Monday, February 27, 2006

First chapter crazies

Beginnings are brutal. The blank page sits there, mocking our impotence. Sometimes, just to shut it up, we throw down the first words that come to mind (even if it's "All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy."), then recoil in a mad fit of deletion.

The blank page represents infinite possibilities. There's nothing so perfect as the unwritten novel. We see it all laid out in our minds, like a kid ready to build his first sand castle: it'll have moats, and spires, and windows, and...and a drawbridge! My sand castles always looked more like sand shanties--even the serfs wouldn't want to live in them. I'd get discouraged because it wasn't what I imagined.

At the beginning of a journey, you can go in any direction, but after that first step, you officially have a Path. What if it's the wrong path? That kind of thinking can drive you nuts and result in a major case of writer's block, but it's true. It's difficult to go back in later drafts and change the beginning, because it has more of a set-in-stone feeling than any other scene.

Until I started selling proposals, I always began a novel somewhere in the middle, with whatever scene I found most compelling, then I'd go back and write the beginning once I had a good sense of the characters. Now I submit the first X chapters of a book along with an outline, which is great from a business perspective. But it means I end up polishing and revising the beginning before I've written the rest of the book. Talk about chiseled in granite.

When I look back at opening lines from my novels, I realize that most of them stayed as originally written, even if the scene as a whole changed. That first moment of inspiration somehow worked.

So here's the first line of Voice of Crow:
The forest breathed.
We'll see if it sticks.



I know what you mean. I've written one long story myself, not with the intention of publishing but just because I had a story in my head that wouldn't leave me alone till I wrote it. I'd worked out the whole story, even the ending before sitting down to write it, then I found that certain events in the book just came along and changed the way I was going with the ending. It's like the characters and the story itself dictate where it's going, you are just along for the ride.

Posted by: Blogger Unknown at 2/27/2006 10:19 AM

Absolutely. With Eyes of Crow, I stuck close to the (publisher-approved) outline with my first draft. Problem was, around the middle of the book the main character did something totally, well, out of character but in accordance with the outline. I had to do major rewriting in a later draft. Then in THAT draft she did something else uncharacteristic (and kind of stupid) because the story required it. Thanks to a band of astute readers, I got it all worked out, but it took several drafts and lots of time.

Huh. I never realized until just now how many problems were caused by feeling locked into that outline.

Posted by: Blogger Jeri at 2/27/2006 10:54 AM

That opening line grabs me in the same way, "Call me Ishmael" does.


Posted by: Anonymous Anonymous at 2/27/2006 1:50 PM

Oh please.

Posted by: Blogger Jeri at 2/27/2006 2:04 PM

If we're going classic literature, my favorite was Frankenstein. That was a great classical novel.

Posted by: Blogger Unknown at 2/28/2006 1:51 AM

Oh, I mean what I said. It's the meter of the lines, and the mystery behind them that grab.


Posted by: Anonymous Anonymous at 2/28/2006 12:35 PM

Aww, thanks. Now if I could just get the rest of the chapter to not suck, I'd be in good shape.

Posted by: Blogger Jeri at 2/28/2006 12:45 PM

I'm days late in reading this, but I am again reminded of "Throw Momma From the Train." Billy Crystal's character struggling with the first line of his book, "The night was...." He was unable to find the right adjective.

Posted by: Blogger Andrew at 3/06/2006 3:43 PM

And I like the openning line. I'll now read the next few posts and see if it survived ;-).

Posted by: Blogger Andrew at 3/06/2006 3:44 PM

It's still there.

Posted by: Blogger Jeri at 3/06/2006 4:28 PM

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