“I am an aspiring novelist. Right now, I keep a journal of my day to day thoughts and inspirational quotes. I’ve always said that I wanted to write novels one day, but I don’t know where you begin. How do you just start a story?” –Rico
I think keeping a journal is an excellent start. Keeping a journal gives you practice for descriptive narrative. It helps you refine your abilities to observe and recall events. Be sure to push yourself further and practice recalling everything that happened to you in a day: where you went, what you wore, how you felt, what you ate, what it tasted like, how places smell, what things reminded you of other things. Pick one day out of the week to make your ultra-descriptive journal entry so that you don’t overwhelm yourself every day that you write.
But obviously, keeping a journal alone won’t result in a novel. Novels will have dialogue, and I will get to dialogue writing in a future entry. What I will focus on today is how to just start writing.
In your daily adventures, observe people and situations that you find interesting. Then ask a “what if” question based on your writing interests. For my upcoming novel Birth of a Dark Nation, I merely asked myself “What if vampires came from Africa rather than Europe?” From that single question came many others:
- How did African vampires get to America?
- Are there white vampires?
- If so, how did they come to be?
- What makes my vampires different from traditional vampires, aside from race?
And so on and so forth. Now, you might not be writing in a paranormal genre, in which case the questions might be simpler. In the case of Covenant, the central question was “What would happen if the star basketball player was dating a fraternity man?” And from those questions arose more, some from me, some from people who read the rough draft:
- What if one of them was already in a relationship?
- Who is the girl?
- What if there’s an ex?
- Who is he?
- Does the public know?
- What are their parents like?
Your questions should start you down a path of either/or scenarios, sort of like the “Find your own adventure” books from back in the day. You might already know how you want the novel to turn out, and that’s fine. The toughest part may be getting to the end.
Take your time and make an outline of the story. Be patient with yourself. Give yourself time to figure out the beginning, middle, and end. but never forget your central question. Answer it in your novel, or at least write the kind of novel in which everyone who reads it walks away pondering the same question: “What if…?”