How To Start Your Novel

“Oh, I could never do that!  I just wouldn’t be able to stick to writing for that long.”

Have you ever heard that from your friends and relatives?  When I finally ‘fessed up and started actually talking about my writing, quite a few people were impressed with the commitment I had shown.  I didn’t know whether to be pleased or insulted but have come to realize that, to many, writing seems just too hard; hence, their comments.

When I finally know what I’m going to write about the words just seem to come.  Oh, I’ll be revising for months, but the initial sitting down to the keyboard and letting my fingers do their thing is about the best part of the whole process.  For me the part leading up to actual writing has always been the hardest.  Do I make an outline?  How do I start the first paragraph?  What part of all the history do I include?

Just now I am at the beginning of the sequel to Loyal to the King, and I’ve started to delve.  I go on the Internet and look up places for the setting, trying to find out the details for my particular time period (early 1800’s for novel number two).  I cut and paste snippets and print them with their sources.  I let myself wander off topic, which is so easy to do on the Internet, because I might just find out some little thing that will end up in my novel.  I try to breathe in the time period and all that was happening both in my setting (Niagara) and in the rest of the world.  These bits help me to develop characters who are realistic.  I want them to just step out of the research and into my novel.

I go to the library and source out books about the time and place as well as to other history preservers.  There is a great museum in Niagara-on-the-Lake which has been very helpful.  There are old forts, such as Fort George and Fort Niagara, where I can walk where people walked two hundred years ago.  If a picture is worth a thousand words, then walking the walk is priceless.  I remember being at Fort Niagara in New York state and standing in a guard tower overlooking Lake Ontario.  Imprinted in the wood was the direction and distance to Fort York in York (Toronto) and Fort Mississauga.  I had never heard of the latter.  Yesterday when browsing on the web I found out that it still stands near Niagara-on-the-Lake.  This will be a research trip for my husband and me, for sure.

Characters need to be developed.  I have a character sheet which I received as a handout at one of the writing courses I took.  On it I fill in the blanks and watch my people come to life.  They need to be believable so I give them good traits but also less admirable characteristics.  John, my hero in Loyal to the King, is a man of good character but is impetuous. He shoots an Indian on his own side to stop him scalping an enemy boy.

Before I start writing I need to rough out my plot line.  I don’t want to know the whole thing but get down an idea of where I’m going.  A time line has been very helpful with this as I’m writing historical fiction and need to match the fictional parts to the actual historical fact.

When I feel that I know my characters and my general direction for the novel I just have to start writing.  Finding that first sentence can be hard.  It has to hook the reader (and the writer) into going further.  A bell has to ring in the head.  Hmm.  What, where, why, when or how questions should pop into the brain.  Once I get started I just keep writing about three pages a day.  Amazingly, that pace will result in a rough manuscript in about four months.


7 thoughts on “How To Start Your Novel

  1. Hi Elaine:
    Thanks for the insights into the process of starting your sequel especially the sources of your research into the era. Looking forward to John & Lucy(??)’s continued adventures. – Wayne


  2. I’m looking forward to reading “Loyal to the King”. as I love historical fiction. That makes Ken Follett and especially James Michener two of ,my favourite authors. I expect to add my sister to that list.

    Strange sight: It will not let me underline a title and woes not like correct spelling.
    Brian, the old stick in the mud.


  3. Hi Brian
    Thanks for visiting and please do come back again and again. You’ll love the names of my title characters in my novel
    As for the WordPress site, I also have some issues with it because my other personal blog is on and it is so easy to navigate. Nevertheless I wanted to separate the two and WordPress has more scope, once I learn it!


  4. Hey Elaine,
    Way to go! I have trouble putting together a 12 minute meditation, never mind a novel!! Is there any way we can get our hands on the manuscript? David loves historical fiction, and because it’s you, I’d just read it anyway!! Will it be published?
    Keep up the great work. You are amazing.


  5. Congratulations Elaine on having completed such a mammoth labour of love. We can’t wait to read it.
    Is the Battle of Lundy’s Lane part of your Sequel? If so, it may be interesting to research the battle site and the secret tunnels dug into the hillside below the Presbyterian church (and cemetery) which we attended while living in Niagara Falls.

    Way to go girl!


  6. You’ve hit the nail on the head, Elaine. Writing a historical is so much work. We have to love it or we’d never get to ‘the end’. What gets my goat is when people nonchalantly say, I should write a book too, as if it’s like taking up stamp collecting and not a big project at all.

    Good luck with your first draft! Sounds like you’re having a great time with it.


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