Well, okay, yeah. Sometimes. Maybe.
I do like beginnings – love that fresh page, that clean slate, the endless, hopeful possibilities for this embryonic story.
But here’s my dirty little secret – beginnings are hard. Often I don’t know where the story begins until I’ve reached the middle or possibly the end of the first draft. I need to tell it in the order in which it comes out – sometimes bullet point outlined, sometimes just riding the wave as it comes, usually a combination of both. I stop and start and pull my hair and drink vats of green tea or coffee or maybe a touch of the Jameson’s if it’s later at night. I get to know my characters. I find out who their friends are. Other characters appear – a doctor at the hospital, a neighbor, a friend I had no idea existed. Sometimes they arrive as devices, sometimes they just arrive unannounced. “Hey,” some new dude tells me. “I’m in this story, too.” I stop again – see what he has to say. Usually it’s something that needs to be said.
And then, when the characters are fleshed out and the story has wound around and I’ve figured out the climax and the turning point and the various beats and how it all works into my general view of the world, I go back to the beginning.
Usually, I begin again. Not the whole novel; I know writers who say they do that – write the whole thing then throw it out. This gives me the willies. But the beginning – that I’ll write again. And maybe three or four more times after that. I may discover that the story actually starts in what is chapter two or three. I cut. I rearrange. In one case, I realized that the wrong character was telling the story. The girl he’s meant to be with is telling it now; I call this book “Luck Number 11.” That’s not the real title. But I’ve redone the beginning so many times and searched for the right way to tell the story that it might as well be. Stuff like that sucks. But when I get it right, I’ll be proud to see it on a shelf.
If I asked you what was the first thing you wanted to have people know about you and your journey, you’d probably pause and think. I have to do that when I’m writing, too.
How about you? Anyone else found a beginning that really wasn’t?