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How to Start Your Novel The 21st Century Way, From The Inside Out

April 19, 2013
Image courtesy of hin255 at

Image courtesy of hin255 at

Think of the start of your favourite novel from the 20th or 19th century.

If you’re a fantasy fiction fan like me, then it might go something like: “In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit.”

If yours didn’t start like the Hobbit then that’s fine, just think of that first line in any old favourite genre.

You may not realise at first, but chances are it started pretty boring.

But that’s just the start, right. The novel gets good, really good later on, right.

Well that excuse was probably all well and good in the early 20th century, but in the 21st century, nobody wants to hear that.

So what caused this change?

The Publishing Boom

There was a time when to be an author, you just needed to be good at writing a story.

But then a sequence of events happened: a computer became a staple in every household, the internet arrived, and then epublishing came. Now things really went nuts.

Amazon created the kindle and allowed anyone to publish via their online bookstore, and Apple also started iTunes.

Suddenly, everybody became authors. If you wanted to write a book and make it available for purchase, all you had to do was publish that terribly written manuscript that only took you two months to finish on Amazon, and you were an author, for free.

Gone are the days where there were gatekeepers ensuring that only quality material made it to the shelves of book stores.

Add in the success of authors who decided to go the traditional self-publishing route, and you have a market that is saturated with tons and tons of books.

So what’s an agent to do when another book starts off with the weather, and what’s a reader to do when another book starts off with some miserable soul looking at herself in the mirror with pages of thoughts?

You guessed it. Stop reading and move on to the next one.

So how do you ensure that an agent or a reader keeps reading your book so they get to the really good part?

The Inside Out

Instead of starting by describing the environment, which is from the outside in, start from the conflict, which is from the inside out.

Does your protagonist have a knife in his hand? Then start by describing how the hilt felt when his fingers wrapped around it. Are two characters arguing? Then start with tempers flaring.

Be careful not to overdo the opening scene with too much action or too much dialogue. You don’t want to lose the reader. There is no need to start with action, guns, fire, and brimstone.

Just start at the beginning or middle of a conflict, describing the scene as the events unfold, and that will hook the reader, and hopefully an agent, the 21st century way.

So what do you think about starting your novel from the inside out? Let me know in the comments. And if you haven’t already, click here to read Scene from a Nightmare, this month’s trailer of my latest book, King Larsen.


From → Writing Tips

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