In a recent workshop a student asked, “What is the best way to start writing a story?” Though I was tempted to prescribe composing in purple ink on a yellow legal pad while sitting in a green leather chair in a room with exactly seven windows, I settled on sharing a bit about my own fiction writing process.
I do a lot of thinking before I ever start to write. Storylines and characters form, shift, and morph until I finally begin to make notes. I keep paper and a pen in every room of the house, and scribble down scenes, descriptions, and dialog fragments that arrive.
Once I feel that I know the characters fairly well, I begin transferring character and scene notes into StoryBlue (software for writers). This always feels like the first official step in establishing structure, but it’s not yet the beginning of writing.
Sometimes my writing process seems to stall at this point and I’ll turn to other projects. The story simmers at the back of my mind until a perfectly formed first line* presents itself. As soon as it arrives and I write it down, the story starts to unfold, scene after scene.
I’ve tried writing without the magical first line, but find that until it arrives I struggle to capture the voice of the story. It’s almost as if the story elements have to go through a process of ripening before they’re ready to be written. For me, that luscious first line is the beginning of a writing harvest.
So… how do you start writing fiction? NaNoWriMo is coming up, so now’s a good time to start thinking about it!
*The first line may change by the end of the book, but at the moment of beginning, it’s perfect for its purpose.