Rosanne Dingli

Rosanne Dingli

Sunday, January 16, 2011

How to Start A New Novel

There is no easy way to start writing a new book. It is made even harder if the author embarks on a new project immediately after successful submission and acceptance of a book. With fiction especially, but even I suspect with factual material, the most recently finished book is still too fresh in one's mind.

When it is fiction, the characters and locations which were worked on so diligently keep coming back to mind. It is almost impossible to set them aside and start on new protagonists in a new place, with a brand new story and a feasible plot. How does one take up a whole new premise... just like that?

Perhaps there are ways. It helps to start on a batch of research, because very often, inspiration, fascination and absorption come from there. There is nothing like researching a new location, for example - one where the author has been, but about which there is so much to delve into. It must ring true to the reader, so maps, guidebooks and pictures must be sought.

There's also the protagonist around whom the whole story is going to revolve. Male or female? Experienced or naïve? Good looking or homely? An author can spend literally hours dreaming up a character - and a novel needs several. True, they do not all need to be sketched finely, but they need some faceting.

What about a premise that can be put into one sentence? This is sometimes impossible early in drafting. A writer needs to chew at least four yellow pencils, eraser and all, before a strong premise unearths itself.

Then there's the story. Start at the beginning and work chronologically? Weave in a couple of flashbacks? How is the plot going to warp and weft through the narrative? The author must think up a number of devilish delays and devious devices. [I must stop that before I use all my Ds.] There must be intrigue, deception, heartbreak, confusion, and anticipation. And a few more sentiments thrown in for good measure.

A good way to start is to devise a plan - not necessarily an outline, but an author's plan. The first step in any plan is to make a decent list. List a plan of action. Make as few decisions as possible at this stage. Number one on the list could be: I must put myself in inspiring places and situations. Or, I must read inspiring material. Or, I must stay away from works in the projected genre (or the opposite).

Inspiration comes in the form of words for me. A sentence can give me a story. A simple adjective can give me the personality of a bit player. A proverb can give me a premise. Other authors are inspired by pictures: a divine sunset, a yacht in full sail, a kookaburra with a worm in its beak. Or perhaps sounds: a car door slamming, a tap dripping, or the thrum-thump of an unwelcome teenagers' party next door.

The nice thing about sounds and pictures is that they punctuate streaming thought. They are like commas in the head. That is why I often put them into my narrative: they break up the monotony quite nicely. A bell rings, birds' wings flutter, or cutlery clatters against plates. Atmosphere is about one-fifth sounds.

Atmosphere! How does an author create that? With great difficulty and a lot of peace and quiet. Even to create a scene of chaotic confusion, such as a fist fight in a noisy warehouse full of buzzing forklifts, an author needs peace and quiet.

Concentrating about all these ingredients and strategies, devices and methods does have the ability to dim the long-lasting aftertaste (or afterglow if it was accepted) of the most recent book. A fresh place must be found from which to spring. It often takes organisation and stealth to find it.

I would love to hear how other authors manage to mentally leave their last book behind, and embark on a new one.

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  1. Hi. I came across from a Linkedin group. Your post is quite interesting. I am actually thinking about publishing a novel. Thanks for the great article!

  2. Thinking about publishing a novel means a lot fof hard work ahead, Peter. Good luck!

  3. Rosanne,
    What a gorgeous picture!
    After reading so many comments from you, I'm very glad to be able to visit your blog and read your posts. It sounds like you have a lot of experience to share.
    I have no trouble starting a new book. As a matter of fact, that is more of a problem for me as I have several books written, both fiction and non-fiction. but none published as yet. So I'm forcing myself to focus on one book, and get it published and promoted before I go on to another. I already have a website and a blog to support it and my mission: to motivate midlife former professionals to make a new start after job/home/money/status loss.

  4. I think it would take me more than four yellow pencils,ha ha. I don't write novels and never thought about putting away the most recent project to prevent it from creeping into the next one. I really enjoyed this article.

  5. From time to time, I've thought about writing a book, but have never had the nerve to start.

  6. Interesting how we all work differently.I've always got one novel on the go and don't have any trouble compartmentalizing and keeping them separate. If any of you read my interview about writing Streets on a Map, which is now up on my Write and read with Dale blog under the review,, you will know I don't write outlines.Just a different way of doing things. I love the way writers are so different in approach to writing.

  7. Wonderful post, Rosanne. Thank you. As a humble writer of web copy, I am in awe of the novelist's process, as you describe it. There is so much to absorb in your post! But the bit I will take away and try to use is the part about how sounds and pictures break up monotony. I will try to implement some of that in my own writing! Thanks.

  8. Thanks for an interesting post, Rosanne. It's fascinating there are so many different ways of starting something new. I guess I'm lucky that I haven't had any problem with working on more than one piece - so far at least - but then I'm so caught up in the world and the characters I'm currently writing about I'm beginning to wonder if I'll be able to keep to the three books about them I have planned. Time will tell.

  9. Really interesting. Reminds me that I have to get back to my book. I recently read that a book is written a sentence at a time.

  10. I found your blog through linkedin and really enjoyed your comments about starting a new novel. Thought it was very insightful.

    Would love for your to visit mine at - or