How to Begin Your First Draft

Recap:

Last week, we worked to identify your writing style. Did you end up falling into one of the three categories? Or do you find yourself as an outlier? Either way, I’d love to hear what you decided. As promised, today we’re talking about the part of your novel you’ll revise more than any other section, the beginning.

Start at the Beginning, Right?

Yes, and no. The thing about the beginning is that it doesn’t always start where you think it does. You may want to begin your story with the Protagonist’s early childhood experiences that led to the current events. Or their past may have nothing to do with your novel’s premise. There are two parts of your novel that you’ll rewrite more than any other, the opening and the climax. Everything else may get rewritten, but not with the same fervor. So where do you start?

The Normal World

A lot of writing educators recommend you start in the character’s “normal world”. This can vary based on character, genre, or story situation. Many stories begin the world your protagonist is comfortable in. This sense of comfort tells the reader what that world views as normal. Even in books that open with a “Many years ago we existed in a land of peace and prosperity until,” cue conflict, threat, and other such material. The normal world can show the struggles of a hard life, the luxuries of ease, or a mixture of both.

In Medias Res

Beginning the story from the middle sounds a bit counterproductive, but using the practice to begin an epic or other story can be quite useful. If done correctly this forces the reader to assume and accept certain things about your character that you can later subvert. Also, if the earlier stages of your story don’t have the major hook then the in medias res approach can get your reader committed and keep them tied in once you move into backstory. If you’re struggling with finding the right opening for your novel, in medias res can push you past some blocks and further into your story. Then during the revision process you can find the right scene/chapter to begin your novel.

The Key Scene

Sometimes you have that key scene in mind that makes the entire book, makes you excited to write, and opens you up to the best parts of your creativity. Most of the time, that’s the scene somewhere in the middle of your actual book. The key scene approach is a concept I’ve gleaned from the concepts of Write Your Novel From the Middle by James Scott Bell and Story Genius by Lisa Cron. The key scene approach has you writing a scene, or chapter, that will appear later in the book. Often this will be the mid-point or the climax.

One reason you would begin so late in your book is because it’s the clearest part to you in this moment. As I said earlier, beginnings are exciting, and sometimes your story’s beginnings bloom from a central scene. As with the in medias res, you are forcing yourself to assume things about the character by starting this late in your novel.

Another reason you might use this approach is to create guideposts for the previous chapters you haven’t written yet. I call it a game of “How did we get here?” The middle/climax scene should offer tie in clues for earlier scenes so you can build up to that critical moment.

Conclusion:

There are many approaches to beginning a first draft. The above examples are a few of those options. No single approach is the right approach for everyone, but one may be the right approach for you. As always, if you don’t have your approach set in stone, try a few methods and see which you like best. You’ll find that as you begin more first drafts, your approach will evolve into a unique practice of your own. If you use one of the above methods, or want to share your own approaches, please leave a comment below. Next week, check in for advice on the next step of writing your first draft.

Previous: To Plot or Not to Plot the First Draft

Next: Writing Your First Draft

2 thoughts on “How to Begin Your First Draft

  1. Pingback: To Plot or Not to Plot the First Draft – Myers Fiction

  2. Pingback: Writing Your First Draft – Myers Fiction

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