The First Rule for Writing a Modern Novel

 

by Lynne Stringer

You may not know it but there are rules for writing a modern novel. Now, every good rule needs to be broken at some point but is it a good idea to say that all rules should be ignored because writing is a creative exercise?

I don’t think so but I think there are times and places for them and so I’m going to tackle each one in turn. Here’s the first:

 

  1. Never open a book with the weather

One of the first things my publisher said to me before she read my debut novel 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 now in print. But here’s the thing—the season in which the book is set is significant to the story. It’s autumn and my female protagonist, through whom we experience all the action, loves colour and delights in the colour of 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.

 

 

 

Guest post contributed by Lynne Stringer. Lynne was the editor of a small newspaper (later magazine) for seven years, and currently works as a professional editor. She is the author of the Verindon trilogy, a YA sci-fi romance series, and Once Confronted, a contemporary drama.

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19 thoughts on “The First Rule for Writing a Modern Novel”

  1. I got through a few chapters in my last book and then went back and worked on the first chapter again. Chopped the first three paragraphs, they weren’t necessary.
    As always, the best advice for writing…write 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  2. One of my professor’s favorite exercises was to say “Skip the first paragraph of your story (sometimes it was the first page).” As you say, when in doubt, just start writing; eventually you will find a story.

    Rules like “never open with the weather” always leave me with mixed feelings. I tend to agree that most of the time they’re right, but, again, I go back to one of my professors, who used to say “Learn the rules, master them, and then you’ll know when to break them.”

    I think they’re there for a good reason, and I think it takes a lot of skill to do it well, but if everyone follows the rules, the one who strays has no competition.

    Thanks for sharing.

    Liked by 2 people

  3. Also, don’t start with your character waking up and don’t start with a dream. But then we wouldn’t have: “Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again.”

    Like

  4. It’s a lovely afternoon with no humidity for a change. It’ll be over tomorrow. The heat wave will return with fury. Oh, sorry. Did you say something about the weather? Oops.

    Like

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