Writing advice: How to start your novel

This post caught my eye this morning: Your Novel’s First Scene: How to Start Right.

It snagged my attention for two reasons:

A) Looks like halfway decent advice, and

B) Could easily be interpreted in such a way as to make it terrible advice.

Here’s part (A):

Start with the scene that introduces your story idea. Or, start with the scene that foreshadows your story idea. Or, start with the scene that sets up your story idea. Also, beware of too much too soon. But, and this is the kicker, the post finishes with this advice: Turn to page 50.

For many writers, their story’s warm up lasts about fifty pages (or around the 15,000-word mark). That’s why I say to writers whose openings are slow, boring, obtuse, or otherwise unengaging: What happens on page fifty of your story?

Writers Guide to BeginningsPage fifty is where many stories truly begin. Turn to page fifty in your story, and see what’s happening there. What’s your protagonist up to? How does that relate to your story idea? Don’t be surprised if this is where your story really begins. And don’t be reluctant to toss out those first forty-nine pages of stretching if that’s what it takes to get your run off to a good start.

And while this may be true . . . sometimes, for some writers . . . it sure reminded me immediately of this post I linked to recently: Stupid Writing Rules: 12 Bad Writing Tips New Writers Give Each Other. From the comments on that post, we see:

The most destructive to me was hearing “Delete the first fifty pages.” The author of that piece of advice assumed that everyone was writing 50 pages of back story. I wasn’t doing that, so it caused me to start the story in the middle of the book instead of the beginning — Linda Maye Adams on November 20.

So there you go. Gotta be cautious with writing advice, and the more dogmatically advice is given, the more caution is called for. Advice can go from “Many writers may find” to “God handed this commandment down on a stone tablet” in nothing flat. And there are very, very few commandments when it comes to writing.

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1 thought on “Writing advice: How to start your novel”

  1. One rule of writing is always valid. It comes from C.J. Cherryh.


    Never follow any rule over a cliff.

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