Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Begin at the Beginning

Let's see, where to begin?

That's the question all novelists face. The struggle with the beginning is so common as to be universal. Where does the story start? How do you make it gripping, unique, and yet reveal character?

Agents and readers tell us over and over that there has to be a hook, that you have to grab the reader by the throat and hold them there (Agent Kristin is blogging about it again today). Oftentimes the first 5 pages is the only part of your mss an agent will had better be strong and captivating. But it also has to fit with the rest of your novel. What's the point of having an action-packed opening scene, if the next one drops to gathering flowers?

I had the usual problems with the opening of TMT. The first version, nigh on 6 years ago, started with (God, I can't believe I'm admitting this) my MC looking in the mirror. That's right, the original let-me-look-in-the-mirror-and-describe-myself. {groan} My early critiquers were very kind, but let's just say I learned. I re-worked.

The second major version started with my MC alone in the house, then sneaking out to see her love interest. Some conflict, I thought, but also some chance to establish the medieval setting and character. It was better.

Diana Gabaldon read that version in 2004, and gave me some valuable advice. "It's good," she said, " reads more like a second scene to me. Why don't you start with more immediate, direct conflict? Maybe an argument?" The lightbulb went on over my head. An argument! Better, a real confrontation! The central conflict in the beginning is between my MC and her father, over the man. Why not let them go at it, right away? It would establish the characters' positions and conflicts, throw in some medieval mindset...and it would be interesting. The second scene is where she sneaks out, which suddenly has deeper meaning because the reader understands how much is at stake. (Thank you, Diana!)

I think I've got it now: the tension, the hook, the characters. The "right place". When I brought it to Surrey last year, I showed it to Anne Perry, nervously. Would she say the same thing as Diana? Would it still not be enough? She read the 3 pages in silence, while I fidgeted. Finally she looked up. "What's wrong with this?" she said. "You just need an agent."

Whew. Begin at the beginning.

Medieval Word of the Day: fruiteress: A female seller of fruit.


sara said...

Ah, the dreaded beginning. *g* It's pretty darn difficult to judge when you've got it nailed, I've got to agree. I recently wrote a new beginning myself (after fiddling with different ideas), but I am by no means sure if this one is The One. *sigh*

/Sara E.

Susan Adrian said...


I don't think anyone's sure this one is The One until the book is out on the shelves. Maybe not even then. {g}