Monday, October 3, 2011

Let's Start At The Very Beginning...Or Not.

As I revise my first draft, one of my challenges has been the fact that I am not a linear writer. My novel currently stands as a collection of documents, scenes that have been written out of order because that is the way they have developed for me.

My writing is a visual experience. I see scenes in my head, like a movie. The story begins when I put pen to paper but it's not the actual beginning per say. If I do my part, looking and listening, the story takes flight quite easily. However the assembling of these pieces into a cohesive whole is another matter.

For starters, I have been struggling with the question, "What is the start of my story?" It would seem obvious, "Start at the beginning..." but there's more to consider with this thought. It's not enough to merely introduce characters and set up a scene. I know I have to offer something more, a compelling read. In this regard, beginnings can present a lot of trappings for novelists. One has to be careful to avoid lengthy introductions, questionable use of tension (too much as well as too little) and sparing use of the ol' writer's friend, the flashback. If used ineffectively, any of these elements can turn into a stumbling block for readers.

Knowing all this, I have been reading through my work over and over trying to decide, what stays, what goes and what ultimately should be my page 1. It hasn't been easy. I've rewritten my beginning several times now, maybe even one too many. There's a frustration in admitting that.

I began writing this post ready to admit my disappointment, figuring something has to give and then I came to realize that maybe that something was me. 
I've placed a lot of importance on knowing my exact beginning and I had to ask why?

A part of me wants the beginning to be done, set in stone, perfect and yet another part of me knows this is a naive thought in the midst of a first revision. Thanks to fellow bloggers, I know I am not alone in this thought. They remind me that thinking like this gives no room to the possibility of discovering something new as I make my way through the revision process which is the goal at this time. 

So I've decided to let go of knowing my beginning and moving on to another section of my manuscript. If I have any additional thoughts or movies in my head, I will just jot them down in a notebook for the next revision.

In the meantime, I just have to remind myself that some things written will serve me as a writer to understand my characters, most things written should serve the reader to want to turn the page but everything I keep should serve the story's plot. 

Yes, just knowing all that makes for a good start.

What's your feeling about beginnings? How many times have you rewritten your novel, short story, blog post or email?


  1. My beginning has mostly stayed the same through countless revisions and critiques, yet it has become stronger with the feedback and knowledge I receive. It's so cool to see how it evolves!


  2. Nancy,
    This post really resonated with me. I spent more time on the first page and the first chapter of my novel than any other section. I was never satisfied with it. In the end, I chucked the first four chapters entirely and wrote a new beginning scene. My problem was that my first-person main character was 10 years old at the start of the story and I never got his voice right. I wasn't the only one who thought so. An agent told me the same thing. My revised beginning starts the story when the boy is 14, a far easier voice to write. The opening scene foreshadows the major dramatic event of the first half of the story. I also rewrote the third chapter. You may want to look at where the most dramatic event in the beginning of your story occurs. That could be a good place to start. Or not. It's your story and you have the best feel for how it should begin. Good luck!

  3. Thanks all for the feeback - the writing continues!

    Chris, I agree with you on starting with an opening scene tied to a dramatic event. One of my challenges has been to carry the tension and build levels of foreshadowing around it.

  4. That's how Diana Gabaldon, one of my favorite authors, writes. She just writes bits and pieces of thing as they come to her and figures out later how they all go together.

    She has written quite a lot about this. It's very interesting. I am a very linear writer because I think that's the way it "should" be.

    Really hoping Nanowrimo makes my process more experimental and joyous!

    Thanks for the very thought-provoking post Nancy (even though I'm a little late to the party. :-) )

  5. Thanks for your comment Sheri. These days I'm striving for a happy medium between my left and right brain ways of writing. It's great that you can start with the beginning. I may very well end with it but Nano will always be a great way to get the writing on the page. Good luck to you in November.

  6. I hate beginnings and I rewrite them innumerable times before I submit (and even after). Finding the right place to begin, the right tone, the right way to introduce the reader to my characters and situation is the single most difficult thing about writing for me. No doubt about it. I write like you: scenes come as they will, and I stitch them together like a quilt, relying on subsequent drafts to make them into a real novel.

  7. Hi Maryanne - fellow right brainer - I agree, the more I dive into my novel, the more I realize how MUCH is required of the beginning. To do it justice I think I have to leave it for now and tackle the rest of the story. Glad to hear from you :-)