Hot Tips For Your First Novel -The Toast

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toast_novelIt’s all happening. You’ve finally decided. Enough waiting around, today is the day you start your bestseller. And yet the path to success is not smooth: it’s a well-documented fact that the beginning is one of the most difficult parts of writing a novel, second only to the conclusion and general plot-heavy middle bit, and so, in the great tradition of the seemingly nonstop Writing Tips From Writerly Writers pieces orbiting the internet like so many axiom-heavy birds of prey, we have compiled a helpful list of starting points to get you going on that crucial first sentence. Try one! Try them all! Try them all at once in a string and BOOM, you’ve got yourself a chapter! Read on:


Stevie smiled at Emily. “Dear old Emily,” he thought. “My sweetest, most platonic friend.” Emily smiled back. “Dear old Stevie,” she thought. “One day I will kill you and dance on your grave.”

This could be the setup to all kinds of novels. If you want to write some fun YA fiction, Emily and Stevie are secretly in love—that’s what platonic friendship is, FYI—and all will be well once Emily takes those pesky glasses off and lets someone make over her face. Alternatively, this could be the start of a riveting, deadly game of cat-and-mouse, Stevie constantly weaving friendship bracelets while Emily uses a more figurative loom to compose a tapestry of REVENGE. (You can have that metaphor for free.)


Harry had no idea what he had expected when he signed up for the course. But what he definitely hadn’t expected was a teacher… who was a wolf!


A fun trick to use in novel-writing is the element of surprise. Hint: it will be doubly surprising for the reader when you reveal that the students are all also wolves, and that Harry is just a bit dim and should have known.



It is a truth universally acknowledged that all readers in the Internet age must be in want of a #hashtag.

I’m almost loath to give away an opener this good. This bit of syntax really ticks all the boxes: self-referential, modern and allusive, it aligns the writer’s work immediately with one of history’s most classic novels, setting you up for a success of historic proportions. This option is a great starting point for anyone whose skill is definitively equal to or greater than Austen’s.


Drusilla’s lip quivered. How could he have known? She’d kept her secret so carefully guarded—staying out of the sun, keeping herself to herself, taming her raw sexuality around impressionable teenagers—but somehow Damien had figured it out. Was it the two fresh, symmetrical bite marks glistening on his neck?

INSIDER TIP: vampire fiction is doing very well right now. While this book will be fully your own, taking you on a journey as personal as that of the characters in your newnovel, I’m also going to suggest that you turn the tables later on in the narrative so that Damien ties Drusilla up in heavy bondage and makes her answer his emails or whatever; BDSM is really in right now too.



Sometimes in life there are winners and there are losers. I feel like I was both. From the past tense you can tell that I’m dead now, but death never stopped an ol’ hobo from tellin’ stories. And boy do I have some stories, most of ‘em train-based. I sure did love trains.

Everybody loves an old hobo.


It was dark. And cold. A dark, cold night. Not the kind of night where good men did good things, but more the other kind of night where it feels like the sun will never come up, like maybe it never existed in the first place. You know the kind… ominous. An ominous night. Menacing. An ominous, dark, menacing night—foreboding. It was a foreboding night.

Our world is a darker, more dangerous place that it was, and our fiction is changing with it. What grim characters might be meeting on a night such as this? Terrorists? A couple formed from two separate broken marriages? A former presidential and vice presidential candidate with nothing left but their secret, burning lust for each other/blood? (Ed. note: FUNNY YOU SHOULD MENTION THAT) YOU be the author!


The End.

!!!!!!!!!!!!!! I know, right? Why leave the shocking twist ending for the END of the book? Let your public know they are in for some seriously experimental prose by starting at the conclusion. Critics and readers alike will boldly declare multiple, deep and symbolic meanings for this bold move out of pure refusal to admit they have no idea what any of it means at all. “Deep N meaningful, do you see what she did there? We do.” – The New York Times.


Melissa woke up that day, as she did everyday, to the buzzing of her iPhone. “Shit,” she thought to herself, scrolling through the glowing pages of twitter, one of several social media apps she had installed. “Only three new followers last night. I’ll never get my Cronut parody tumblr trending.” She quickly sent some Snapchats to her friends before jetting off on her Segway to meet her dawgs at One Direction Club.

It’s important that publishers and agents know that you are #hip with #today’s #youth. Dropping a few subtle, well-timed references to popular culture or contemporary movements will add immediacy to your manuscript, and answer that all-important question, “where in time does this novel take place?? Is it now?” A few other hot topics for Autumn 2013 are: selfies, the Royal Baby, Hot Topic, selfies of the Royal Baby, and whatever [CELEBRITY REDACTED] is doing with her hair right now.


It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to heaven, we were all going direct the other way – in short, the period was so far like the present period, that some of its noisiest authorities insisted on its being received, for good or for evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only.

Sure, it’s a good opening line, but the rest of it? Pfft. You can do better. And now you shall. Go get ’em, Tygers!

Roxanne Palmer (alias Roxy Drew) is a cartoonist and science journalist. You can see her stuff at and

Monica Heisey is a writer on Twitter.

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