Beginning to begin (Brenda Hiatt)

Beginnings are hard. 

Whether you’re about to start writing your very first book or your thirtieth, that blank opening page is intimidating. At least it is for me. Every. Single. Time. 

 As others have pointed out, every writer approaches book beginnings somewhat differently. Plotters prefer to have a map of how the book will unfold before they type the first word—all the story beats, complete with the probable Black Moment and resolution, along with every character’s goals, motivation and conflict. Pantsers like to figure most of that stuff out as they go, claiming it kills their creativity to know too much upfront. 

I fall somewhere between the two. I definitely don’t have the patience for tabbed notebooks with detailed character bios and bullet point outlines of every scene that I’ve seen some plotters use, but I do I need a good sense of who my main characters are and what they want, and at least a rough idea of the story’s through line before starting. To get to that point, I do a lot of focused daydreaming and free-writing.


As for coming up with the initial story idea, that often depends on whether the book will be part of a series or not. For example, in my Starstruck series, each book follows on somewhat logically from the one before. Because I’ve written these books more or less in order, the idea for the next book is almost always sparked by something in a previous one. Maybe an offhand comment some character makes, or a loose thread to be tied up that inspires a whole separate story. 


In one sense, series books are easier, since I already know at least some of the characters, as well as my story setting/world. In another, they can be harder. Though I’ve made an effort to have a couple of extra entry points to the series, where readers don’t need to have read any of the previous books, I still have to keep everything consistent with what’s gone before. (I’m editing book #11 in the series right now, so I have to keep checking details—lots of details—from the earlier books!) 


By contrast, I’ve had ideas for standalone books come from almost anywhere—overheard snippets of conversation, news stories, a book (or movie) I think should have been handled differently, you name it. I once got an entire Regency romance out of a single line from a song I heard on the radio. But then I still have to figure out who my characters are (unless that’s part of the initial idea), what they want, etc. 


Once I have the essentials, for either type of book, I find it helps to “write about writing” for a day (or a week) to warm up my creative juices before I start the “real” writing. But even then, beginning is hard. The first chapter, first scene, first paragraph, even the first word of a book is incredibly important. Those first pages are what will either keep a reader reading….or not. Because of this, I usually end up rewriting my beginnings multiple times, not only as I start the book, but as I’m drafting it and later, as I revise and edit it. 


Did I mention beginnings are hard?


Brenda Hiatt is the New York Times and USA Today bestselling author of the award-winning
Starstruck series, which is now up to ten books and counting.


  1. That's such a great point that a series makes a difference!

    1. It really does! (That doesn't mean it's EASIER, unfortunately. LOL!)


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