Feb. 13, 2014

How Not to Begin A Novel

This is only one example of how not to begin a novel, as there are many. If you are hoping to write the next bestseller, pay close attention!


Do NOT begin a novel with your main character's (or any character) view point of the world. Can I give an example? Sure I can!


Hailey believed everyone in the world was stupid...


Starting your novel off with a sentence similar to this, and following that sentence with reasons why Hailey believes what she believes is a sure way to lose a reader faster than prisons its prisoners through unguarded doors. Don't laugh at my reference to a prisoner. Trust me. That's exactly what a reader will feel like if forced to read through one or more pages of a main character’s thoughts, especially at the start of a novel. Why? Because your readers doesn't know your character well enough to care about what they're thinking.


I know that sounds harsh, but it’s not. I’m an author, avid reader and fiction coach. I have helped many writers advance in the craft of writing good fiction. We were all poor writers in the beginning, even the best of us, New York bestsellers included. As someone who has been reading and writing as long as I have, I want to help you by telling you something that may take years to learn on your own. Agents and publishers don’t have time to tell you why your manuscript was rejected. You may believe you have a story that the world wants to read. And guess what? I believe you. But first things first. Beginnings. You must know where to start that next bestseller.

Some writers believe they must explain on page one. Ditch this idea completely. Think of it this way. You have seconds to imprison a fan. Readers want to be sucked into YOUR fiction universe. They are standing there waiting to ride the Plot Rollercoaster, but instead you’ve decided to give them a tour of how the rollercoaster was made, the strong metal used to ensure safety, the reason the color was chosen, and anything else as a guarantee that they have chosen the right universe to experience for the duration of four hundred pages. But guess what? There are over one million universes all within hands reach. Does the reader want to waste time with a tour or will they simply hop to the next universe to see what it has to offer?

So you have that next bestseller, how do an unknown author start? Notice I said unknown, as this applies to writers trying to break into the market. Known authors with solid fan bases can start a novel how they choose, because their fans already know that they are in for a good ride despite how slow the first page is. Known authors are given the slow-start benefit, but unknown authors are not.


The answer is dialogue or action. If you started off with musing, cut it out and paste it in a separate document and save it for later to use as a reference. I suggest using whatever vital details you’ve included in the musing to be injected when needed as the story moves along. If you start off with dialogue, it must be gripping enough to force the reader to turn the next page. This is sometimes hard for a writer, as thinking up a good spoken sentence that will make a reader marry your book is hard to do. Action is simpler. Don’t over think action. Remember, a book is like a rollercoaster. As long as there is movement of some sort your reader will give YOU the benefit of the doubt. I have used the beginning of my novel, The Blood Feud, as an example of opening with action/movement.    

It was the eleventh hour.

    Three hours into a twelve-hour shift, ER Nurse Michaela Cosenza held up a syringe of Demerol toward the light at the same time she saw what appeared to be the naked buttocks of an elderly man fleeing fast across the room.

Something is happening! There’s movement. There’s life. Who is Nurse Cosenza? And better yet, who is the elderly man and why are his buttocks exposed?

Do you want to read more?


Notice that in two sentences, I have given you the time, a name and a location. The reader knows his rollercoaster ride in MY fiction universe begins in a hospital and something is about to happen. In two sentences I have challenged the reader to continue reading. How? My readers now have questions. People are curious by nature. They must know what it is they don’t understand. Why is someone fleeing in a hospital? People don’t run in hospitals. Why did the first sentence say it was the eleventh hour? Doesn’t the eleventh hour reference the latest time before something happens or is to occur? Guess what folks? In two sentences I have gotten readers to buy this five hundred page book. This is also what I want for you!


Here’s an example of a manuscript that starts off with musing.


Her day had not gone well. Not one cute guy came into the clinic. She didn’t like when that happened. On some days there were lots of hot guys who walked through the door. But today there was none. Just old people and crying babies. She’d had enough of old people and crying babies…

There’s a lot wrong with this opening and I will address them at another time. My only question to you is if you had six bucks to shell on an e-book, which example will you choose?

Starting off with musing when you’re an unknown author is the same as giving someone a life sentence to boredom. And what will the convict do with his time? Plot an escape to a fun and thrilling universe, where he/she will be titillated on every page. How do I know, you may ask? I have fans that don’t read thriller/suspense, yet they have purchased my books and are begging for more. Literally. Readers will read whatever it is you have to write about if it is written well enough. You want to write the next bestseller? Remember dialogue and action and leave musings for someone who doesn't care about book sales.

If you want to learn more about fiction writing (beginnings, middles and ends), contact me at shelleyfiction@outlook.com. I enjoy helping writers hone their craft.

Te dua!