Sunday, October 14, 2018

In the Beginning, Again

In my previous post, I discussed finding the right place to begin a story. I discovered I had more to share about beginnings, so I’m writing another blog. Beginning, Part 2, if you will.

As a writing contest judge, I often read stories that start at the wrong point in the story. Naturally, aspiring writers believe that by the time they have shined their story up to put into a contest, they have found the perfect beginning.

Not always.

Beginnings are often difficult to find, but they are crucial.
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Their job is to hook the reader and sometimes a writer forgets to do that. Yes, Alice got up that morning and fixed herself a cup of coffee, ate a bagel with cream cheese, showered, washed and dried her hair, brushed her teeth, got dressed in her favorite navy blue dress, ad nauseam.

After an aspring writer works his or her way through Alice’s morning rituals, he or she often adds something along the lines: “As she left her apartment, little did she know her life was about to change.”

What!? If her life’s about to change, START with the change!

A writer not only needs to hook the reader with an intriguing beginning, but the writer also needs to lure the reader into reading more.

I’m not saying a writer doesn’t need to know Alice’s back story. How she goes about getting ready for work can tell the writer a lot about Alice. It can also tell the reader a lot about her. But the writer has to convince the reader to stick around to learn more about Alice.

This means the reader has to be captivated by Alice from the first paragraph. It’s the difference between boring back story and back story that that adds zest and flavor to the story. Being able to tell the difference and use it when you write is part of learning to write well.

A writer has to learn how to weave elements into a story in such a way as to capture the reader’s interest. It isn’t necessary to know the right place to begin a story when you first start writing it so don’t let it bog you down. Just keep writing. Remember the early stages of writing is the creative stage. You want to let ideas flow. Your inner critic must be turned off.

If you struggle with the perfect beginning, don’t let it keep you from writing your story. Instead, write an easy opening that gets the project started knowing you can come back later once you have a firmer grip on the story. Your first sentence can be something like:

This story is about Alice dealing with the aftermath of a car accident.

There, the opening sentence is out of the way. You’re free to write your story, secure in the knowledge you have an opening and that it isn’t written in stone. When that perfect opening hits you, just paste it into Chapter One.

I try to keep my beginnings as strong as possible because my goal is to grab the reader’s attention and invite her or him into my story world. This version of the opening of Stealing Destiny won Best-of-Show in the Authorlink Contest awarded at a Harriette Austin Writers’ Conference.

The Yankee dropped out of the sky, landing in front of Billie and Destiny with a graceful thump. The tree limb over the trail snapped upward, relieved of the man's weight. Destiny shied backward, startled by the moving oak limb as well as the blue clad apparition.

I don’t think this is a bad opening, but I did revise it and the book won a contract with this beginning:

A gunshot cracked the summer morning air. Startled, Destiny shied backward with a frightened whinny. Billie hugged the horse’s neck, her body tensed for the searing pain of a bullet. In a shower of leaves, a Yankee swaddled in an oak branch dropped out of the sky to land in front of her and Destiny.


Sometimes the beginning is easy, sometimes it’s hard. My advice is to write until you find it.