In The Beginning

October 10th, 2004 · 1 Comment
by Booksquare

Not to brag or anything, but we rarely have trouble beginning a new novel (we are cursed in that we get bogged down in the middle and end). Our process is generally to collect a bunch of unconnected things (many of which grow up to become full-fledged scenes; an equal number become exercise for the delete key), and then wait until the perfect first line or scene pops into our head. Once this happens, we are writing. We like to think we are good at this.

That’s not to say we stick with our original concept come hell or high water. Sometimes we come up with a better opening, but that’s really a matter of timing and learning the story more. If there is one thing we do not fear, it is taking our words and cutting and revising them. Poor things — nobody is sacred, no matter how funny or profound.

It is rare, so rare that we’ve been stumbling for weeks, that the first sentence is not crystal clear to us. Without that sentence, that start, we have been searching for the beginning of our novel. We know it’s there. We know what we want to write, yet we couldn’t figure out the password.

When we started this project (in our mind and during long IM chats with Jill), we thought we knew where to start. Further reflection lead us to believe that our original vision was wrong. To start where we wanted, in the way we wanted, would have been confusing and wrong. They say you should start at the moment when your character experiences change. We realized we were starting after that.

So we backed up, and ended up with a great scene. Very funny, and we patted our back — not easy as we were on an airplane at the time. We loved the scene. Too bad it wasn’t the scene, no matter how much we tried to force it into the beginning of our novel. It will remain, unless we viciously slice it from the work, but not at the start.

So there we were, two scenes down and not an dose of inspiration. But wait — what about our character’s motivation? What about that incident, the one that brought her to the place where the story we wanted to tell begins? So we’ve played with that. Very funny, very painful, very vicious.

Not the right opening. It’s a moment, not a scene. Worse, no matter how we twist and turn the idea, it’s backstory. It’s not right.

We were quite ready to give up on the opening of this work. It would come eventually, we reasoned. After all, every story must have a beginning. We’ll find ours. But all this futzing and fighting wasn’t accomplishing the goal: which is to get “a chunk” to the editor who requested it. We are so far from chunk, it’s scary. Time to move forward. We started today with resolve: we would write the second, third, fourth, whatever it took, scene. We would create that first element of the chunk.

Yeah, guess who came knocking? The first scene. Clear and logical. The right opening: not too early, not too late. Just right and all that. This is a tale about trusting instinct — our first paragraph, our opening, is a near-duplicate of our original vision. Same sentences, different perspective. Go figure.

File Under: Tools and Craft

1 response so far ↓

  • Susan Gable // Oct 11, 2004 at 6:39 am

    Last night I listened to a great workshop from RWA’s Dallas convention this summer. The workshop was titled The Subconscious Writer – and it appears that’s what you are. Glad to hear the first scene arrived, and now get writing and moving toward “chunk.” Trust your subconscious. Usually it knows better stuff than the conscious mind. G.