January 9, 2013

Writing Club Wednesdays: First Pages and Beginnings

Opening lines. The all-important first pages.

First of, I just want to say this. Beginnings are HARD.

At least, they are for me.

I always have this image in my head. One particular scene that is my inspiration for the manuscript. But beginnings aren't about the idea or the inspiration. Starting with your point of inspiration will usually leave your reader oh-so confused. Half the time they don't seem to have anything to do with the plot. Beginnings are about introductions, a chance to show your characters and your world when the status quo is settled, before the big shake up that is your plot device arrives.

And because of this, beginnings can be difficult to write. They aren't the big action sequence we can't wait to get to, and they aren't the epic kiss/makeout/etc scene we really REALLY want to write. They aren't the shake up that gets the story moving. In a word, we might even find them boring.

Which is a mistake. If we, as writers, find our beginnings boring, how bad is it going to be for our readers??

It's an important question.

I'll admit, I have a hard time with my beginnings. With my first manuscript, Fireborn, I originally started it from what is now part 3, got to the end, and realized that prologue I wrote? Yeah, that was half the story there, and I needed to go back and rewrite the entire thing because I was missing half the story. Even then, the beginning didn't solidify until after a full year of revisions, when I finally figured out where it needed to start. And I've ripped it apart a few times since.

With my second, my major revisions were all to - you guessed it - the beginning. I'd left out two important supporting characters, and by backtracking to the beginning, and putting them in where they should have been, I opened up a whole new side to one of my main characters.

Every manuscript I write, the beginning ties me up. I've learned that I have to just get something down and get the thing started so I can get the whole thing written, but I have to do it all knowing I will hands-down rewrite the beginning. Always.

Beginnings are about RELATIONSHIPS. We, as writers, have a real opportunity to share our characters and the relationships that make them as the first thing our readers see. They are building blocks, and ones we sorely need. As I've progressed as a writer, I've come to realize through the revision process (i.e. always rewriting my beginnings!) just how important that is.

My point? Don't dread your beginnings. Have fun with them. You may not ever get to see your characters like this again, so enjoy it. I'm going to.


Gina said...

With both books I've finished, I've had to chop off up to 12k words from the beginning. A lot of it gets used other places, but yeah... I definitely start waaaaaay too far back of the action.

Stephsco said...

You're right, beginnings are so tough! I bought a Writer's Digest book called The First 50 Pages which was helpful; by then I'd tried and failed at crafting a beginning for awhile. I suppose keeping in mind the revision process is good; the first draft probably doesn't get it right, but it least it's something to work with.

Steph Sessa said...

Beginnings are so hard! I rewrite my beginnings more often than any other parts of my story. Introducing characters, setting and plot all in a tiny amount of space. I also find *where* to start the story challenging as well.

CB Soulsby said...

I agree. I most definitely just have to plunge in and write just to get words on the page, so it's always the beginnings that get the most demolished in revisions!

Jill Haugh said...

Sometimes I find beginnings are easiest to write at the end--meaning after the story is finished. I go back and lay the framework and rewrite the beginning.
Nice post, and, by the way, I loved the begining!

Jae said...

Great advice. I think sometimes the beginning comes from writing the story and then seeing what would really work for what you've got. Sometimes I stress too much over a beginning, but I like your point, that it should be about relationships. Thanks for sharing!

Jamie Krakover said...

I agree beginnings are horribly hard. I think I've rewritten the beginning of manuscript more times than anything else, especially the opening first few lines. It's hard to start in the right place and hook the reader without confusing them.

Laura Hughes, MittensMorgul said...

My problem with the beginning of the first novel in this series was that I needed to write a lot of backstory for myself, so I could build the world for my characters. Only now, a year of querying later, do I realize that 90% of the backstory is scattered throughout the manuscript, and can be chopped wholesale out of chapter one.

I started on the chopping this morning. It was scary at first, but I think the result is a lot more interesting to read. I can't believe I didn't see it sooner, but it explains all the "I love the concept, but didn't connect."

Anonymous said...

So true, I used to always worry about the start... until I realized I'm never going to start writing a story at the true start. I just have to start writing until I get to the end -- then I'll know what I need to do to make the start less confusing/more interesting/generally overall better. Beginnings are really hard if you try to make it perfect from the get-go, but they're a lot of fun if you know you aren't married to your first choice -- you can always try out new things.

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