How to Start a Piece of Fiction

Where do stories come from? Are they born from birds with eagles’ beaks and tails of fire? Do they originate from springs with waters so crisp and clear you’d stop aging if you drank from them? Can you reach up into the sky and pluck stories from clouds?

That would be cool. But where do stories come from?

Everywhere.

They can come from an experience you or someone else had. Or they can start with something you heard. What you heard set off a spark. It inspired you.

Perhaps a story began with a character. Or a complication. The exploration of an idea. Maybe the story came from the question “what if.” Toni Morrison got the idea for her novel, Beloved, from an old newspaper clipping of a mother murdering her baby, just before she was dragged back into slavery. Morrison was interested in why the mother killed her child. What would drive a mother to murder her infant?

Twilight came from a dream Stephenie Meyer had.

A story can even begin with a sentence. Whatever causes that first spark, that bit which makes you want to examine an idea. Makes you need to explore it. Obsess over it.

A few tips on starting a novel:

  • Get it down. Whether the idea or words are good or not, write it. Put it on paper. Any negative emotions that come up (“This is stupid,” “No one thinks I’m a real writer,” “This is such a waste of time,” “I suck at writing.”) shouldn’t stop you because emotions change. Something you hate now, you may love later. The opposite also applies.

There’s a quote a professor I once had said. One of his former students said it to him. I’ll say it to you guys.

“It’s amazing what you can do as a writer, when you don’t care about what others think of you as a writer.”

  • Write what you know and don’t worry about what you don’t know. Many novels are written piece by piece, and then put together. Write the parts of the story you can picture clearly. You’ll figure out what you can’t see down the road, if you need to.
  • If you hit a roadblock, jump over it. There’s really nothing in fiction you can’t get away with. You make up the rules, the laws. If everyone is blue and can fly, then so be it. And if you get stuck, skip over it and come back. Whatever you do, don’t stop writing (Unless you feel like your head’s about to explode, then take a short break. Go for a hike. Watch something that makes you laugh).

In the end, you can get an idea for a story anywhere and start a story with anything. The key is to persist and not get overwhelmed. Don’t talk yourself out of completing a story, or even starting it. Get an idea, write it down. Flesh it out. Mold it. Sculpt it. And when you do get another idea, jot that one down too, so when you’re finished with the one you’re working on, you have another idea to build with.

Where do you get your ideas?

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