Updated: Mar 29, 2020
Knowing where to start your novel can be daunting.
When I sit down to a blank document, I often experience analysis paralysis, overwhelmed with the endless possibilities as the blinking cursor taunts me to get going already.
So, let me begin by saying that the basis for your story usually stems from one of two things:
Character or Plot.
My first novel, The Clause in Christmas, grew from a plot idea. I wanted to write about Christmas.
Specifically, 25 days of Christmas traditions. This led me to develop a character who hated Christmas in order to infuse the plot with conflict.
Thus, my plot became something like this...
A woman who hates Christmas must complete 25 days of festive activities in order to collect a life-changing inheritance.
Not so hard, right?
However, now that I'm writing a series, my stories are built around characters rather than plot.
For example: In my current WIP (work in progress), I'm telling the love story of Penny Heart and Colt Davis. Therefore, the plot needs to move their story forward.
Here, I'll explain what I mean...
SPOILER WARNING: I'll be using Book #3 in my Poppy Creek series, The Secret in Sandcastles, as an example so you can see how I craft a story in real time. Don't read on if you'd rather be surprised. :)
Okay, let's dive in.
We'll start with our heroine ~ Penny Heart.
From previous books, we already know Penny is the owner of Thistle & Thorn, a quirky antique shop. She adores her friends, but is an introvert who loves to read and immerse herself in the wonder and mystery of the items she collects for her store. In the epilogue of Book #2, we also learn her parents are divorced and she's extremely risk averse, afraid of several things including heights and cramped spaces.
So, given what we already know about her, we have a good selection of information we can use to choose her primary flaw.
Why does our sweet, witty heroine need a flaw? Because all humans are flawed. If our characters are perfect, they aren't relatable. And if they don't have a flaw, they have no reason to grow.
And I don't know about you, but a huge part of why I read is so I can join the characters on their journey of transformation (AKA their character arc). They can have the most adorable meet-cute or romantic first date, but if the characters don't grow or change, I typically don't care about them.
Okay, back to Penny.
Penny's flaw is her fear. She lets it run her life. Or rather, it keeps her from fully living her life.
By the end of the story, she'll need to learn to let go of her fear and realize that some things (like love) are worth the risk.
Now that we've established her flaw, we can narrow down the very first scene of our story. Because the first scene should present this flaw to the reader so we can see our heroine at the beginning of her arc.
WRITING TIP: This scene should be visual. Show us your character's flaw rather than telling us about it in long paragraphs of backstory or internal dialogue.
Need an example? I'll post the rough, first draft version of my opening scene below.
Then craft the opening scene of your own novel, making sure it checks these boxes:
1. Show us your main character's flaw.
2. Set the tone of the novel (If you're writing a romantic comedy, it should be funny. If it's a thriller, it should be suspenseful).
3. Show us a snapshot of your character's life. Set the stage for the story. (Give us clues as to when and where the story takes place. Is it contemporary? Post-apocalyptic? In a cozy small town or on an alien world?)