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I’m starting to write a fiction novel. A friend of mine works in publishing and she thinks the plot for my book is great but I’m not sure how to start. I know a lot of the details and I’ve thought up everything in my head but I don’t know how to change my thoughts into words.

I’ve always wanted to write and I did a few writing classes in high school but never really went anywhere with it as I went straight into working to save for a car.

How do I get started, to move from ideas to written words?

Not a duplicate of What are some online guides for starting writers? as they’re asking for writing guidelines whereas I’m asking for general tips on how to start my book.

closed as too broad by Standback, April, Chappo, linksassin, JP Chapleau Apr 15 at 19:40

Please edit the question to limit it to a specific problem with enough detail to identify an adequate answer. Avoid asking multiple distinct questions at once. See the How to Ask page for help clarifying this question. If this question can be reworded to fit the rules in the help center, please edit the question.

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    I have read the other one you think might be a duplicate but it’s sef not. No answers on there are what I was looking for – FirstTimeWriter Mar 31 at 17:15
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    Just a note: All novels are fiction. Some agents have written that the sight of the words "fiction novel" is enough for them to reject a query out of hand! :-) – Amadeus Mar 31 at 17:41
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    The Op did not ask for online guides – Rasdashan Mar 31 at 20:17
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    The duplicate question asks about online resources. This question asks for tips. Resources aren't tips so the other question cannot be a duplicate (even though some of the answerers to that question ignore the question and give advice that wasn't asked for and would be good answers here). – user37583 Mar 31 at 20:51
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    I do not consider this a duplicate, either. The OP is not asking for online resources, but on how to start writing. IMO that is precisely the kind of question we should be answering. – Amadeus Mar 31 at 20:59
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I have two previous answers that will help you, Here, on the Three Act Structure and Here, on Getting the first 50 pages or so started.

These are geared to discovery writers, like me, but if you already have a plot to follow, they can help you anyway.

The biggest mistake I see beginners make is they want to jump in too early on the "action" or the "big idea", they think it helps to start with a big fight or the aliens arriving or whatever.

This seldom works. The reason is because in a novel we readers need to care about the characters that are in danger, or being hurt, or that are fighting. Nearly every novel (and most movies) actually begin rather mildly; to introduce characters in their "normal world". This is done to invest the reader in the character(s) so they care about them, before you put them in a blender.

In the three act structure (which about 90% of all popular stories follow), the first 10% to 15% of the book is about the characters before any big conflicts or challenges.

The problem with beginners arises because the most memorable part of the beginning is the "inciting incident", something unusual that happens to the main characters about halfway through the first Act. That is after the introduction to the normal world, but the normal world is critical for the reader to know who this happens to so they care about her.

The first Act is about 25% of the story; in an 80,000 word novel that is 20,000 words. Halfway through is 10,000 words. The standard submission format for a novel (which is how I write mine) is about 250 words per page.

So, 10,000 words is 40 pages. That is a lot of writing about your character(s) normal world, their day to day life, their pre-existing relationships with family, friends, lovers, coworkers, their job (or school or whatever else they do most of their day), and other aspects of their pre-existing life in general. We need a sense of who we are going to follow on this adventure, what she is like, how she responds to problems, who she loves, and why she behaves like she does. Who causes her problems?

Part of this 40 pages is simultaneously introducing us to the setting. You don't have to do too much if this is a modern world without any magic, but you do have to find ways to naturally introduce and let us know about anything unusual; like magic, or aliens, or sci-fi elements, space travel, futuristic equipment, etc. Ditto for fantasy worlds, and fantasy cultures.

There is a lot to do in the first half of the first act, and it needs to be done in an entertaining way (not just a long lecture about how it all works; those are called "info dumps" and are terribly boring -- we show people how things work using scenes with characters doing things; we don't just pull them aside for a lesson about it).

But beginners often want to skip this, because they want to get to the drama. Don't be in a rush. Readers like to read! They don't mind that nothing big happens immediately, they are used to stories starting this way, in a normal world with normal things happening, and characters dealing with normal problems.

Clarification: This doesn't mean nothing happens, you also don't want to start with an infodump and lengthy description. You do want to start some drama and conflict from the first page, have your character(s) doing something while you also introduce their normal world. (details in the second link). This just doesn't have to be your main conflict or problem, that begins around the 1/8th mark (with the inciting incident). I recommend you begin with some every-day emergency. e.g. waking up an hour late, due to a power failure during the night. Or the car doesn't start, or the milk she bought two days ago for her breakfast cereal is already sour. Make her deal with a micro-crisis, so we see how she deals with a setback. It is important to make the reader want to turn from page 1 to page 2 to see what happens next; and an infodump or nothing happening will fail to do that.

Read up on the Three Act Structure, it will only take a few hours, so you can see how nearly all modern stories get structured. You can Google that and get millions of hits, if you want to read more.

The "structure" is about what happens, when it happens in the story, and what the results are; broadly speaking it is what you should be writing about in each section of your story.

The Three Act Structure is not like a rule you have to follow or you get rejected; it is actually the result of studying what is common in how very popular stories have been structured. It is just what we have noticed most well-received stories have in common. Following it won't guarantee you also write a great story -- What it can do is help you avoid writing a bad story with obvious flaws.

  • Thank you! Just reading your answer has helped me immensely! You’re right, I, as a reader, like to read about the normal world of the characters even if nothing is happening yet. And I did start to think ‘I need to get the drama flowing straight away’ which obviously would have been a mistake. – FirstTimeWriter Mar 31 at 15:47
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    @FirstTimeWriter The answer to that urge is in the second link. In a way you DO want to start drama (conflict) flowing straight away; but the conflict doesn't have to be the MAIN conflict of your story; it can be a normal, everyday emergency your main character has to deal with. Alice wakes up without the alarm -- then sees her alarm flashing 12:00 and realizes the power failed in the night and she's an hour late getting up. BANG! A lot of crap to do in a short amount of time. Any little non-life-changing crisis will do the trick, show us some "normal world" and how she deals with crises. – Amadeus Mar 31 at 17:14
  • That makes sense. Thanks :) – FirstTimeWriter Mar 31 at 17:17
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What I do is get to know my characters well, my MC in particular, create a situation and see what happens. I write what occurs.

If you have all of the elements in your story ready, but that blank page is looking back at you, just pretend you are telling your story to a friend. Write what happens and see if it works for you.

We each have our own process, some quite strict and others fluid. Find what works for you and write.

Do not expect perfection. You say you are a beginner - I have several novels that will never see the light of day because their purpose was to improve my skill as a storyteller.

You have an advantage in that you have a friend in the business who has already told you that you have something worth writing. Many of us are looking for such a person to let us know if our work is something they would be interested in publishing, but you have an in.

My process works for me, but might not work for you. I name my character, that tells me who they are at their core. I start asking myself questions about him or her, then insert into a situation and start. If nothing interesting happens, that might be interesting if the character is intriguing enough. My character meets another and things start happening.

I occasionally read mine aloud to check for proper flow. The ear will catch what the eye does not.

Make sure that you like your characters. Do your best to make the important ones as well rounded and real as you can. Give dimension to the walk-ons too, but less is required there as they are not the focus of the story.

Feel free to choose multiple protagonists and do whatever works for your story.

In my case, my characters drive the plot and frequently change direction. I strive to remain true to them, keeping their actions and thoughts in character.

No matter what happens - keep writing.

  • Thank you! They’re really great tips. I guess I’ll start with writng it out like I’m telling a friend :) – FirstTimeWriter Mar 31 at 14:59
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Starting from a blank page is always hard.

Read Writing Down The Bones by Natalie Goldberg. It's an excellent book to get you writing.

Writing, you will find, is like any art. Like learning the piano, or learning ballet. If you drown yourself in the technicalities, you will soon become overwhelmed and won't be able to hold all that information in your head anyway. Structure, character development, dialogue, description, theme, imagery, etc. etc. are things that take time to master. Just tie your shoes and stand with flat feet. Open the lid and make noises with the keys. Don't try to write a masterpiece from scratch.

Natalie's advice is beautiful. Go to the stationery store and buy a crappy, cheap notebook. Buy a fast pen that moves across the page as quickly as your thoughts. And just write. Let the words pour out without checking yourself or editing any of them.

Crappy notebooks, as opposed to beautiful hardback tomes, free you to write absolute crap. But out of that dung heap, you can dig for gems. It composts over time (as Natalie puts it) and thoughts become refined.

But if you stare at the blank page waiting for diamonds to spring from your fingertips, you'll never write anything.

“Almost all good writing begins with terrible first efforts.” -- Anne Lamott.

How to start? Just write! Let yourself go. Have fun. Spill your soul on the page.

Good luck!

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    Thanks! I’ll have to get that book and have a read. Sounds like a great idea to just write down my thoughts too! – FirstTimeWriter Apr 5 at 14:04

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