Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Beginnings

How’s the writing going for you? (I know, you just told me a few days ago, but it was so nice to hear others going through the same processes, that I’m asking again. It makes me feel like I’m not writing alone!)

I threw away my plot a week ago, when I mistakenly discussed it with DH. Yesterday, I decided to unthrow it away, after thinking about it again. It’s the story that I need to tell. I hope I can pull it off!

I’m starting to enjoy the slower pace of summer. I wish I could carry that pace all year long! So yesterday I was studying beginnings, while letting the story take shape in my head. Of the thrillers I studied, the beginnings I liked best had these five elements:

1) Immediate Danger: The action and suspense started right away, with danger motivating the characters to do something.

2) Vividness: The language is colorful and the verbs are strong and active.

3) Atmosphere: Close to #2, but it’s not just the verbs and vividness. The atmosphere of the book is set right away, whether it’s dark, noir, hard, funny, etc.

4) Starts the End: I don’t know how else to explain it, but the best beginnings ’start the end.’ They foreshadow and hook into the plot that will drive the whole book. For example, if someone is kidnapped, then we know the whole book is going to be about the rescue. The question is how, and who will get killed in the process? The beginning starts with a situation that the rest of the book tries to fix.

5) Shows Character: The best writers manage to draw the main characters completely and instantly, in one or two sentences. Stephen King is best at this; we instantly know who his characters are and what they’re like on the first page. Of course, the author fleshes out the character more and more over the course of the novel, but we get a strong first impression.

All the beginnings I liked had these five elements within the first page or two. Amazing! That’s a lot to ask for in a couple pages! I have a feeling this first chapter is going to take me a couple weeks to write, but then it should be much easier going. I hope!

9 bonus scribbles:

Karen Olson 6/27/2007 11:48:00 AM  

You're talking beginnings, I just finally finished the first draft of my fourth book. So endings are totally on my plate right now. I love beginnings. Everything's so new, the story's ready to be told. By the time I reach those last pages, I need to figure out how to wrap everything up in a nonconvoluted way. So difficult.

spyscribbler 6/27/2007 12:01:00 PM  

I hear you. I hate endings so much! They're so hard! I keep meaning to do a study on great endings some day. A little more difficult, because you have to read the whole book!

The next week that I take off and go camping and read a book a day, I'll study the endings.

Susan Helene Gottfried 6/27/2007 04:25:00 PM  

I need time, man. Summer's wonderful, but I'm with the kids a hella lot more.

Hang in there. Sometimes, you never know if it'll work until you spend months with it.

Joan Swan 6/27/2007 04:52:00 PM  

Great reminders, Spy! I love the comment about beginning the end. So true. I always rewrite my beginning after I've finished a novel. I learned somewhere all great beginnings are written that way, and I believe it.

And BTW, IMHO, you should never throw out a story based on someone elses opinion. I've done it twice, and twice I've come back to my original idea. There are reasons we're drawn to a story, reasons and visions we can't accurately describe to another person except through the story itself.

Hang in there.

avery 6/27/2007 05:32:00 PM  

The writing (of this book, anyway) is temporarily out of my hands. My submission package went out to the first agent a little over an hour ago. So, if you have any spare fingers to cross for me, please do so.

Liz Wolfe 6/27/2007 08:05:00 PM  

This is interesting. Of the two thrillers published, I think the first one started the end, but not the second. But the second one showed her character and it tied into the end (somewhat). To be truthful, I hate both books now because I think (or maybe hope) my writing has improved. The third book (all of these are in a series) started with some necessary explanation about the character. I have a 4th thriller that isn't part of this series and it starts the end, I think.
I need to do some reading in a more analytical way. Probably while I'm on the treadmill.

Bernita 6/28/2007 08:10:00 AM  

Good list.
Now, I wondering if I should end my story with the hunky hero sauntering into her bathroom to parallel the zombie in the opening line....

avery 6/28/2007 12:57:00 PM  

It's been so long since I've written a first chapter, I'm going to have to learn it all over again.

I was on a crazed high/nausea-fest yesterday, so forgive me for not telling you then how useful I found your list. It's something for me to keep in mind when I get going on #2.

The Dark Scribe 6/28/2007 05:15:00 PM  

Excellent list, Spy. My first novel hits on atmosphere and language, and to a lesser degree the action. The action picks up very quickly, though. It definitely doesn't begin the end, although I think it works.

Of course, my second book has all five, and, needless to say, I think it's much better.

Good luck with the beginning!