Novel Starting Point: Where, oh, Where to Start?

by Sarah Tun

In recent posts we’ve been discussing flashbacks and general structure of a longer piece of writing. Today, I’d like to raise some thoughts about choosing the starting point for a novel.

I have completed several full length manuscripts. Each time I’ve developed a story line, I’ve begun with the focus on my central character. I’ve written several drafts of any piece of fiction that I’ve published, and sometimes each re-write (or partial re-write) has begun from a different point in the character’s story, until finally I’ve found the best place for my story to take flight.

What I’m drawing attention to is that wherever the story begins in the timeline of the character’s life is crucial to sharing the plot effectively, as well as creating an engaging atmosphere, and allowing setting and supporting characters to develop, so that a round and full piece is composed. Like a symphony, a written story must flow from one scene to the next, with engaging and meaningful moments strung together, providing clues and suspense along the way, and building towards a series of moments that reveal more about the character, until finally all interaction in the story builds to the climax of tension, before descending to a satisfying resolution.

For me, character is key to any story, and where the story begins in the main character’s life will trigger the movement and flow of the story thereafter.

Questions to flush out my story:

  1. Who is the main character? (Never take anything for granted. I’m currently finishing a piece where the antagonist has become a different character in the story, and the central figure, while still the same person, has a very different thought process to the one I originally planned.)
  2. What does this main character desire most. Think deep!
  3. Who is blocking that desire being fulfilled? Which one of these two characters will succeed?
  4. “Why?”… Asking an almost never-ending stream of “why’s” will lead you to unveil the story from the main character’s point of view.
  5. What is the central message or theme you want to convey to the readers?
  6. Consider the life of the main character. Where is the best place to start his or her journey, in order to share their journey, step by thrilling step, to its logical conclusion?

Why dig deep?

There are no right or wrong answers, but digging deeply into the nature and motivation of the main character will help you to begin your story in the best place possible. You want to take your reader on an exciting journey. Building from the foundation of character is an excellent place to start.

I’d be delighted to read how others develop their stories and for us to share more about our writing experiences…. For example,

  1. What’s the most number of drafts you’ve written before moving to the editing stage for publication?
  2. How many of us start with story, or with character?
  3. Have you ever started out thinking your story was a tragedy and it ended up with a happy ending (or vice versa)?


Blessings, Sarah


Sarah Tun is an author, developmental editor as well as a professional voice for voice overs and narrations. She’s been a Vendor Partner with Authors Community since 2017.

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9 thoughts on “Novel Starting Point: Where, oh, Where to Start?”

  1. I too start with a character and a setting, and an idea of how I want the story to end. Getting into a character’s motivations and quirks is work. If I get stuck, a deck of tarot is a great help in adding complexities. You don’t have to believe in them (I don’t) to use them as a tool or resource. But giving a recalcitrant character a reading can give me a lot of ideas. One needs to ask why of other characters, too, like rivals, “helpful” friends and the villain(s). You have wonderful ideas and they’ll be a big help to me and other writers.

  2. Is there a place, where I could send my first page of the manuscript I’m working on, and have fellow writers –I’ll say it nicely, decorated it with the proverbial red pen?

  3. Re question #2, my first picture book was based on character. I thought about what two of my grandkids would do in a crazy situation, and went from there. The next ones were based on things a grandchild had done, so those were more plot-driven. (Of course, the child’s personality determined the actions.)

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