I took a couple weeks off from blogging to take care of the whole moving thing, and now I’m sitting in my excessively messy and half-moved-in office typing this post to you. I planned on scheduling a couple posts so it wouldn’t be like I disappeared, but the best laid plans… Sigh.
Anyway, I’m kind of back, and I’m getting back into the swing of online life again. Even though I haven’t been online, I have been writing. I’m about halfway done with the mess that is the second installment of the Section Five serial. I decided to try something new, since I have multiple POVs and multiple story lines going on, and I decided to write one POV all the way through and then go back and add in the others.
That didn’t work out well. Turns out I need to know what’s going on with the other POVs in order to write one POV. And while I had a basic idea and notes of what was happening, I hadn’t written from those POVs so I really didn’t know how they’d reacted and trying to guess just wasn’t cutting it.
So now I’m going back and adding the POVs that I need to flesh out the first POV I haven’t been able to finish yet so I can finish up this installment.
Strangely enough, this crazy random story does have a point. I’m back to the beginning at this point, adding in another character’s story arc, and trying to figure out how I want to open each scene. So of course, I’m thinking about opening lines. Beginnings. First chapters.
I’m probably just freaking myself out about it, honestly. But beginnings are hard. A weak beginning could tank any book. Today I’m thinking about the parts of a beginning. Because yeah, the first chapter is important, but it’s not just one part. It’s a collection of parts that completes the whole. While I’m focusing on the first chapter here, this can be applied to just about anything you need a beginning to. A chapter. A scene. A bio.
So what makes a good beginning?
- A killer opening line.
- A sense of place and happening, yet not all questions are answered. In fact, it raises more questions. If you think about it as a science, it’s the protagonist’s potential energy. You see how the character needs to grow and change, but it hasn’t happened yet, or maybe you’re wondering if it will happen at all. Maybe that potential energy might never manifest into kinetic.
- The beginning contains the story question, the base of all potential energy in a book. I got this idea from Jim Butcher’s LiveJournal years ago, and it’s always stuck with me. It’s the whole “will the hero beat the villain/complete his quest/save the girl (or boy)?”
- And finally, the beginning also in some small way shows the stakes if our hero were to fail in his quest.
So how do we do all that without boring the reader?
Ah, dear Reader, this is the trick. The lovely thing about writing a novel is that you don’t have to get it right the first time. So, maybe your beginning is weak the first time you write it (or in my case, the second/third/fourth/fifth time you write it). You can always go back when you know the story better to revise it and make it stronger. I know that I write very lean in my early drafts, and I always have to add a lot of words in revision. In fact, I joke all the time that my first drafts are glorified outlines with action tags and dialogue. That means that my drafts are more like exploratory writing, and I usually change how I start the story a few times.
But you know what? That’s okay. The deeper I get into the story, the more I learn about the characters I’ve built, so by the time it comes time to revise that first chapter, I know exactly what needs to be in that first chapter. Knowing the end allows me to hint at the beginning certain things to raise those questions by the reader that we so desperately need to stay interesting.
I’m saying this as much to myself as I am to you, dear Readers.
Don’t fret about the beginning. You can always rewrite it. But… you have to write it in order to rewrite it. So let’s both of us take my own advice here and go write the damn book.