…or, these days, the blank computer screen. Every true writer’s mind has a story just dying to get out of it, yet this doesn’t necessarily make getting started any easier. Following up directly on my previous post regarding the writing conference I attended last weekend (sponsored by the organization Room to Write), one of the topics we addressed was beginnings, which cannot be more critical to a story, particularly if you want to get it published.
First of all, as far as how you begin to write each day, the key is: 1) ensuring that you do write every day, even if just a few sentences; and, 2) the authors leading the conference particularly advised us to write first thing in the morning. That is when our heads can be freshest and leave us feeling for the rest of the day that we’ve already accomplished something massive (so you don’t have to feel guilty taking that nap 🙂 ). While I wish I could discipline myself to haul my keester out of bed earlier than the minimum allowable time for getting ready for work, I have to admit I have my most significant rush of ideas in the morning as I shower, as though I’m massaging them out of me noggin as I shampoo my hair. I always hate that I have to leave for work soon after then, just when I’m in the groove and risk losing the momentum by the time I return home drained from the daily toil.
As far as the actual beginning of our story or novel, we must note that the first chapter (indeed, first page) is the “imprint of the entire book.” The sense of place and voice established in that first page predicts the rest of the book. My tutors also stressed the impact of including a sense of smell right from the getgo, as it creates a lingering impression unlike the other senses (and is unfortunately one of the most underutilized, as I’ve mentioned before in my “Smell No Evil” post).
With regard to place, we were advised to give places names, even if it’s a fake name to anonymize an actual place. In this way, a place, if prevalent enough to the story, can become a character in itself. Closely related in terms of setting, the time period in which our story takes place should be implied well enough to give a clear sense, yet we don’t have to preach to the reader when exactly it is.
With regard to the sample of best-selling novels we read in preparation for the course, we evaluated the following common denominators that we noted across each of their beginnings:
– Drama or sense of impending danger
– Character (be it the main character’s name or an archetype to be represented throughout)
– Setting (again, the sense of time and place)
– Conflict (at least a sense of the issue at the crux of the story)
– “Filmic”—i.e., achieves ready visualization and engagement through drama and descriptive language
Finally, we may have a strong temptation to overly explain some aspect of the story right out the gate, be it the character, setting, conflict, etc. To avoid this, we need to give our reader credit and exercise restraint—we can always introduce this information in a creative way later on.
I do believe I am at the end of discussing beginnings, so meet me here next time for a few words on dialogue.