By far, the most common question I get asked by authors working on their first pieces specifically written for publication is: “Where do I start?” or, they will say something to the effect:
“I have the idea in my head…I mean I know where I want
the story to start, where I want it to end, and the
main points of the story I want to include, but I just cant
seem to figure out how to start writing…”
Sadly, because each of us has our own style and methods, there is no clean-cut single answer that will work for everybody experiencing this problem. However, I will supply you with a method that has worked for me numerous times, and which other authors, some bestsellers, have said works for them yoo when they ‘hit a literary wall.’
In short…outline. Construction workers and general contractors can’t build a house without a blueprint and a floor plan and many writers can’t either. Keep in mind though, just like in construction, there is always the possibility that the project grows and develops in ways that were unexpected during the planning phase. The same is very true when you write. Never lose sight of the fact that your outline is just a guide and isn’t carved in stone.
So now you’re ready to get started. If you know where you want your story to start, write a sentence or two explaining the opening setting at put it at the top of a clean page. If you know how you want the story to end, write that at the very bottom. If you don’t know how you want it to end, that’s okay, just skip that part for now. All you really need right now is a starting point, but if you know where you want it to go, placing even a tentaive ending can be a big help in crafting the events of the story to ultimately lead where you want them to go.
Just a quick side note here; it’s sometimes better to use index cards instead of listing ideas for chapters on a sheet of paper. Index cards will allow you to re-order and interchange the positions of ideas over and over without erasing or playing a full four quarters of trash can basketball with your draft ideas. If you have a cork board and a few pushpins, so much the better.
Next, visualize your characters as they move on their respective journies through your story. For Each key experience your characters face, write another sentence on your page between the beginning and ending (if you listed one) or make a new index card and insert it into the outline where you think it makes the most sense at that moment; and don’t worry about the order of the cards making sense yet. As long as it makes sense to you during the draft process, that’s all that counts. No matter what order you place them in, at this point, I can tell you from experience, they will almost certainly change later in the actual writing process.
Once you’re satisfied that you have listed all the key scenarios you want your character(s) to experience, arrange your cards or make a final draft outline on your paper. Now is when yo uwant to make sure they read like a sensible, chronologic timeline of events which naturally progresses any reader from the beginning, through their journey in the middle, to the end — yes, it is going to change (several more times) before your manuscript is ready to be submitted to anyone for publication. Nevertheless, if you want your creative juices to start flowing now, you’ll have to be able to visualize the story as a complete thing now, otherwise you still may freeze up and block when you arrive at a gap in your outline. Your whole objective at this juncture is to display the key points of action that occur throughout your story, roughly in the order you intend them to transpire. The exact order may yet still change many times before the final copy is made because, as you write, your characters experience things you never initially expected them to. this has a tendency to wreak havoc upon a predetermined timeline.
Now you’re ready; you have a complete blueprint. Rather than writing a novel-length book, now you can write a series of short stories. Each story, an individual chapter that, once placed together in the final order (like the pieces of a jigsaw puzzle that will only make sense when set in once specific way) you will have a naturally flowing story with many individual action sequences that keep the plot flowing and keep your readers turning pages well into the night.
The practice of outlining will benefit you as a writer in more ways than you can imagine. One of the truest tests of a great author is when you can arbitrarily pull any chapter from one of their books and it will tell a complete story, with a beginning a middle and an end. No, this doesn’t hold true for every great book or even for every great author, but it does more often than it doesn’t. Becoming adept at this will will help you to increase the arsenal of tools you use as a writer to continuously hone your craft and get your work the literary credibility it deserves.