Monday, April 2, 2012

A to Z Challenge: Beginning

To me, beginnings are so important to stories that I devoted special attention to mine for Doorways. Before I even let most of my crits see the post-first-edits version.

After all, first impressions matter.

For some readers, a good opening chapter will make a difference between them closing the book and finishing it. So yeah. It's pretty darn important.

On the other hand, it's common to find people who work their butts off on the first lines and neglecting the rest of the chapter or on the first chapter and neglecting the rest of the book.

It sort of makes me think of a guy with this body:

Credit

And these legs:

Credit

See when we focus on one portion of a book too much at the expense of others, the story could (and often does) come out looking lop-sided.

Most of the places I've read about beginnings talk about hooking readers with the first line. About how important the first lines are and so on. Those aren't wrong, but there's more to hooking a reader than a first line. In fact, I see an excellent first line as something of a bonus. A sweet sensation I enjoy for all of half a second before moving onto the rest of the story.

According to me, the beginnings are there to serve two purposes:

1) To introduce at least one character in a way that draws the reader to the story. If not to the character.
2) To set up the story in a way that leads the reader into the rest of the plot. That's why personally I'm not a huge fan of opening in dream sequences or in the middle of action.

Both of these must be done in a way that moves into the second chapter without a hitch.

It's incredibly important to draw the reader in, but the effort can't stop at the end of the first line or even the first chapter. It stops at the end of the story.

Not a moment before that.

Look Out for These:


1) The beginning differing in tone or pacing from the rest of the story.

2) The characters are introduced, but with telling or in another way that bores or irritates the reader.

3) The opening not setting up the rest of the story plot-wise. If the first chapter doesn't slot into the subsequent chapters in a way that affects the rest of the story, it's better to start somewhere else.

How do you do your beginnings? Do you write it first and make the rest of the story fit, or do you write the story and tailor the beginning to fit?

49 comments:

  1. Excellent. Somewhere a long time ago I read about editing out that first chapter entirely and starting with the second. I actually did this with my MG West Indian ghost story and it did wonders!

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    1. Yeah that's definitely some interesting advice. I, on the other hand, went the other way and started a chapter before my original chapter. :-)

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  2. I've never stressed about the first line or chapter. I think it's a balance between making it effective without over or under thinking it.

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    1. I agree with you there. Still, it's something I had to think about for two drafts before I got mine right.

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  3. I absolutely agree with you, Misha. Great first lines are more like a bonus. But if the rest of the first chapter doesn't hook me, then I usually close the book.
    Nice reminder, especially since so much emphasis has been placed on first lines.

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    1. Thanks! I'm glad you liked my post.

      I'm one of those people who will bravely trudge through a bad opening. Very rarely do I put a book down. Still, I know, because I have a reader like that in my family.

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  4. Point taken. I feel a little sorry for your man in the second photo. Someone you know? If so, tell him I have scrawny leg sympathy. Good luck with the challenge.

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    1. Hahaha no I'd never do that to someone I knew. I got the picture from flickr in the creative commons, so I assume that the photographer (it's his legs) wouldn't mind. ;-)

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  5. I am an author (aspiring) as well and this is so true...if the first chapter of a book I'm reading sucks, I'll put it down and never return to it.

    Great post!
    Blessings to you!

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  6. I agree with you. A great first line/paragraph/chapter has to fall right into a great next chapter.

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    1. Yep it's definitely the one of the most important things about editing the beginning.

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  7. I rewrote the first line of my last book so many times. I finally hit on something that worked well and was in tune with the rest of the story.

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    1. Yeah it can take a while to get the first line right. I took two drafts and months of editing before I hit on the right opening.

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  8. The juxtaposition between those two photos was hysterical! I agree - openings are so important. I rewrote mine (again) after I had the rest of the draft completed and edited.

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    1. Hehehehe I thought so too when I put them up.

      I also did my first chapter after I finished rewriting and after a lot of editing.

      My original first chapter is now the second. :-D

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  9. First impressions generate a lot of pressure. Best not to know when one is making them.

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    1. Still, it's good to keep in mind when editing. Write with your heart, edit with your head.

      :-)

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  10. Personally, I follow the rule of every chapter should be like a Cliffhanger

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    1. Great rule to follow. Usually, I try to follow it as well, but it can be hard to get right.

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  11. Great post! Those tips are crucial. I try to hit a happy ground with openings. Southern stories traditionally require a longer set-up as there wasn't much to do to in the evenings but sit on the stoop and tell stories. So I'm always looking for creative ways to stick to my craft.

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    1. I'm glad you liked my post.

      Yes I can see what you mean about the longer set-up. It works. As long as the set-up isn't longer than the parts being set up. ;-)

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  12. I have to say that your pictorial comparison is just too priceless. And I agree that beginnings are very important for the hook but if the reader is bored after the first chapter, they'll be a mouth-piece telling others about the book and wouldn't want that happening.

    When it comes to beginnings, I've stopped trying to get the first chapter absolutely perfect for that first draft. I try to dump that first one out of me and go back to rework things. That can give me a chance to find where scenes can be moved to work better and provide me with a chance to locate that strong beginning...which often isn't the first paragraph originally written.

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    1. Hehehe it is brilliant how well they fit together.

      I also write my drafts first before fixing the opening. Just works better that way for me. :-D

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  13. I usually work on the beginning to match the rest of the story. The rest of the novel is so much longer, anyway. :)

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  14. So true that the beginning gets overworked and the rest often underworked. I think I do that sometimes. But I'm trying to improve!

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    1. So true. And the sad thing is that overworking any part of a story leads to a bigger problem than a lopsided story: Loss of soul.

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  15. The beginning of my first novel changed about seven times based on critiques and such. In the end, it started in the original spot. LOL

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    1. Lol sometimes the first way was the best way.

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  16. good info. thanks. i hope you meet your goal.

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  17. Such a good point. As with everything else it's a matter of finding that balance. And if I could do that, these revisions would be easy :-)

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    1. Oh yes, maintaining balance in revisions is key. Without it, you could do more harm than good to a story.

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  18. Great post. I spent five years writing my first book, The Guardian's Wildchild. Then edited for another three years. When it was ready for the publisher, I reworked the first chapter, especially the very first line. By then I had more experience in grabbing a reader's attention. My intention was to make every reader my prisoner throughout every chapter.
    Feather

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    1. You sound like me lol. Been working on Doorways for a total of 5 years now. :-D

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  19. I usually have great beginnings and then struggle to matchup the rest to that standard!

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    1. That's why I never write without knowing something about the ending as well. It's easier to keep up the quality if you know where you're headed. :-D

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  20. I haven't advanced far enough in my writing to have a preference either way, but you are so right. Beginnings are crucial, but not at the expense of the rest of the book!

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    1. I agree with you there. The whole book should be on the same level.

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  21. I try not to worry about the overall hook sentence. Not to say that I don't do my best to engage the reader from the get-go, but you're right, I don't want to end up with a lop-sided story. I try and bring in the character/s and interest the reader from there.

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    1. I think that's the best way to do it. :-)

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  22. This makes me think of when I start revising my list of blog posts working backwards and never make it to the end, so sometimes I start with the oldest posts and work forward just so I don't get lopsided.

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  23. I enjoyed this post and loved your use of visuals. :)

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    1. Glad to hear it! Thanks for visiting my blog. :-)

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  24. That was really funny to see the top part of a man having great body with lean legs...

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