How do you begin to write a novel? Do you rush straight in with a vague idea in your head, or do you spend days, weeks, months, or even years meticulously planning every moment before you ever set pen to paper (or, finger to keypad)?
There isn’t a “right” way to write. It depends on the individual. Some writers create all manner of things before they begin: detailed spreadsheets, family trees, character profiles, music playlists (to get into character) … the possibilities are endless. Of course, the research doesn’t end when the writing starts, but having all this information in place at the beginning must cut down on an awful lot of editing at the end.
Me? I’ve always been a dive-straight-in kind of writer. Research has always seemed like a way of stalling, delaying the process until all the enthusiasm disappears. What could be better than grasping at the silhouette of a character and working out the nuts and bolts as you go? It can be exciting when you don’t know where your characters are going – and, if the writer doesn’t know the story’s end, then the reader won’t either!
Recently, however, I’ve started to value the process of looking before I leap in. Sure, it might take away a little of the excitement, but there is nothing more frustrating than getting to the end of a draft and thinking, ‘I wonder if this story would have been better in 3rd person/past tense/set in another time zone/with a different protagonist.’ Knowing the skeleton of the story before you start also means that you’re in a far better place to drop in some clues and hints along the way.
Today, I’m planning. I’m getting to know my characters, researching a little about the sorts of things which make their worlds go round, so that when they come to make their big decisions then I (and the reader) will understand. Tomorrow, I write.
So, how do you begin a novel?