Beginnings by Donna

This week the Muses turn our attention to BEGINNINGS.

Beginnings are hard. In life and in writing. Maybe it's because having a beginning also means there was an ending. Before the beginning, something happened. Maybe the character wanted that something to happen, maybe he/she didn't. But there is a reason for this beginning. Right here. At this moment in time. There is a purpose for that first sentence, for that first word. The best beginnings are when the reader feels the characters have existed before this particular chosen moment in time. We dropped into their life at a crucial spot. It doesn't feel like a beginning, but it feels important.

Beginnings take a lot of energy. Investing in new stories and new people is a commitment - for the writer and the reader. I've attended several conferences where first pages are read aloud and a panel of editors/agents stop the reader at the point where they would quit reading. Unfortunately, most don't even get through the first page before someone on the panel calls out, "Stop." When asked why they would have stopped reading at that point, the response is often, "because I didn't care what happens next." It's such a delicate balance. We need action and suspense and conflict...right up front... but a reader also needs enough information to actually care what happens.

Beginnings are all about balance. Caring about the character is critical, but too much backstory up front kills the momentum. My former novel writing teacher at Rice University had an uncanny knack of pointing out where a story should start. When I stood at the podium nervously reading out loud my first chapter to a crowded class of graduate students, I could see him out of the corner of my eye drawing big red "X"s through my pages. When I finished, he would stand up and loudly declare, waving the pages around in an overdramatic flourish, "THIS is where we shall begin. The rest is backstory. We shall put it in later."

He was always right.

Sometimes it was three paragraphs down on the first page. Sometimes it was on page three. And sometimes, and this was the worst, it wasn't even in the first chapter. Gradually I began to see it, too. Mostly with other people's stories (isn't that the way it always is?). I still wish there was a big red flashing cursor that would light up the text and say, "START HERE." (Maybe someone could develop an App for that? Bret?)

Beginnings take work. Sometimes you have to write (a lot) to discover that beginning. After getting something down on the page, I ask myself could the story start somewhere else? Top of page three? Beginning of chapter two? If I keep coming back to the same point of time in the story, I know I have my beginning. If I don't, no words were wasted. Those chapters needed to be written before I could find a starting point, or sometimes I just needed to know that information in order to start at a new point.

Beginnings are worth it. The topic of beginnings is especially close to my heart right now. Not only do I need to have a knock-out beginning brewing for book two, but guess what I'm receiving today (I'm stalking the UPS man right now)?

ARCs of SKINNY! It's the beginning of my debut novel's trip out into the world. I hope it's met with welcoming hearts.

Cheers to beginnings.


ooo exciting!

Yeh beginnings are sooo troublesome. I hope mine is right.

Great point, that the words weren't wasted, even if they don't get used for the "real" beginning.

Have you read HOOKED by Les Edgerton? It's only about beginnings. I found it helpful...even when it sent me in ten different directions for one of my beginnings.

Congrats on the ARCs!

A previous critique group I was a part of - man I miss them - often had a knack of helping people find the true beginning of a story. Even with the WiP I'm working now, I've started in different places, but never really felt the story began until I reached a certain point, so I tossed the rest of the "beginning" and started where it felt...right.

Your baby is on it's way out into the world. I wish you much success as Skinny steps out.

Thank you for this post! I'm mentally preparing myself to start a new story and it helps me rethink the direction I should take.

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