So, you have an idea for a story, want to write that novel, but don't know where to start? This is the second installment in my Writing Tips series. If you haven't read the first part, you can do so HERE.
Once you have the idea for your novel and have done the preliminary work (outline\notes\etc...), it's time to start putting the words down and crafting your story. What does that mean? Crafting your story is taking all of your notes, ideas, and thoughts and shaping them into the actual book you're writing. For argument's sake, let's say you're writing a fiction novel. You've done any research needed, writing an outline, made character notes, and are now ready to start.
When you sit down to write and start the long journey of writing your novel, putting that first word or sentence down can be daunting. Believe me, I know. However, the more you do it, the less stressful a task it becomes. Stephen King says: "The scariest moment is always just before you start." To me, the more you start, the easier it gets. Writing a novel is scary. It really is, but it does get easier with time, patience, and experience. Hopefully, with some insight and advice, you'll be on your way to getting it finished in no time.
Finding that first word or sentence can be difficult. That opening bang that grabs you- this is called a hook. The hook will capture the reader's attention and propel them through what comes next, getting them excited to start their journey with you. Here are two examples of hooks.
Bad Example: Bob woke up.
Good Example: Bob jolted awake.
We don't know why yet, but something pulled Bob from sleep. What is it? Why did he suddenly wake up? Though I used a very generic hook here, you get the point. Hooks should be dramatic and enticing, forcing your reader to want to go further in your book. Just remember: a good opening hook will set the stage for the rest of your book.
Another way to craft your story, once you have the opening hook, is to make sure the chapters build up. The chapters need to build from point A to point B. This sounds pretty self explanatory, but structuring your chapters with purpose to move the story along is harder than it sounds. There should be a reason for everything you write, even if it seems mundane and uninteresting at first. However, the payoff is when you take what you've already established and have it pay off. Sometimes, when I'm working on a chapter, I have it slowly build to something that happens toward the end of the chapter. Then, when you're at the end of the chapter, you want to keep reading so you know what happens next. You add a resolution to the previous chapter near the beginning and slowly build up, using the same formula, until the end of the next chapter. There's a technique to this and with practice, you can definitely structure each chapter to fall into the overall Three-Act Structure your book needs to have.
I found the above picture and feel it's very helpful to remember when crafting your story. This is standard in storytelling. Whether you write screenplays, novels, comic books, children's books, video games, television shows, plays, or whatever... this is the standard structure. Each story is broken into this structure of three acts. I'll try to break them down as simply as I possibly can.
ACT ONE: This is where the characters are introduced and the story is set. The hero, the villain, the overall basic journey starts here. Whether it's one chapter or ten, the first act introduces the reader to everyone in your story.
ACT TWO: This is where conflict starts to really come into play. As you can see from the above image, the action rises and stakes get higher. At the end of this act (or even possibly the beginning of the third act) is the climax, or where everything seems to come to a head.
ACT THREE: Though the climax could come at the beginning of this act, it usually doesn't. This is the act where resolution occurs and the journey of the character(s) is coming to a close. All loose ends are tied up and the ending takes place.
The above picture shows that there is a Plot Point toward the end of Act One and Act Two, which sets the stage for the following act. Though the picture states it could be a major twist, that's not always the case. Maybe it's a profound event (not a twist) that catapults the story from one act to another. Though plot twists are fun, just make sure there's not one added just for novelty sake. The best twists are those that are unexpected and take the story or characters in a direction they weren't previously headed.
Whether you initially realize it or not, your characters are on a journey. You're setting the path and telling the story through character arcs. A character arc is the specific journey a character takes throughout your story. Your character will grow based on the circumstances appearing throughout the plot. Be it hero or villain, protagonist or antagonist, your characters, like yourself, are always moving forward through their own story. It's your job as the writer to tell their story.
Take Beowulf for instance. At the beginning of the story, Beowulf is already a great warrior. He's hired by a king to rid their land of the menace Grendel. Afterwards, Beowulf becomes king and then goes on to fight a dragon, who is Grendel's mother. The arc here is Beowulf's path from warrior to king. Along the journey, his character is developed, he learns and grows. The plot points are Grendel is defeated and the dragon is his mother. See how the character arc of Beowulf falls into the above Three-Act Structure?
Ultimately, your story is yours to tell. However, structuring your novel in the proper format will ensure it's told in the best way possible. Sure, there are exceptions to the rules, but overall, most stories are shaped and fall into three main acts. I could list the exceptions, but for someone just starting out, we're going to keep it basic and simple. Work your outline or notes (see first article HERE) around the Three-Act Structure and ask yourself how your characters grow through their arcs. This will help you flesh your story out before you even write that opening hook.
The last piece of advice I can offer is to read. Read as much as you write. This will help you more than you'll ever realize at first. Seeing how other authors structure their sentences, chapters, and overall stories will give you insight into framing your story and fleshing it out. As someone who has been writing for years, sometimes reading novels by other authors, especially in genres I'm interested in, helps me out. Not for story ideas or plot points, but on a technical level.
Every author starts somewhere, so take your time in crafting your story. Take time in thinking out your characters and their motivations. Think about your story and how your characters will evolve and grow through their respective arcs. Plan out what happens to them and where (in your story) and shape your idea into a working outline. Then, when it comes time to write, plan out that opening hook to grab your readers. Remember: this is your story. Only you can tell it. So, tell it.
Best of luck.
Stephen J. Semones
This has been part two in a series of writing tips for aspiring writers. If you found this helpful, please take a moment and share. This article is not to be copied, edited, or reproduced without written consent from its author. Copyright (c) 2017 Stephen J. Semones