Happy Halloween, or as it’s known around my house, Happy “Oh god, it’s the day before NaNoWriMo…” Day
For those who don’t know (and possibly have never visited this blog before) NaNoWriMo stands for “National Novel Writing Month” and is a time when writers of all levels come together to try to write 50,000 words in the month of November.
It can be a contested (sometimes loathed) event amongst those in the publishing world (mostly having to do with authors submitting unedited, literally “written in a month” books to agents or publishers December 1st) but for those who use it as motivation, it is a great program. After all, even if you only end up writing 1,000 words over the entire month, it’s 1,000 words you didn’t have in October. NaNoWriMo serves to be the kick in the pants some of us need to put our butts in a chair and start writing.
And, as long as you edit, it’s entirely possible to end up with good stories.
All of the above, and my newest fantasy novel contracted with Red Adept Publishing, were partially (or entirely) written during NaNoWriMo.
Of course, with kickoff just around the corner, I have seen many authors asking how or where they’re supposed to start their novels. And it’s understandable. It tends to be much easier to write when you’re already in the flow of things rather than when you’re staring at a blank page.
Short answer: Start writing with whatever scene comes to you. Yes, openings are very important when it comes to publishing (if you don’t catch an agent/publisher/reader within the first 1000 words or so, your odds of them contracting you drastically drops) but as long as you do go back and edit (several times) before sending a manuscript off, it doesn’t matter. Many people end up cutting their first scene or two once they’ve written the full book because they realize they came in too early. Others end up adding a few scenes because they came in too late. It is actually often times easier to see where you need to start after you’ve ended. As long as you start getting words down on the page, it doesn’t matter what your opening sentence, paragraph, or even scene is.
Long answer: For those who want a little more advice when it comes to picking an opening scene, look to your plot structure. While you will tend to have some exposition at the beginning of novels, you generally want to start as close to the inciting incident as possible. You picked the story you are writing for a reason–hopefully because you find it interesting. Don’t waste time with scenes that aren’t involved in the story you want to tell. So, if your story follows a cop chasing a serial killer, it is perfectly fine to start with your characters finding the first body rather than with your cop waking up and going to work one day. Or even your cop going through the police academy, meeting his/her partner, being promoted to detective, and whatever else happened before your story actually starts. As an author, you will always know more about your character’s background than your reader will likely need to know. If it helps you in your rough draft to info dump some of that backstory right at the beginning of your novel, feel free to. You will just generally find the story flows better once you get rid of that come editing time.
But, hey, that’s what editing is for. Don’t stress it.