Thursday, March 24, 2011

Where to begin? by Brenda Janowitz

I love beginnings.  There’s just something wonderful about starting a new novel.  New characters, new ideas, a totally new chance to make something special.

I always find starting a new novel so easy.  There’s that level of excitement you have—you’re armed with your idea and you’re rearing to go.  I can sit down at the computer and churn out a first chapter in no time flat.

But that’s when things get a bit more difficult.  Once that opener is done, once you’re done with that initial burst of adrenaline, you find yourself alone again with the blank page.  You’ve begun something, you’ve introduced your characters, your setting, and now you’ve made the reader a promise.  And you’ve got to deliver on that promise.

Your characters need to be fully fleshed out, the situations you put them into reasonable, or at least feasible.  You’ve got to keep your voice consistent throughout the novel, and you’ve got to make sure your tone remains steady.  There’s nothing readers hate more than starting out a novel that they think is one thing, only to end up with another thing entirely.

Your novel needs to have a good beginning—most people won’t read more than your first chapter unless they are immediately engaged (or first line, if you’re like me), but your novel also needs to live up to the promise that you make the reader in that first chapter.

Lots of people can start a novel or have an idea for a novel—just ask anyone I’ve ever met at a cocktail party—but most people won’t actually finish writing a novel.

Beginnings are really important, but finishing is the hard part. 

What’s your favorite part of a novel?  Is it the beginning?  And for you writers out there, what part is your favorite part to write—the beginning, middle or end?

I’m the author of Scot on the Rocks and Jack with a Twist.  My work’s also appeared in the New York Post and Publisher’s Weekly.  You can find me at


  1. Great post, Brenda. I love to wrote beginnings but I think they're hard because they must accomplish so much. I usually do more re-writes to my first few chapters than other.

  2. Karin said what i was thinking, great post & rewrites! I usually know where it starts and I have a definite idea about where it ends up. But gosh, those 300 middle pages are just killer!

  3. I love the beginning of a novel too! It's like dating (or what I remember of dating). The relationship with the characters is untested and you and they/them are on their best behavior (or their worst, which is even better, lol) and you just don't know how their story will unfold. Best part is you're not sick of them yet because they haven't kept you up nights worrying about their outcome. Great post as usual Brenda... you always strike the right chord of honesty and humor.

  4. I love the beginnings and endings. Like with life - and body image! - it's the saggy middle that provides all the problems.

  5. I am in the yippy-skippy new love beginning stage of a new novel. I know it will come to a screeching halt sometime soon. Great post!!

  6. Karin, yes, you are right: those beginnings are so, so important. I guess that's what makes them so much fun!

    Laura, I so agree about those 300 pages being killer.

    Saralee, great metaphor! That is soooo true!! Can you please write my posts from now on?! :)

    Lauren, your comment had me rolling in laughter. Yes!! True, indeed!!

    Melissa, don't you hate that the feeling has to end?! I'm sure your latest will rock!

  7. The beginning of writing a book is like the beginning of a love affair - passionate, intense, exciting and filled with moments when you can't wipe the smile off your face. But once you get into the middle bit of writing an entire novel, like making an intimate relationship stick, the sparkle wears off and the work begins. But that's where the good stuff is, isn't it?

  8. Brenda, I love the limitless possibilities of the many ways it could start, so many fun lines and new characters to introduce...but I know I've rarely chosen the right way to open until I'm in the middle or even at the end of the book ;).

  9. I loved seeing this post today, Brenda, since I've just started a new novel! For me, the beginning offers its own unique challenges, and is very, very hard. Unfortunately, I put a lot of pressure on myself to make it perfect before moving on. It like the part of a journey where you're packing your suitcase to leave, and the success of the whole trip depends on making all the right choices about what to pack and what to leave home. Not easy when you don't know what weather lies ahead!

    Then again, if you ask me this question in a few months, I'm sure I'll say the middle is the hardest part. :)

  10. I'm about to start a new novel, too, and I'm envisioning all sorts of beginnings! It is fun to be at that stage, isn't it? But I agree, it gets tougher after that! I think the middle is the hardest, perhaps (but it's a little different with every book). Like Lauren, I tweak the beginning a lot...heck, I tweak the first half of the book a lot! ;-) Love this, Brenda: "Beginnings are really important, but finishing is the hard part." Perfectly put!

  11. Tart and soul, you are so right! That *is* where the good stuff is. Well put!

    Marilyn, yes! I think that's what I love: the possibilities! But you're right-- the book has got to sing as a whole, and a lot of that has to do with the middle and end.

    Ellen, I'm so glad you are starting a new book! I can hardly wait to read it. Love the packing metaphor. When I pack for vacation, I always forget at least one thing. But the nice thing about writing is that you can always go back and fix what you've left out!

    Susan, it *is* so much fun to be at this stage! I hope you are enjoying it!!