Epidode Three

The Secret to Successfully Beginning Your Novel or Screenplay - Part I

In this episode of "The Wonderful World of Writing" published playwright and award winning screenwriter, Laura Cotton, shares the secret to successfully beginning your novel or screenplay. This is part one of a three part series.

The following is a more detailed description of the secret to successfuly beginning your novel or screenplay.

One of the main reasons that people avoid writing is because they just don’t know where to begin. They think they can just sit down at their computer, open a Microsoft word document, and produce perfect prose. Unfortunately, that type of mindset puts a lot of pressure on you to perform. As a result, you become prone to giving up writing because you think that either you don’t have the talent for it or you decide that you really don’t enjoy writing after all because it is too difficult.
The number one secret to successfully beginning your novel or other writing project is what writers refer to as prewriting. Prewriting is any kind of writing that you do before you start your project. The fabulous thing about prewriting is that there is no one way to do it. There are hundreds of ways! However, the downside to this is that the wide range of options for prewriting can make it even harder for you to determine which one to try.
Generally speaking, writers think in terms of plot, character, or dialogue. This lesson focuses on four prewriting techniques using plot. 

1) Write a one to two sentence description of your entire story. 

In screenwriting, a one sentence description of your story is called a logline. Often times, agents and managers will simply ask you what your logline is and from that, decide whether or not they want to read your script.
The one-sentence pre-writing technique can also be useful for novelists. To write a logline well, you must ask yourself what the main conflict of the story is. Perhaps this a story about a couple on the brink of a divorce. Or perhaps this a story about a young girl who is trying to fit in at a new school. Whatever your story is, try to sum it up in one sentence and place it somewhere where you can refer to it while you are writing.

2) Decide on a general theme for your story. 

A second pre-writing technique that many writers find useful is to develop a theme for their story. A theme is the general moral or lesson that the story teaches. Is this a story about how greed corrupts the innocent? A story about how true love preserves no mater what? Or is this a story about how you can never be too old to achieve your dreams?
Deciding on a theme will give your story direction and help you to clarify your focus.

3) Create a timeline of events that you would like to see occur in your story. 

Creating a timeline is another prewriting technique that is slightly more advanced than creating a logline or a theme. To create a timeline, you should first decide on one event that you would like to have happen in your novel or writing project. For instance, perhaps you know that at some point your main character will get a job as a pastry chef. From there, ask yourself what occurred before she got her job. Perhaps she was selling cupcakes at the PTA bakesale every week and they became so popular that there was a waiting list for them. Then ask yourself what occurs after the event you chose. Perhaps once the main character gets the job as the pastry chef, her husband leaves her. Then maybe she starts dating someone and then... Keep going, creating event after event for your timeline until you have filled out at least 20 events for your story.

4) Write a one-paragraph synopsis of your entire story. 

Writing a one-paragraph synopsis of your story is another prewriting strategy that can help you to begin your writing project. First, select several books that are in the genre that you wish to write and read their book jacket summaries. Then try to emulate their writing style, making sure that your story has a beginning, a middle, and an end. Also, try to make sure that the central problem of the story is compelling and unusual – something that will make people intrigued and interested in reading your novel. Writers call this the hook.
Assignment Three: Select at least one of the prewriting techniques described in this lesson and develop your own story idea. Have fun and be experimental.  Prewriting is an excellent way for you to explore various ideas and characters. It is also the first step to successfully beginning your novel or screenplay.