The First Rule for Writing a Modern Novel

February 19, 2013 at 12:29 pm

Never Open a Book with the Weather

One of the first things my publisher said to me before she read my book was, ‘I hope you don’t talk about the weather in the first paragraph!’

I didn’t. Instead, I talked about it in the second paragraph.

Yes, that’s the truth. It’s still there, and the book is about to be printed. But here’s the thing – the season in which the book is set is significant as far as the story goes. It’s autumn and my female protagonist, through whom we experience all the action, loves colour and delights in the colour in the autumn leaves around her.

I supposed I didn’t break this rule, strictly speaking. After all, it’s not the weather I’m talking about so much as the time of year. And I guess I too, have cringed at those books that start out with sentences like, ‘It was a bright, sunny day …’

I think that phrases like that can be a default mechanism; an easy way to start. Writing the first paragraph and even the first line of a story can prove extraordinarily difficult. I remember that from my journalism days. How do I start this article? was the thought most frequently in my head. It was additionally challenging when I was writing about a subject in which I had no interest at all.

It was about this time I received some excellent advice. If you’re trying to start writing and you don’t know how to begin, write anything, even if it’s complete and utter garbage. Then, once you get into the flow of the story, you will be able to see the way it’s headed more clearly. At that point, when you have the rhythm of the words and the flow steady, you can go back and rewrite the first sentence, paragraph or whichever part annoys you. I think this is a good principle to apply to all kinds of writing. Then, even if you do write the weather in the first paragraph, you can find something else to say instead!

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