Tuesday, January 19, 2010

How to Begin a Novel

Every novel begins with a section of setup. It is within this section that the author establishes the problem that must be solved. Perhaps the protagonist is down on his luck or he is lonely or whatever. In any case, we establish this in the setup section, which occurs before the inciting incident. Often, the reader knows what is going to happen after this section because we told him on the back cover, but we can’t leave it out or the story will be incomplete.

The setup section is also where we establish who the characters are. Once we move into the later sections, the characters will be in flux and we won’t have the opportunity to show them as they were. But how do we show our characters in such a way that we show them as multi-dimensional people without boring our readers.

Most people have three aspects of their lives that reveal most of what they are like—work, home and play (or free time). People act differently at work than they do at home and differently at home than they do at play. If in the setup section we show the protagonist at work, then we show her at home and then we show her at play, we have shown the reader enough about her to know a great deal about how she will respond to various situations and what she likes to do. We can throw some other things in there, like church and school, which may not clearly fall into work or playtime. Of course, we must see how the problem impacts the different areas of the character’s life. When we do, the character appears much more real as she moves into the other sections of the book.