SO today is the first segment in Author's Tell All Tuesday. With us this week is Jennifer Quintenz and she will be telling us how to kick off a novel. And if you're anything like me, that problem has plagued you for years.
Before we see what Jennifer has to say, I ask that you check out Jennifer's book THRALL, book one in the Daughter's of Lilith novels. If you already read the series, then check out SACRIFICE, the third book which has recently been released.
Also, if be sure to give Jennifer's website a visit. You can see all her other books, watch some book trailers, and read more about the author herself. But for now, let's check out how she starts a novel!
This is the hardest part of the process – and I feel like I face it three times during every project. First, when I’m trying to come up with an idea out of thin air. Second, when I’m sitting down to outline that story, plotting out all the twists and turns, dealing with character arcs, and figuring out what I want it all to be about. Third, when I sit down to write the first draft – even though I’ve been through the outlining process, it’s totally different when it comes time to paint the world for an audience. Where to begin?
Okay. So you need an idea. The worst – WORST – time in my life as a writer was when I needed to come up with a great story in a week and I had no ideas. (That has since stopped being a problem, as I currently have more ideas than I have time to write them all – thank goodness!) Sometimes you can feel like you’re clawing around in the dark inside your head, looking for inspiration but feeling totally abandoned by the muse. But let’s say you’ve got a kernel of an idea. Great!
Usually I either start with a character or a story idea. If I start with a character, I try to figure out what unusual quality about her (or him) makes me excited, intrigued, scared, or worried. Then I try to figure out what kind of situation I could put them in where they are forced to come face to face with that unusual quality. What don’t they want to face? What are they afraid of? What are they holding back? Once I know those things, I can shape a rough idea of what I want the story to be about. Likewise, if I start with a situation, I try to figure out the perfect character to drop into that situation for the most drama and fireworks. One thing I’ve learned? Don’t start outlining or writing until you’ve got a good handle on the main idea of your story.
Right! You’ve got your amazing idea. Now what? Every story, fundamentally, has three parts; beginning, middle, and end. And over that journey, you want your character to grow, or develop, or come face to face with something huge and amazing that they’ve never had to deal with before but now they must face.
I usually tackle the outline like this: I plot out the beginning, middle, and end of each relationship with my main character separately, usually starting with the biggest storylines and working my way through the smaller ones. Then I blend them all together. So I might outline the relationship between the hero and the villain (which is usually the majority of the plot), then the hero and his or her love interest, then the hero and his or her best friend, etc. I try to keep as many of the storylines as close to the heart of the book as possible, so the love interest gets dragged into the villain’s plot, or the best friend accidentally betrays the hero’s secrets to the villain, you get the idea. Basically, I try to intertwine everything so it feels all of one piece, and nothing in the story feels fluffy or wasteful.
THE FIRST DRAFT
You know the story, you have a good feel for the characters... now what?
I feel like my first draft is my first chance to really step into the world of my characters. Now, rather than worrying about what’s going to happen, I worry about how it’s going to happen. What does the world look, smell, feel, taste, sound like? What goes on inside my hero’s head? How do the characters react to one another in those minute, day-by-day interactions? This is where it feels like my characters are really born, even if I thought I knew all about them once I’d finished the outline. The way the talk, their quirks, their feelings towards their friends, family, enemies, etc – all of these things kind of evolve over the course of the first draft.
I have learned that the danger of first drafts is stopping to question what you’re doing. So I have a rule, I begin each day rereading/tweaking the previous day’s chapter, and once I’ve finished that chapter I write a new chapter. So every day I start by rewriting one chapter, then writing the first draft of the next chapter. This helps me in two ways: first, I am able to jump into the writing day by rewriting instead of staring at the blank page (remember – so hard!), and second, I get back into the flow of the story before I start on new pages for the day. I work my way through the entire first draft like this, and only then do I allow myself to read previous chapters (usually with a glass – or two – of wine close by).
From there it’s rewriting, and that – while still being hard – is so much easier than starting with a blank page. Good luck to all the writers out there, whether you’re starting your first ever book or your 101st!
A BIT ABOUT ME
I’ve written television (26 episodes for two different shows you’ve probably never seen!), comics (“The Red Star” and “The Bond Of Saint Marcel”), a film that got optioned but never produced, and my YA Novels (“Thrall,” “Incubus,” and “Sacrifice,” books 1-3 of the Daughters of Lilith series). I love in Los Angeles with my husband and 2-year old son, and am expecting another little boy this summer. I am so outnumbered...