Friday, 30 January 2009

In The Beginning

At the start of the creative process, there's a rush of ideas, right? And sometimes you see the key points in the book clearly, and you know what you're working towards, right? Those bits are going to be good.

But what do you do when you don't have a key point for a beginning?

Quite often, I have to start writing and put down a scene/chapter that I know won't make it to the final version, but it's the only beginning I have in my head. I know it's wrong, but what else can I do? And then it bothers me, sometimes throughout the writing of the entire book, until I get that click and know what needs to go there instead.

Do you get that? Or can't you start until you know exactly what the start is?


Tim Stretton said...

In only one of my four novel-length fictions has my initial opening scene been the one I ended up with. For me, the intial opening scene is the way into the story--but by the end, the story has usually changed.

Matt Curran said...

Before The Hoard of Mhorrer, I had almighty problems with beginnings. Without realising it, I would start in the middle, and then force myself back to write an extended prelude. Or I’d start way too early into the story and then have to trim great swathes of prose until I got to the meat of the tale.
For example, the first draft of The Secret War began with the main characters, William and Kieran, charging into battle against the French artillery at Waterloo. It was a great opening in terms of action and adventure, but it was so full on and bloody that I realised nothing in the book could match it. So I cut it out and began with the aftermath of Waterloo instead. (The aborted beginning still lies on my laptop and I’ve considered re-drafting the chapter as a short story - we’ll see).

For the last two books I've known how to start them and how to end them, and the starts have never changed over the course of drafting. So after writing four previous problem-novels, this is a blessed relief. Having said that, I'm sure there'll come a time when I think a start won't work - when I'll be forced to change it as I did with The Secret War. I guess writers have to expect the unexpected.
Sometimes things work. Sometimes they don’t and you begin again. And again. And again (sob!)

Ann Weisgarber said...

Aliya, this is such a great topic.

I find that writing "the start" as you put it so well, is very intimidating. It carries so much weight: it has to anchor the reader to who, time, place, and conflict. But for me, the biggest challenge is finding the voice of the narrator.

I have to put the intimidation factor aside and give myself the time to daydream about the narrator. I have to see her in my mind's eye and I have to allow her to talk. Eventually she tells me where to begin her story.

Until she does, though, I'll write possible first chapters that may or may not make the final cut. I guess it's all part of the process of getting to know someone well enough to tell her story.

Frances said...

Aliya, have you tried the 'in medias res' thing? Just taking something from what might be the middle of your story, and starting with that as a (maybe) prologue? I find this helps to spread the story outwards, and then you find the beginning from there. Does that makes sense? (I've just shared a rather nice bottle of wine, so perhaps this isn't the best moment to offer sound advice ...)

David Isaak said...

I'm odd man out here, I guess. I fidgit and scratch until what seems like a promising, compelling beginning--for something--comes to me, and then I hammer it out. And, so far, my initial openings always remain in place.

My problem is with the entire rest of the book.

I don't recommend my approach, but it seems to be what I'm stuck with. I don't understand a dman thing about my story or chracters until I'm writing.

The late Donald Westlake, in his Richard Stark persona, started his very first Parker novel (Point Blank) with a brutish guy tromping across a New York bridge and snarling at any driver who stopped to offer him a ride. He claims he wrote the whole novel to figure out who this guy was and what was happening.

Samantha Tonge said...

I absolutely can't start until i know what the beginning is. I'm not so fussed about the end - or the middle for that matter - but that first chapter for me contains the seed for the whole book.

My first chapters rarely change on the rewrite. Maybe that's where i'm going wrong!