Starting your novel too early

You might be tempted to begin your narrative before the action actually starts, for example, when the character wakes up, to what will eventually be a challenging or dramatic day. But unless you’re rewriting Sleeping Beauty, waking up isn’t challenging or dramatic. Often when we start writing this way, it’s because we’re struggling to write our way into the narrative, rather than letting the story develop momentum of its own. It is better to begin where there is a huge conflict. If the protagonist’s early morning rituals are essential to the story line, or entertaining, they can always be included in backstory or flashbacks – or later, when he/she wakes up for a second time.

Remember: small hooks catch more fish than big ones.

Large hooks can disappoint readers if the subsequent narrative doesn’t measure up. If you begin writing at the most dramatic or tense moment in your story, you have nowhere to go but downhill. Similarly, if your hook is strange or misleading, you might have trouble  living up to its odd expectations.  The trick is to use a small hook and then pull in the opposite direction.

Most readers prefer to be grounded in context and then to focus in. Open your story in the same way.

One of the easiest pitfalls in starting a story is to begin with an opening line that is confusing upon first reading, but that makes sense once the reader learns additional information later in the story. The problem is that if a reader is confused they won’t continue reading. Therefore, the opening should make sense with and without knowledge the reader will acquire later.



Hooks grab an editor’s attention and set the tone of the rest of the story to make sure the readers stay tuned through to the end.

To craft a compelling story, you must first launch it in the right direction. Never forget that the entire course of a story or novel, like an avalanche, is largely defined within its first seconds.

Opening lines should possess most of the individual craft elements that make up the story as a whole. An opening line should have:

  • a distinctive voice
  • a point of view
  • a rudimentary plot
  • characterization.

At the end of the first paragraph, we should know the setting and conflict unless there is a particular reason to withhold this information.

Opening lines raise multiple questions, but not an infinite number. In other words, it carries momentum.

The letter

Related image

Despite the rain everything seemed brighter like a sunny autumn day, and I felt warm and happy, eager to see what Dave would be like after all these years. I unpacked the groceries and went into my bedroom and lifted the top end of my mattress and pulled out Dave’s envelope which was creased and dirty from all the times I’d opened it over the years. I knew what the letter said because I’d read it so many times. His words held hope in my heart and I couldn’t help but look at it again to see his writing, the only thing that seemed familiar about him to me. His message was short. He wrote that he had something he wanted to ask me face-to-face and that he’d be home in two weeks. For years, I dreamed the same dream. Dave faces me and holds my hands. He looks me in the eyes and opens his mouth to speak and I wake up.  I can’t remember how many times I’ve had that dream. It is always the thirteen-year-old Dave that I see. Now we are both twenty-three. No matter how much I try, my mind refuses to create an older Dave. Instead, he’s locked in the past where I last saw him.


Writing ideas

Choose a set of three elements, and imagine a story that contains all three of them:

  1.  A burglar alarm, a love note, and an untimely sneeze.
  2.  An incorrect prediction, two phone numbers, and a sleepless night.
  3.  A wedding, a bad habit, and a question better left unasked.
  4.  A Facebook profile, a runaway, and two people with the same name.
  5.  A lost toy, a rooftop, and a dangerous animal.
  6.  A rumor, green contact lenses, and a mouthful of snow.

Do an outline first.

  • Think about the character/s.
  • What is their aim/journey?
  • What conflict/obstacles must the overcome?
  • How will they have changed by the end of the story?



How to generate a short story

  1. Without compelling characters there is no story. Think about your own life experience and interesting people around you. Create 1-3 interesting characters.
  2. Describe each character in detail – e.g. their personalities, characteristics and what they want. Remember to ask: What, When, Why, Who and When….
  3. Make their individual goals at odds with the other characters.
  4. How do your characters interact?
  5. How will they achieve their goals?
  6. Allow your characters to suggest a story.
  7. Stop when you have a story idea.

This should take about 30 minutes. If you can’t come up with anything try another set of characters.