Friday, March 8, 2019

Where Should a Writer Begin?

Kathleen Neely @NeelyKneely3628

So, you want to write a novel. Where do you begin? Let me answer that through the experience of mistakes. 

The Least of These was the first novel I wrote, although not the first to reach publication.I had what I deemed was a great novel idea, so I went to my computer and began penning the words that would intro my great story. My mind had events, but no overarching concept. I had characters, but I didn’t know them closely. I had a conclusion that held no character growth, no take-aways. That novel took about eighteen years to write. I abandoned it numerous times, but kept returning to my inferior manuscript. When I got serious about writing, I knew I needed help.
I immersed myself in the writing world. I read trade books, joined a writer’s group, formed a critique group, went to conferences, and soaked up knowledge. Now when I start a novel, I know that my first task is not writing the opening sentence. Consider these steps. 

What do you want to accomplish with your novel? Think of a great novel that you have read. What was the underlying concept? Anger? Bitterness? Naivety? Fear? You already have a story sketch in your mind so you should be able to hone in on the take-away that you want your readers to experience. 

Who are the characters that will live out your story? Don’t start writing with just a gender and a name. You’re going to spend the better part of the next year with these people. Know them well. There’s a tendency to want to describe your characters appearance. That actually has far less to do with who they are. Know their personality, their habits, their weaknesses. What do they feel? Think? What frightens them? What makes them laugh? What secrets do they harbor, and how does that effect their actions?

Where will the story take place? Is it real or fictional? Know it well. Take your readers there. Your voice may be the only visit they have to that location. In my four completed novels with authentic locations, three take place in settings that I know well. One is set in a location that I’m not as familiar with. I told myself that generic references were enough. It’s contracted, and I think you’ll enjoy it, but I chastise myself knowing that I could have done it better. 

Who’s speaking and when? Will your story be past or present? One of my great weaknesses is lapsing into the wrong tense. Edit, edit, edit. 

Will your story be first person, spoken through the voice of your character? Will it be third person, told by a narrator? Second person perspective is rare in novels and not for beginners. It’s used more in technical writing.

How many POV’s will you have? Choose carefully. I had four POV’s in The Street Singer. I was offered a contract with a caveat—that I reduce POV’s to two, just Trisha and Adda. Trust me when I tell you that it’s a whole lot easier to write it correctly the first time. I recommend one or two. 

These are some things to consider, but this is not an exhaustive list. You can find great resources on story structure. If you do your homework before the writing begins, you will have a cleaner manuscript and save time. 

I’d love to hear from you. What pre-writing tasks help you? 


Trisha Mills, a student in her final semester of law school, has fond memories of listening to the music of Adaline, a once-famous recording artist. Trisha learns that Adda is now a street singer in Asheville, NC, where she lives in a storage closet she rents for her equipment. Adda's sole means of support in her senior years comes from the donation box. 

Along with her meager possessions, Adda has a box labeled, “Things to Remember.” Once Adda and Trisha become friends, Adda agrees to show Trisha the contents of the box, and reveals her journey from her beginnings as a sharecropper's daughter, her rise to fame, and her fall into poverty.  

Even while busy cleaning out the home of her deceased grandfather, preparing to sit for the bar exam, and planning her wedding, Trisha cannot overlook the injustices that Adda has experienced. Aided by attorney Rusty Bergstrom, Trisha convinces Adda to seek restitution.

Kathleen Neely resides in Greenville, SC with her husband, two cats, and one dog. She is a retired elementary principal, and enjoys time with family, visiting her two grandsons, traveling, and reading. 

She is the author of The Street Singer, released in February, 2019. Beauty for Ashes and The Least of These will be released in 2019. Kathleen won second place in a short story contest through ACFW-VA for her short story “The Missing Piece” and an honorable mention for her story “The Dance”. Both were published in a Christmas anthology. Her first novel, The Least of These, was awarded first place in the 2015 Fresh Voices contest through Almost an Author. She has numerous devotions published through Christian Devotions.

Kathleen continues to speak to students about writing and publication processes. She is a member of Association of Christian Fiction Writers. 




  1. I spend quite a bit of tie getting to know my characters. Then I research the setting and how it will play into my story. For me, setting is a character as well.

    1. The setting is a character as well. Great thought.

  2. Great thoughts Ms. Kathleen. Many of these suggestions apply themselves to nonfiction writing as well. As a "pantser", it's okay to led the story or article lead you where it will. However, we have to know the goal (i.e. where we are going), otherwise we'll never know if we get there. God's blessings ma'am.

    1. Thanks for sharing. I have a non-fiction in my heart and may pen it one of these days.

  3. At the recent Carolina Christian Writers Conference, I learned about interviewing my characters before starting the actual story. This was a new concept to me and I am going to try it. :-) Those characters may reveal something special.

    1. Agreed. Sometimes characters surprise me.