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How to start a novel ...

May 26, 2015

Over on my tumblr, a reader asks: "Do you start with characters or plot?"

 

My answer: no.

 

I start with something I call “the original equipment.” This is something that I don’t work on, that comes to me as a gift. It’s usually a character or two and something a bit more the a premise and a bit less than a plot.

 

With Plain Kate, for instance, I started with the character of Kate. I knew she was a wood carver and a daughter of a wood carver, and I knew that she would be forced/tricked into selling her shadow, which would gain her a talking cat. (This is, you’ll notice, more or less the plot of act one. ) The Russian/Fairy Tale setting and tone was also part of the original equipment.

 

With The Scorpion Rules, there is an opening chapter where a schoolroom full of hostage-students tries not to watch the slow approach of a horseback rider who is coming to kill one of them, and instead attempt a scholarly discussion about the start of WWI.  (Spoiler: it does not go well.)  I wrote that chapter in one fell swoop YEARS ago, and it came to me complete with the narrator (Greta Gustafsen Stuart, Duchess of Halifax and Crown Princess of the Pan Polar Confederacy, thank you very much) and the premise (Royal children are held hostage to deter their parents from declaring war).

 

The trick for me it how to develop these gifts into something like an actual story. And to figure out which of them are worth developing. I have more than I can use.

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