Where to Begin?
People frequently say to me, “I want to write a novel, but I don’t know where to begin.” Surprisingly, the answer is not always, “Start on the first page.” There are no rules in writing. Whatever works for you is what you should do. If you can’t muster up Page One, then start in the middle (if you know what your characters are going to be doing at that stage). Or start with a description, or dialogue, and build upon it.
You might even start at the end. The idea for my book, Virgins of Paradise, came to me while I was in Egypt visiting friends. In my room at the Nile Hilton, I scribbled a paragraph that would be the final scene of the book (it’s a wedding, but I won’t tell you whose), and then I spent the next two years writing toward that paragraph. When I was done, not one word of that final scene had been altered.
Another example: the idea for the book I have just finished, Woman Of A Thousand Secrets (an epic about the ancient Maya which will be published next year by St. Martin’s Press), also came to me in a final paragraph. I wrote it down and then set out to do the research, create my characters and spin the various storylines until I reached that final paragraph. It, too, remained unchanged throughout the process.
If you do not have the luxury of a final paragraph to aim toward, then you should at least have some sort of goal in mind, an idea where you want your protagonist to be at the end of the story (preferably in a good place emotionally and mentally, with growth and change and possibly facing fresh, exciting challenges). Keep in mind, too, that your ending must tie in with the opening of the book, so that the story in between forms an arc connecting the two. Famed movie producer David O. Selznick (Gone With the Wind, 1939) said: “The ending of the movie should be what the beginning is all about.” The same can be said of a book. Your opening paragraph sets the scene, introduces your main characters, and gets the action going. The final scene is resolution of the events (or personal conflicts within the protagonist) you got rolling at the beginning.
And don’t worry if you struggle with that final scene. Endings are not always as easy to write as beginnings. Ernest Hemmingway re-wrote the ending to A Farewell To Arms 39 times. When asked what the problem was, Hemmingway said, “Couldn’t get the words right.”
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