrap it and come up with a better ending.

The first chapter must introduce us to the MC (often the SC can be delayed until the final scene of ACT I (20% or 25% mark in the story). Before she does or decides anything momentous, the readers need to know her, what she will be giving up, why she would feel compelled to make a life-changing decision, and so on. This is her status quo world.

This is where you do a little character building, your MC interacting with tertiary characters (that will appear a few times) and walk-ons (that will appear only once).

This is where you do a little world-building (the setting); anything in your world that would not be considered ordinary to the reader AND is important for the reader to know because it will influence the plot. Whether people take spaceships to other planets, or wear armor and carry swords, or both. Whether aliens and robots exist and everyone knows it. Whether magic works.

HOWEVER, in order for readers to remain interested, you will need conflict, which I loosely define as the reader wanting to know what happens next, in an immediate sense, of the next few pages. That is why they turn the pages, when they stop caring what happens next they stop turning pages, and will try to skip ahead or put the book down (or change the channel).

This is the entertainment factor I keep talking about in my answers, the first job of the author is to keep the reader wanting to turn pages, out of anticipation for something they know will happen soon, or for the mystery because they don't know what it is going to happen but a situation is coming to a head: Perhaps something happened and they want to know what the MC is going to do about it, how she reacts.

Now readers will give you a few pages of leeway. As a rule of thumb, I'd say 2% of the story, so in an 80,000 word novel, that is 1600 words, or about 6.4 pages (at submission format 250 words/page, which is how I write). So that is how long I have to set up; I tell myself if I don't have them wondering on page 7, they aren't going to turn to page 8.

I solve this problem by opening with my MC doing something that is physically active. Like above, having slept late and rushing through her normal wakeup routine without power, in the dark by flashlight or candle light, would be a fun problem to solve.

Because of that, the first line I write is her name followed by her doing something, so I can introduce her to the reader, and along with her, some elements of her world. Personally, I prefer opening scenes in which the MC is alone and can be herself, she doesn't have to interact with anybody. If she has a spouse I might put the MC out running, or perhaps make the spouse present but asleep for a few pages.

In any case you need to quickly get to conflict, but avoid any significant plot-point conflict with other characters, because until readers know the MC and identify with her such conflicts are going to fall flat, they won't have the impact desired.

That is the reason for the "throwaway" conflict. The reason I start there is so I, too, can get to know her by putting flesh on the bones of whatever outline of character I have devised. I have tried devising detailed characters before, no matter what I do, I find they change on the page, as they become more "real" people to me through dialogue and interaction with the world and others, so although I have a general sense of who my MC and SC are, I don't write anything, I discover them on the page.

All of that said, feel free to revise. By the end of the book, I have to do another pass to show my opening MC in their full and final personality, or the personality they should have had at that opening point. Because again, things happen on the page that may flesh out their personality more, and it needs to be shown early. For example, one of my characters became more humorous than I had originally anticipated; and I wanted to show some of her humor in her opening throwaway dilemma.

5

Short answer: all three options work, so experiment.

James Scott Bell wrote a whole book on how to write from the middle. I haven't read it yet, so I don't know how good the reasons are for doing so, but presumably it's feasible if you know what you're doing. (Of course, you might only do so if you read his book!) I always write from the start, but you can write the end first too. Apparently, J K Rowling started with the ending of the Harry Potter series.

5

Whatever feels right. You could also write the start of each chapter and slowly fill each one out. This way you start with the rough outline, then move to a roadmap with small steps, and then you just try to fill in the gaps. This allows you to have a better overview of the goal you are trying to accomplish while not taking up too much time. Many people are getting stuck on trying to make a "perfect start" for example and then never finish anything. Or they finish their work and realize that their "perfect start" doesn't really fit the finale anymore. Or they realize something important needs to be said in the beginning.

Your first draft won't be perfect, which is why it doesn't really matter where or how you start. Just write what comes to mind and feels natural to you with a rough idea of where and when to use it later. In the end you will see how you can connect the dots and where you need to polish your work.

The above with a "start at the beginning" approach:

  1. make a rough outline
  2. start with the beginning of the first chapter
  3. start with the beginning of the second chapter
  4. continue until you have the beginning for everything from start to finish
  5. start over and rewrite the beginning of the first chapter
  6. expand the first chapter a bit
  7. repeat steps 4 to 6 until satisfied

There are different kinds of people and everyone works a little different. What might work for me might not work for you.

4

I would say: There is no perfect start. In my opinion, starting where your (Writers-)Instinct tells you to start is the best option. If your Instinct is telling you: Start at the opening, start there. If your instinct tells you to write the emotional turning point in your story first: Do that.

Your (Writers-)Instinct is in the most cases right. No one knows the story better than you, so where you start is completely your decision. Only the reader is forced to start from the beginning, if he wants to fully understand your story. You are the creator and it doesn't matter if you start in the middle. In most cases, you find some good points, that could work better. In most cases there shouldn't be an order for writing, except the one you want

3

The beginning is a good place to try if you don't know. Writing a couple "sketches" with your characters can also be good. That's a light weight scene with some dialogue and description, but not heavy on story. It'll give you a good idea of what your own voice will sound like in the novel. This might point you to dinner things you want to work on right away. I only suggest this as a way to shift your attention to writing. Writing and outlining are two different things. If you are appropriately tired of exercises and really want to work on the work, it sounds like you don't have a good reason to start anywhere other than the beginning. So do that. If you just need to break the ice, try out a sketch.

1

You're asking the wrong question. The first page, the first paragraph, the first sentence, all need to work together to capture the reader's interest. That's your priority. Otherwise you'll have no reader and no agent. Know who your audience. Start with a scene that will impress and capture.

  • 1
    While what you say is true, I think you have misunderstood the question. I think the point of the question is, since the OP has an outline, they could begin writing a later scene before writing the first scene, even the final scene, and by knowing more about their characters be able to craft a better opening scene. The question is whether that is a good idea, and if so, where in the story is a good place to start writing if not the first page. – Amadeus-Reinstate-Monica May 30 '18 at 13:24
  • Yes, I did misunderstand the question. – BSalita May 31 '18 at 13:44
1

I would say that the kind of person who can say "I’ve created an outline, have explored my characters properly, and have properly broken down each scene to an appropriate level of detail. I know the story, I know the pacing, and I know where I’m gonna got add conflict and emotion." would start at the beginning.

Seems to me that this person is a logical, procedural, methodological, start-to-finish kind of guy. Doing anything different to writing the novel in the way that a reader would read through the novel just wouldn't fit their psychological profile.

That said - one is entirely within one's rights to rescind one's characteristicality and start it in any way one would like so that one's boat is floated in a self-satisfying manner.

1

You have quite a bit of detail and so I believe it is possible that a couple of things are happening. These are my guesses but they may help you examine yourself for the best place to start.

  1. You feel a bit overwhelmed by the task in front of you so your brain is attempting to stop you from starting.
  2. The real thing you are unsure of is what (specifically) should you write? As in, what should you really show in your scenes.

For the overwhelming feeling I've written an answer here on Writer's SO that you may help at: I'm having an issue committing to my novels

I've also written about motivations (there are only 2, pain and pleasure) here at Writer's SO and that really does apply here also : How to motivate yourself to finish something?

But, in the case of the uneasy feeling of not knowing exactly what you should write I suggest the following explanation and help:

Not Knowing What To Show

You are already thinking in scenes so that is an important first step. Some guidance comes from what Anton Checkhov said,

"If in the first act you have hung a pistol on the wall, then in the following one it should be fired."

Sometimes a writer will think something like the following:

"I'm writing a story about a aliens who attack the Earth."

They sit down and start writing and wonder where to start. Having no idea about what adds up to the main character being a hero they start out at the beginning and you get something like:

On May 5, 2018 Bill Edwards' alarm clock sounded and he rolled over and hit the snooze button.

No. Readers don't care about how he wakes up. Unless he stands up, looks out his window and sees an alien spacecraft in his yard.

Which Details?

So, which details should a writer choose?

  1. The ones that specifically go into telling the exact story you are telling or
  2. The ones which display the nature of the character who is acting out the story.

A Way Forward

Since you have your list of scenes (and hopefully the outcome you expect from the scene) I suggest you start writing the shortest versions of those scenes as possible.

So let's say your alien story scenes are:

  1. Aliens land on Earth and only a few people know. Hero is called : hero is unsure about confronting aliens.
  2. First interaction with aliens and hero : hero tries to make peace but is wounded.
  3. People who brought in hero have lost confidence in him and want to keep him away.

Scene 1

"We've called you in because we know you've been studying the possibility of alien civilizations and you've been trained as special-ops," said Gov't agent.

"So you believe you've discovered some alien life of some kind," hero asks.

"Not just believe, but know." Gov't agent pushes a tablet toward Hero. "Take a look at that. It just landed 34 minutes ago in Des Moines"

"An alien travels an astronomical distance and then lands in Des Moines?"

"Yeah, well," Gov't agent said. "Their local maps probably aren't so great. Check out the video footage."

Hero sees the aliens emerge. They look like giant wasps with squid bodies. They move toward a house and eat everyone inside. Hero pushes the pad back towards Gov't Agent. "Uh...I think maybe you just need some tanks to take care of this. I'm not sure what I can do."

"I know it looks ugly, but we think you can communicate with these things and find out more about their intent."

Start Very Small, Write Very Short

You could just write one half page per scene and this would either draw you into writing more or you will decide that this is not something you want to write.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.