Tuesday, July 15, 2008

In the Beginning...

It's funny, how inspiration works sometimes. A few months ago, I was positive my muse was dead. Dead. Dead. DEAD. I was in the midst of editing two books, settling in to a new house, dealing with my son's various therapies - so to put it mildly, I was a little stretched out.

I was fried.

I didn't have any ideas for new stories and that was fine because the absolutely last thing I wanted to do was write. For the first time in as long as I could remember, I just didn't. Want. To Write.

Well, I'm happy to say that my aversion to writing has been and gone. Isn't it funny how that works? One minute, you're sure you'll never have another original thought - never mind an original book idea - and then the next? Presto! Cue the orchestra - inspiration strikes!

Okay, so a basic idea forms. You know who the hero is, you know who the heroine is. You might even have names for them (most of the time, I do. But sometimes? I just don't have that perfect name.) And you know that, eventually, they are going to ride off into the sunset together.

But when does the story begin and how are they going to arrive at the sunset?

The beginning is important, of course, since it's where the readers first make contact with these people, whose journey they'll share for the next 300-400 pages. Well, that kind of goes without saying, right? Yep, but that beginning can be tricky.

When I start a story, chances are pretty good that one of the main characters will be completely unknown to me. Sometimes they are both strangers - but in both of the WIP I've got going, the main characters were introduced as secondary characters in other books.

Okay, so I know at least one half already.

But the other one is an absolutely stranger.

One of the biggest mistakes a newbie writer makes is to take all everything that they know about that character and just plunk - drop it into the beginning of the story. There. Done and out of the way, right?

Um... no...

If I'm just picking up this book, I don't know this hero or heroine well enough to care about his or her past quite yet. And so, why should I let you (the writer) basically bore me with 50 pages of how the heroine (or hero) arrived at the actual beginning of the story?

Now, it's pretty natural to dump all that stuff into the beginning - do it in the first draft, if you absolutely must. But take it out. If it doesn't propel the story forward, take it out.

Of course, to the writer, it does propel the story, right? Take Eden's Pass, for example. Finn's being a slave is why she runs away, so it's why she ends up on Inigo's ship, right?

**shakes head** No.

Yes, it explains why she ran, but the actual story begins about five minutes before Inigo defeats the ship carrying Finn.

In earlier drafts, I wrote it from different starting points. All much earlier than the battle that ended up being the opening. And it helped me learn who Finn really was, but no one else would have cared at that point - so it had to go.

It can be tough, figuring out exactly where the story begins - so I try to start as close to the action as I can. In Eden's Pass, as I said, the story actually began, not with Finn's running away from the plantation, but where she encounters Inigo Sebastiano for the first time. In You Belong to Me, the story started a little earlier because there were details necessary for explaining why Brenna wakes up to find two strange men in her bedroom.

So while it can be difficult to find out just where your story starts, it's also one of (if not the) most important element. Chances are good that, if the reader is bored by the first chapter, they will not read beyond. And that is something no writer wants to see happen.


Jen said...

Oh, boy, beginnings...they're such FUN, aren't they?

Ha! Sometimes, I am horribly tempted to just begin wherever, and then go back to fill in the beginning when I reach The End.

Funnily enough, I never have that problem with short stories or flash fiction. The whole story arc is usually pretty clear to me, and I have to do little tinkering with the story's structure. Novels, though. *sigh*

Interesting topic, Kim. *thumbs up*

Kim said...

I can't write short stories... I just. can't. I'm envious of those of you who can...

I've done the info dump in first drafts and just gone back and taken it out later. I've also just begun the story wherever - basically, whatever it takes to get the words on the paper. =)