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Writing the first page of your novel

Writing the first page of your novel depiction of what your life

Begin with an aphoristic observation. Many classing novels open with a universal truth being mused over by the narrator. For example, Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy begins with the line, “Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.” [1]

  • Think about what your novel is about. Is it addressing family relations? Personal struggles? A person’s capacity to be his/her own downfall?
  • Once you’ve narrowed down the larger issue(s) at play in your novel, you can begin to think about that issue in a more poetic way.
  • Try to arrive at some type of universal truth on your subject. If you can’t come up with your own, you can always quote a famous aphorism.
  • For inspiration or to find a strong aphorism you can quote, try searching online. You might start with MIT’s compilation of Hippocrates’s aphorisms, which can be found at classics.mit.edu/Hippocrates/aphorisms.html .

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Start with a concise fact. If aphoristic observations don’t fit with your narrator’s voice, you might try opening with a concise statement from the narrator. Many classic novels open this way, including Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man (“I am an invisible man.”) and Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451 (“It was a pleasure to burn.”). [2]

  • Think about what kind of personality your narrator has. Delve deep into his biggest triumphs, his greatest struggles, and his ultimate downfall (if he has one).
  • Put yourself in your narrator’s shoes. How might he/she bring a reader up to speed in one or two concise, all-encompassing sentences.
  • It may be helpful to imagine yourself as the narrator having a conversation with an unseen partner, perhaps over coffee or drinks. What would your narrator say in a moment of absolute truth that would make for a jumping off point in your story?

Writing the first page of your novel it meant at

Open with a deceptively complex statement. Some authors of well-known novels have chosen to begin their books with a simple fact that carries a larger significance. Try to start with an observation that appears simple on the surface, but after the reader has finished the novel it will become clear that this sentence carries a lot more weight than it seemed. [3]

  • This type of opening line may work best if you finish a draft of your novel, then return to rewrite the beginning during the revision process. You’ll need to know what happens and how each character develops on the page in order to give a meaningful, complex statement in the opening line.
  • As you read through the first draft of your novel, think to yourself, “Where does the key to the main character’s psyche, struggle, or ultimate victory lie?”

Use the first line to establish an element. A classic strategy for writing the first line of a book is to establish some literary element that will carry the reader into the narrative. You can use the opening line to establish the mood of the book, introduce the narrator’s voice (or a main character’s voice), or frame the time and place in which the book takes place. [4]

  • There’s no right or wrong method here. You may have to play with different establishing elements until you find the one that works best for your book.
  • Think about what would work best to orient the reader into your book, and go from there.

Writing the first page of your novel dialogue could turn off readers

Method Two of Four:
Beginning a Novel Edit

Choose an inciting incident. Most novels involve some type of inciting incident – an occurrence or situation that sets the novel’s action in motion. Whether or not the inciting incident takes place in the opening sentences of a novel, the beginning of the book should set up the incident that will propel the remainder of the narrative. [5]

  • An inciting incident should establish the main character’s initial, “surface-level” problem. That problem will end up setting the stage for the larger issues that the character struggles with throughout the novel.
  • No matter what the final outcome of your novel will be, the main character should struggle and fail to overcome his initial surface problem. If it were a problem he could overcome with ease, there would be no novel beyond that inciting incident.
  • Whatever actions the main character (and the supporting characters) takes to resolve the initial problem should be a flawed action. Whether it’s a failure of the character’s ethics, or simply a circumstance that is larger than she realizes, she must struggle and set up future problems that will be addressed in the novel.

Decide how to introduce the characters. The first chapter of a novel should at least introduce the main character, if not other characters as well. However, how you introduce that character (and any supporting characters) can mean the difference between a natural progression of events and a jarring intrusion in the narrative.

  • Don’t front-load a character’s backstory. If you’re giving the character’s life history before you’ve even established the plot, readers will get confused or turned off by the novel.
  • Remember to make your characters believable. Don’t try to write a hero who is always absolutely good or a villain who is always absolutely evil – no one in real life can be defined this way, so your characters shouldn’t be either. [6]

Think about how to orient the reader. The beginning of a novel serves as a sort of orientation for the reader. It should seize the reader’s attention, drop her (either abruptly or gradually) into the setting and mood of the narrative, and introduce at least the main character. [7] There are a number of ways to do this, and the choice ultimately lies in your tastes and what you think will best set up your story.

  • Beginning with a description of a scene or a character is a common way to start a novel. But long-winded descriptions can easily bore a reader, especially if she isn’t already invested in the novel.
  • Opening with a piece of dialogue is a good way to introduce the main character and show how she interacts with others (which can be very revealing). However, dialogue can be tricky, and opening the book with dialogue could turn off readers who don’t like the way the character speaks.
  • Many novels begin “in medias res,” a Latin term meaning “in the middle of things.” This means starting the book somewhere in the middle of the action that would otherwise take a few chapters to unfold and build up to. [8]

Put it all together. Once you’ve outlined the main character’s personality, the inciting incident, and how to orient the reader in your novel, you’ll need to put it all together. This is where you stop planning and start actually writing the first sentence of your novel.

  • Don’t be afraid to try different approaches. Write your first sentence a few different ways (in medias res, opening with description, etc.) and see what feels most natural for you and most appropriate for your story.
  • Try not to let this step intimidate you. Remember that you can always go back and edit, revise, or cut scenes out entirely – but you can only make changes once you’ve actually put your pen to the page (or started typing out on the keyboard).

Write the last sentence of the first chapter. It may sound strange that starting a book from the first sentence should require an ending to the first chapter. But some experts advise that it can help you stay on track and find some sense of direction for each chapter, including the very beginning of your novel. [9]

  • Think of each chapter as a journey from point A to point B.
  • Your first sentence, which you now have, is point A. Without a point B in mind, you could end up wandering aimlessly and forget what you intended for that chapter to accomplish.
  • You can always change the last sentence once you get to the end of the chapter. The point is to give yourself some type of concrete end point to work towards.

Method Three of Four:
Starting a Nonfiction Book Edit

Choose a form. Nonfiction is a broad genre, covering anything that is not made up. That can include memoir, personal essays, a history book, a cook book, self-help guides, and even travel guides. [10] Before you start writing a nonfiction book, you should have a pretty good idea of what kind of book you’re hoping to write.

  • Personal essays are often reflective/meditative, and can deal with past or current events in your life. An essay should explore a topic or event thoroughly, examining it from all angles and looking past the surface of things. [11]
  • Memoir tends to contextualize a singular event or situation from the past, analyzing it with new insight from the present. Memoirs often address why an event was significant, what it meant at the time for the writer, and why it’s important to her now. [12]
  • Instructive books, such as travel guides, self-help books, and cook books, tend to be equal parts research and instruction. You’ll need to know what you’re talking about (with credible, authoritative sources) and you’ll need to be able to tell a reader what to do and when to do it.
  • History books require extensive research, and often need some type of authority on the part of the author. If you don’t have a degree in history, readers may question why you’re qualified to write about historical events.

Figure out your end point. Just as a novel requires the author to know where her book is leading, so too does a nonfiction book. Without knowing what your narrative is leading up to, you risk rambling aimlessly trying to get there.

  • Figure out your nonfiction book’s narrative arc. What is everything building towards, and what information/details are necessary to carry a reader along to that point?
  • Break down your narrative into a series of events and the complications that surround each event. For example, one event in your book might be your birthday party, and the complication might be that your parents forgot it was your birthday.
  • Each action, obstacle, and person described in the book should contribute towards the book’s endpoint. If they’re not relevant, no matter how interesting they might be, you may need to cut them out. [13]

Start writing. Unlike a novel, you can’t just create characters and scenes in your head. Nonfiction requires the people and experiences to be real, and the dialogue should be as true as possible (taking into account the limiting factor of memory). How you decide to begin your nonfiction book should be a natural starting point for the true story you’re trying to tell.

  • Just like a novel, a narrative nonfiction book (specifically a memoir or essay collection) should have some type of initiating incident. You can’t make up the incident as you would in fiction, so figure out what event really set your life up for the larger events your book is about.
  • Starting the book with the initiating incident, or even beginning it in medias res, can hook your reader with the intensity of the actions or tragedy that occurred in your life.
  • Many nonfiction books begin with what’s called a status quo scene: a depiction of what your life looked like before the initiating incident. It’s a good way to draw a reader in, because she knows that something will inevitably shake up the way your life is at the beginning and is motivated to keep reading. [14]

Keep your perspective in check. It goes without saying that a memoir or personal essay collection will be told from your point of view. Everything that happens in the book should have happened to you, and you’re obligated to tell those stories as completely and truthfully as possible. However, many people have a hard time keeping their personal perspective in check while writing about real life events. Everyone experiences an event differently, and everyone will have a differing perspective about the details of what happened, so tread carefully as you write about your life and the people/events in it.

  • Don’t write yourself as a hero or a victim. Even if you feel that way, it will be clear to the reader that there are things being withheld, or it might turn readers off altogether.
  • Remember that you’re just like everyone else: a real, living, slightly flawed human being. You’re not perfect, and the people in your life are not objectively bad or malicious.
  • Everything requires balance in storytelling. Even if your memoir is about your troubled childhood, no reader will believe that you were unhappy 24/7, so balance those heartbreaking moments of tragedy with some lighter moments that depict your best days side-by-side with your worst. [15]

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