Finding the Right Beginning For Your Novel
by smwright (originally posted on ryanlanz.com)
Some beginnings come easy; others, well, they bite, claw, and resist like no tomorrow, leaving behind frazzled writers. Take for instance my novel Heritage Lost: It’s beginning stuck from the very beginning, back when I conceptualized the novel in college. Its sequel, which I’m beginning, is already on its fourth (I think) beginning. None of them wanted to work; however, this one feels good. And funny enough, each “chapter one” has been moving forward chronologically as I tried to nail down where the readers should be reintroduced into the world at.
In the first beginning that I wrote, I determined–to my sorrow–that the readers were coming in too late, which allowed too much wiggle room for me to later fall into the old tell-instead-of-show conundrum. I needed readers to witness certain actions and elements, not be told about them. I believe I tweaked it and inched it forward just a bit; however, it was not enough.
Before I knew it in my third attempt, I was dumping readers into the thick of an action scene that happened before my first opening. It showed readers some of the elements they needed to understand/witness; however, it wasn’t working. So instead, I returned to the keyboard and moved forward once again, to better ease the reader back into the characters and their current situations before gradually layering on the conflict and catalysts for certain actions that make the book. It was my eureka moment!
Every writer at one time or another struggles with beginnings–working, reworking, brainstorming, etc. before eventually arriving at that moment were it just clicks. It is a grand feeling, almost pure ecstasy. Each book is different; sometimes it’s the middle that refuses to work, and sometimes it’s the end. One book the beginning flows out, and then the next book, it never fully blossoms.
But take heart if you are currently struggling with your story’s start: We’ve all been there. And whatever you do, don’t give up! Any story worth telling is worth the work and hours of head banging. Below I’ve included some potential stepping stones that might help you break through your own beginnings writer’s block:
Examine where you are currently beginning your story at. What happens prior to that beginning? Would the reader benefit from watching that previous action or series of events unfold? Do the characters benefit from having that action(s) play out? Also look at the action that follows your current opener. Does it have the legs to launch the book? Do you really need the action that comes before to be prominent?
Watch your pace. Is your current opener bound to have your readers snoozing, or crying from the whiplash? Throwing too much action in at once can leave your readers feeling dazed and confused–so consider slowing down and easing in breaks to let the reader grasp what your story is about. On the other hand, if you opening is too slow, look for ways to heighten interest through plot, conflict, or character interactions (e.g., if your characters are enjoying a leisurely nothing-but-tea party, maybe have one character throwing shade at another. And if police are coming, maybe have them arrive earlier to add interest).
Are you using the right point of view? Perhaps your story will flow more effortlessly if you told it from first person, or maybe omniscient is a better fit. Carefully consider your options, maybe giving a few a try before landing on any one POV.
Is that character really your lead? Look at your leads, particularly if they are POV characters. Do they show readers what they need to see? Are they tied to the plot and story like they should be? Would the story be better from the perspective of Character B, etc.? Consider this very carefully and look at every single angle available to you.
Don’t get bogged down on details. Nothing kills an opening then dishing out detail after detail: what your character is wearing down to her lacy drawers; what your character has eaten for the past three meals; all your character’s hopes and dreams, and the government structure that runs via a fake house of representatives, several courts, an elite warrior class, a for-appearance-only nobility and an all-power religion . . . you get the point. Gradually share details here and there, not all in the first chapter. Whatever you do, don’t dump the information. Instead, show it via character actions, dialogue, outer influences, setting, visuals, etc.
Hopefully some of those thoughts will be of use to someone. Happy writing everyone!
Guest post contributed by Smwright. The creator of B&I is a staff writer and copy editor at The Papers Incorporated, where she works on a variety of publications from weekly newspapers to monthly and bi-monthly magazines. She was also named the editor for Michiana House & Home.