How to start writing a book

Yesterday I started writing a book that ought to appear in 2018. What kind of book? Where’s it set? Patience, people. Much too early to start rabbiting on about those things.

But since writers get asked this question all the time let me say a few brief words on the subject ‘how I start writing a book’.

Do I outline everything in detail first? No. I will have a few ideas about where I’m headed but this is a journey into the unknown. I want to be surprised and enlightened along the way because if I’m not the reader won’t be either.

Instead it works like this…

  • I write an opening.
  • I write the reactions of important characters to that opening.
  • I conclude the opening section with a surprise or perhaps just the revelation that something we’ve come to suspect is actually true, and will pose a problem which the characters I’ve introduced will have to tackle.

That’s all.  I guess you could call it the setup. The creation of the challenge that will form the core mechanism driving the narrative of the story. It’s how I work but lots of other writers will work in different ways. Each to their own. Even so if you deconstruct existing stories and look at them in this context the setup idea still works.

Think Treasure Island…

  • A young lad called Jim Hawkins is befriended by a dodgy seafarer with a secret.
  • The seafarer is frightened by a visitor and dies, leaving his chest to Jim.
  • Dr Livesey, a friend of the family, deduces that the chest contains a map with the location for a secret hidden treasure and proposes to pay for an expedition to find it.
  • Jim, seeking adventure, and having just lost his father, goes along to help.

The opening is Jim meeting Billy Bones. The middle of the opening concerns the chest and Billy’s dodgy past then his death and handing on of the chest to Jim. The conclusion of the setup is Livesey deciding to set out for the treasure, and Jim coming along.

The setup is the fuse for the book to come. Light that and the rest should be well, not easy, but a sight less difficult than writing into a blank space.