If Only I Could Start – A Few Ideas For Putting Words on Paper

We all need a few warm up exercises to allow us to start writing.

Apparently, we all have a novel in us, that may well be, but most will never manage to extricate it from their heads. There are many reasons for this, some will blame time, ability, insufficient imagination, boredom, lack of discipline or conviction. It appears there are as many reasons not to write as to actually  get down to it. I include a couple of ideas here which might allow you to make a start, if you have a mind.

I imagine anyone reading this is likely to be at least vaguely interested in writing creatively, so  I won’t waste any time discussing why writing is important (well, at least, not in this blog post!) Perhaps you have an idea in mind, you might be even thinking about going on a retreat to give yourself quality time to start, continue or finish something. Yet, how does a novel begin? How daunting is it to put ‘black on white’ which is a quote from the master of the short story Guy de Maupassant.(There goes my very first recommendation.)

It’s fascinating what prompts a start, sometimes it’s something as mundane as a road; the lane up from the retreat always looks filled with possibilities. It’s very narrow, winds between dry stone walls and is almost impossible to traverse when damp or wet. Last night there was a celebration in one of the houses in the valley. I sat on the terrace and watched a couple leave the party quite early and walk towards their car which was parked in a gateway half way up the lane. The sky was filled with clouds that had exhaled charcoal vapour and a rainbow was stretched right across the scene, which was a welcome distraction from the misery of the day’s wet weather. I watched the brake lights eventually come on and the ensuing pantomime  regarding the car’s inability to catch any purchase from the wet tarmac. I was imagining the conversation in the car, whether it was a cause for hilarity or an argument or was an excuse for one or the other to begin listing incompetencies. Where would it end? The denouement occurred when the car slid into the rocks at the bottom. What happened next I wonder? That really is another story.

It was a start of something, in fact I often use that particular lane as  jumping off point for a quick writing exercise and it begins one of the scenes in a tv script I am working on. What I am saying is the most mundane things can provide an evocative beginning. Thomas Hardy used a road in the opening of The Mayor of Casterbridge and again in Tess of the D’Urbervilles.

Looking at my desk now there is a sprig of Jasmine lying on top of a set of old magazines, a pair of binoculars and an open box of paints. Who works here? (That’s cheating really because I know it’s me, but objects or possessions can be so evocative. We can ask the question, ‘What if?’ or exhort our reader to ‘Imagine’. Living in a rural area the seasons play their part, activity is very much linked to what needs to be done in the vineyards. These rituals can be fertile ground for a start. I have a memory of lying under an olive tree after a hot day’s grape picking feeling I could never move again, an interesting opening paragraph that was never written I hasten to add.

If you are wondering where you might begin ask yourself a few questions before you do anything:

  1. Am I going to plot this fully?
  2. Are your characters going to operate against a setting you know well or will it be something imagined?
  3. How might the character/ characters change? Will it be a picaresque novel where the main character goes on a journey of self-discovery or will the character remain stubbornly unchanged which might well be the point. Will it be an example of a Bildungsroman novel which is basically a coming of age novel like Jane Eyre of Great Expectations or Catcher In The Rye. The focus is on the psychological and social development of the main character who often begins in innocence and then gradually develops self- awareness through a number of tests.
  4. Just putting together the name of a character, placing them in a setting and then putting a number of tests for them to undertake is a useful warm up exercise. You can have fun being really mean  (I am giving myself away here!) or list different ways of overcoming the same obstacle.
  5. Writing dialogue can be fun too. What is my character’s view on a series of controversial themes for example? What clothes hang in his/her wardrobe or maybe they are kept in a pile on the floor or in a box or maybe a suitcase
  6. Construct a successful world for a character then write down a list of things that would make their world fall apart, either dramatically or incrementally. You can be kind of course, but why would you? Ha ha.

Lots of fun can be had just playing; these are the beginnings, exercises, like practising scales. They stop us being blocked or thinking too much and scares ourselves out of action. Each novel begins with the first word after all.

Here’s an idea:

Something disturbed the moment of reverie, frowning slightly Jane looked up from her work and sniffed; the faint waft of wood smoke had intensified and was no longer pleasant………

What happens next I have no idea, but you may. Let me know and I’ll publish them here..

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