The blank page is staring at you. You write your first half a sentence, pause and then delete it. The idea for this novel had seemed so great in your head but now that you’ve forced yourself to stop procrastinating and start writing, it’s just a painful experience.

If this is you right now, I feel your pain, I really do. I’m most of the way through producing my second novel now and I have a near anthology-sized backlog of short stories I’ve tapped out over the years. Writing the first thousand words doesn’t get any less scary but it can get easier. In fact, I now find it one of my very favourite parts of the writing process. Coming up with a great hook to get your readers glued to the page can be enormously satisfying; you just need the have a few techniques to help you through it.

Blow-by-Blow Planning

Most of the time, I’m not much of a planner. I like to come up with the premise for a story and then see where it takes me, with just a basic outline to guide me. But one thing I plan in great detail is the first half-chapter or so of my manuscript. For me, the best way to do this is to come up with a bulleted list that takes me blow-by-blow through the opening sequence. For example.

Tales of a Grouchy Shopkeeper, Blow-by-Blow Plan

  • Eugene Grillop stands behind the shop counter, staring at an old woman buying cat food
  • He notices something out of the corner of his eye
  • Turns to see that it is just an old shopping bag blowing past the window
  • Looks back at the old woman to see that she has disappeared, leaving the tin of cat food to fall to the floor
I've used this 'grouchy shopkeeper' example so many times now, part of me actually wants to write the novel... -Image by Gordon Joly

I’ve used this ‘grouchy shopkeeper’ example so many times now, part of me actually wants to write the novel…
-Image by Gordon Joly

And so on. I also find this sort of planning useful when I hit a wall mid-way through my novel and the reason is that when you write out a list like this, you can focus all your energy on just making the plot clear and interesting. You don’t have to worry about the quality of your prose, dialogue vocabulary or any of the other million things that fight for dominance in your head when you are writing the manuscript itself.

What is the Most Interesting Part of your Story?

Having some aspect of your story to focus on while you are starting out will stop your mind from becoming too scattered and it will give you a rough path to follow. This part of your book needs to really grab the audience, so figure out what the most interesting element of it will be, and use that as a focus-point. It could be the setting, a particular character, or a particular trait of a particular character. Just figure out what aspect (or aspects) of the story are going to engage readers the most and make it your aim to showcase this in your first half-chapter.

Don't get too excited. It's not as fun as proper dot-to-dot! -Image by Camilla Nilsson

Don’t get too excited. It’s not as fun as proper dot-to-dot!
-Image by Camilla Nilsson

Dot to Dot Planning

This is another planning method, but a little more broad, if you are really averse to the blow-by-blow method. First come up with a starting point for your book; if this were a film, what would be the very first frame in the very first scene? Then, ask yourself where you want the plot to be in half a chapter or one chapter’s time, depending on how much or little planning you want to do. A broad plan like this may look a little like the below:

Tales of a Grouchy Shopkeeper: Dot to Dot Planning

  • Start: Eugene Grillop stands behind the shop counter, staring at an old woman buying cat food
  • Chapter 1.5: Eugene searches the shop for the missing woman
  • Chapter 2: Woman’s corpse mysteriously appears, slumped over the shop counter

This will give you a broad direction to go with, now you just need to connect the dots.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this article. If so, please click like and follow, and drop a comment, if you like, to let me know your own ways of starting a novel with minimum pain! Please look out for my next article, which will give a beginner’s guide for those just taking their first, tentative steps into the world of writing.