Friday, June 4, 2010

Beginning Your Novel

We have a special treat today! Please welcome guest blogger, Cathy Bryant, an author whose debut novel, Texas Roads, is now available. Be sure to check out her blog, WordVessel and enter her awesome SUMMER SPLASH contest where you can win a $100 VISA gift card!

Now enjoy this article on the 7 necessary elements of the beginning of your novel.

7 Reasons Why Your Novel's Beginning Is So Critical

by Cathy Bryant, (c) 2009

The first few pages of any novel are critical. How many novels have you started only to give up after a few pages? Here are seven must-haves for the beginning of your story:

1. Story Problem/Question

Every story has to have one. If your story doesn't have a problem or question, then what are you writing about? Why should the reader want to turn the page to find out what happens next?

2. Character's Desire

In order for the reader to connect with the main character, they have to understand what he/she wants. And ideally, the character's goal should make sense to the reader.

3. Hook the Reader

I can usually tell if I'm going to like a book within the first few pages. Sometimes when I force myself to keep reading, I'm finally able to be drawn into the story. But most of the time it never happens. The books I can't put down are the ones that capture me from word one.

4. Connect the Reader with the Main Character

For me, this is closely related with the character's desire. When I can connect with the character via an understandable desire, I'm hooked. But it also involves more. Is the character likable? If he/she's not likable, is there a good reason why? Do I care about the character--sympathize with him/her? Do I enjoy the character's personality? Is there something about him/her I can relate to?

This was one of the most difficult things for me in writing my own novel. The author walks a fine line between leaving room for the main character to grow by showing their faults/issues and making them likable enough for the reader to connect with. There is very little wiggle room between a self-pitying, whiny heroine, and a heroine who has experienced tragedy after tragedy and is having difficulty getting past it.

5. Set the Tone of the Book

This was difficult for me as well. I wanted to show my main character as someone who had faced a lot of challenges, but also wanted the tone of the novel to fun, zippy, humorous and romantic. Very tall order, but not impossible. You should know what kind of tone to set from the very beginning or you'll end up with a mishmash that confuses the reader.

6. Establish the Story World

Helping the reader visualize where the story is taking place is crucial. When the stage is set for the reader, it lends an air of credibility to the story--makes it more real and lifelike. This is true whether you're writing romance or science fiction. Without setting, the characters float around with nothing to connect them to reality. Use the five senses to help your fictional world come to life.

7. Establish the Conflict

Every novel needs conflict. Donald Maass, author of Writing The Breakout Novel, says you need it on every page. Without it, the story is flat and boring. The conflict should be both internal and external.

Check the first chapter of your work in progress. Does it have these seven components? If so, you're on your way to a great story. If not, try to add them in and see how much your story improves.

A Texas gal since birth, Cathy lives in a century-old farmhouse with her husband and a phobia-ridden cat. Her debut novel, TEXAS ROADS, was a 2009 ACFW Genesis finalist and tells the story of a disillusioned widow's quest to find home. The book is available through For more information, visit


sarah said...

these are great tips. I wrote a memoir but am working on my first fiction....much harder.

Cindy said...

Great tips, not just for the beginning of a novel but for the whole thing. Thanks!

quietspirit said...

Thanks for the information.

Karen Lange said...

This is great stuff; thank you both for sharing it! Have a nice weekend everyone:)

Cathy Bryant said...

Lynda, thanks so much for posting this! I appreciate it, and hope your readers found it helpful.


Katie Ganshert said...

Excellent tips!! Thanks for this post and have a GREAT weekend!

Anonymous said...

An article with very useful tips to print, tack on my writing board, and apply immediantly! Thanks!

Kelly McDermott-Bay said...

Just hopping by to say, hi.
Kelly Bookend Diaries

Warren Baldwin said...

Very helpful suggestions for creating the story world and perspective on the lead character.

Kathryn Magendie said...

Thank you for leaving a nice comment on my blog! *smiling*

And congrats to the author on her debut novel: the first novel is so exciting -all those FIRSTS! have fun and enjoy all the moments!

Kah Woei said...

Thanks for the great tips. I'm actually here for the hop.

Rachel said...

Just stopping by via the hop! I love meeting my fellow book bloggers so just thought I would say hello!

This is a great post! Thanks for sharing!

And the plot thickens...

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Jeanette Levellie said...

Lynda and Cathy: Thank you for sharing these tips. I write non-ficiton, but incorporate fiction principles to make my stories zing!

Bless you both,

Casey said...

I hope to read Cathy's book someday.

Have you heard of Cathy's Summer Splash contest? Great fun and going on NOW through July! Check it out on her blog!!

Dara said...

I know I have to work a little more on #6. Much of that though has to do with all the historical research I still need...