Based on The Magus, how should a novelist start a novel?

In the context of John Fowles’s novel The Magus, you might be discouraged from starting a novel at all. Conchis thinks the novel is obsolete. Even Nicholas can’t resist pointing out the various faults of novels. Yet if you look at how Fowles begins his novel, then you might conclude it’s best to start a novel by clearly stating some basic information about the protagonist.

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If you’re looking towards John Fowles’ novel The Magus to figure out how to begin a novel, you might be disappointed. The characters appear to hold the novel genre in low esteem. They’d probably tell you not to begin a novel in the first place.

Conchis, especially, has a...

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If you’re looking towards John Fowles’ novel The Magus to figure out how to begin a novel, you might be disappointed. The characters appear to hold the novel genre in low esteem. They’d probably tell you not to begin a novel in the first place.

Conchis, especially, has a distaste for novels. No matter how it starts, he’s likely to hate it. According to him, “the novel is dead.” He demonstrates his fierce opprobrium of novels by burning all of the novels that he owns. In Conchis’ view, it would be better to start a nonfiction book on a US president or a pamphlet on sin. According to him, these genres are actually impactful.

Of course, after reading the recommended pamphlet, Nicholas appears to understand Conchis’s point of view. Nicholas describes the pamphlet as more “real,” “evocative” and “human” than “any historical novel.” Although, early on, Nicholas states that novels “aren’t supposed to be realistic.” Perhaps Nicholas’s views on the novel aren't so easy to pin down.

Another way to answer your question is to look at how Fowles starts The Magus. In the first sentence, Nicholas provides his birthday, his class status, and his country of origin. That might give you a hint as to how to start a novel. A novel should begin with some basic facts about the main character’s life.

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