Insight: the best way for me to begin a novel is by pretending it’s a play.
I learned this while despairing, somewhat, over my WIP, which had developed that lovely Black [Plot] Hole in its center. It also had other first-time-author issues. My H/h had backstories, they had internal conflicts, and they had chemistry. But they didn’t really have conflict with each other. Which is probably why they tried to jump each other the first time they were alone together. Not that that wasn’t fun and all, but it was not exactly the makings of a fully-developed story.
The WIP was also trying to be all things to all people in terms of genre. Urban fantasy, romance of course, paranormal, sci-fi, suspense … not that all those things can’t coexist, but I found myself swimming in the variables. Which aspects did I want to emphasize at a given point? Which genre would predominate in terms of tone? Which details were central, indispensable, to the story I was trying to tell? What story was I trying to tell, exactly?
(Some of you probably want to tell me to go take a beginning author’s workshop. I’m pretty much running my own trial-and-error workshop for myself here, and it’s a really good learning experience.) But to get to my point. As soon as I said to myself, “If this were a play, how would I write it?” it had the most amazing effect. My focus sharpened, I started tossing extraneous details left and right, and helloooo, conflict! There you are, you lovely thing.
This makes some sense. I grew up doing community theater, and plays are a natural storytelling format for me. But I also grew up reading lots and lots (and lots) of books. And it’s not like the dramatic arc of a play is all that different from the arc of a novel, so I would have expected there to be a fairly high level of transference between genres, you know?
Of course, as any author can tell you, reading a story isn’t the same thing as writing one. And apparently, actually participating in plays has mapped dramatic structure onto my brain in a way that really makes a difference when I’m writing.
So now I’ve got a crucial piece of my own authorial process established for the future: I have to play my stories before I prose them. (Apologies to those of you who hate the practice of verbing nouns. I’m with Calvin on that; verbing weirds language, and I love it.)