For writers, what is the hardest part of a novel? Maybe it’s page 1 and page 400–and many big chunks in between. Some books go like that.
But today I’m more interested in what’s the most important part of a novel. Despite how crucial a good ending is, and how challenging the middle is, I think the beginning is the critical place. At least the beginning in terms of the musing you do before you write.
For me, first come the big-picture questions.
Big, sloppy questions.
1. What genre? Some of the aspiring writers I meet are surprisingly conflicted about what type of story to write. My only advice is to read in likely genres. Read a lot. Learn what stories you adore. You’ll be spending many years with them.
In my recent two books forthcoming from Saga, the answer to the genre question was Fantasy.
2. What kind of fantasy? Paranormal espionage. So many kinds of fantasy. Just read the nominees for the World Fantasy Award, and you’ll see the amazing variety of the literature.
3. What makes it stand out? Set in inter-war Britain. Let the story have something fresh, even unique. But not so unique that you’ll never be able to sell it.
4. Multi-book or stand alone? Multi-book, let’s say. I was in love with my idea (still am) and thought it had legs for several books. After all, I reasoned, The Entire and The Rose didn’t kill me. Right, let’s do a series. (Wait, TEATR did kill me, but distant past, distant past.)
Picky, in-depth questions.
Zooming in to more detailed questions, these are areas where changes and tweaks often occur as I write. But its helpful to have a default setting in case nothing new suggests itself.
5. What is the milieu, what is the magic about? Psi-powers have come into the world as a result of the suffering of World War I.
6. What is the story problem? A Nazi plot against Great Britain based on cold and ice.
7. What is the title? Some writers save this question for after they’ve written the novel, but I have to have it early. At the Table of Wolves.
To avoid spoilers, I’ll hide my answers to the following questions, but the considerations are still ones I use every book.
8. Who is the major character (MC)?
9. MC backstory. What makes him or her tick?
10. Who or what stands against the MC?
11.What am I trying to say? What is the point, the theme that all aspects serve in a subtle, yet fundamental way?
12. Who else is in the story and how will they add to the tension or depth?
13. In what inevitable but surprising way does the story end?
14. Who gets a point of view?
15. Who gets a subplot? This decision oftn will change as I begin to write. Actually, many answers to the “picky” questions change along the way. My first answers just give me direction, and sometimes you change direction.
16. What secrets can I lay in to fuel mysteries and major turning points?
Despite all the picky questions and (tentative) picky answers, I still need to write the story and let myself fall into the moment by moment work of the page. That’s where the real story magic happens. But for me, a little advance work woos the magic and inspires the journey.