Where do you start a book?
It’s something that still causes me a bit of confusion. And with confusion comes consternation and with consternation comes stress and panic and whammo, fun goes out the window like a cat fleeing the vacuum cleaner.
So, finding this answer, well, it’s part of my ‘return to the fun of writing’ quest.
It all started after I finished a book that made me think, gosh, they really didn’t start this in the right place. I remember back to a workshop that I took where the presenter looked at my first 20 pages and put the first 15 aside and said, start here, page 16.
Both stories had the same problem.
Both started with a lot of explanation or backstory. It’s like the author saying, ok, hold on a second, before I begin, there’s some stuff you gotta know or else the story isn’t going to make sense. Now, I know it may be a bit boring and may even lack context, but trust me, once the story begins, it’s awesome.
In fact, I think I sent a query like that. Dear Agent, this story is amazing, but you’ll have to read past the first 30 pages, ok, and then, like, it’s super good and you’ll love it.
You have to have conflict and stakes and a strong setting and dialogue and a great opening line and no exposition and surprise and mood and tension and introduce the theme and main character and have a unique voice and…
Come on, is it any wonder we get all stuffed up on the first pages?
I think it’s easier to quantify, though equally hard to do.
Don’t bore the reader.
Ha. That’s like saying just write a great opening chapter, right? What an asshole suggestion.
But here’s the thing. Here’s what makes a good book for me:
Does your character have a problem that needs solving? It doesn’t even have to be the main plot problem. It can be a simple want, like Vonnegut said, your character ‘wants a glass of water.’ Is there something that buggers up his world?
Sure, it can have a bit of backstory. It can lack a wicked opening line. It doesn’t have to have zippy-zappy dialogue. It doesn’t have to have poetically beautiful descriptions or a gun battle with a shark.
But it does have to interest me. Engage me.
There’s a host of ways to engage the reader. All are good. But there’s no magic bullet.
All I can say is that you don’t have to do it all.
Simple as that.
However, you have do something right. Maybe two things. Three would be even better.
That’s the key, I think. I don’t have to do a hundred things in my opening, but I do have a do a few things well. So I’m going to pick my strengths and run with them.
And now here’s my last piece of advice, advice from someone who’s just written the opening three times.
It’s ok to write out a few ideas and see if one is better than the other. Sort of ‘what if?’ yourself. What if I start on the docks rather than the ship, what if I start in rain instead of sun, what if there’s a time factor? Explore the possibilities.
Hey, not all of us are Hemingway or Atwood or King. And who really knows how much they toss away, anyway. Am I right?
Believe it’s ok to toss stuff away. To have some fun with the opening.
And if you don’t get it right, that’s ok, too. You can go back and do your own, ‘wait, cut these 15 pages and start here,’ thing. Everyone’s got their own process. Just get started, get yourself interested in the story, and keep on writing. Have some fun with it.
Cuz if it ain’t fun on some level, it’s about a zillion times harder to do.
I’ll have more on this next week.
But in the meantime, what do you do for your openings? Bev? Sheila? Lisa? I’m looking at you.
Best show last week – Nothing to report, but this week the Walking Dead starts. OMG excited!
Book that I’m reading at the moment – Finished Alan Furst’s, Mission to Paris. I dunno. Sometimes I just don’t get why a book gets published.
Pages written on new book – Not sure but writing every day. I’ll do up a count for next week. Add up the chapters. Change the font to 16. Add a lot of page breaks. I’m hoping the number will look good.
Social media update – Last week’s post on research generated a lot of discussion on Linkedin. Thanks to everyone who participated.
Health – Still sick. But almost better.
Best thing last week – Stepdad blog.
Ok, this will be the last time, but Unforgiven is out in Canada. Written by the politically incorrect, Sean Slater, I honestly believe it’s his best book.
So if you see it anywhere, buy it. Or hit the Amazon link below.