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It was a dark and stormy night… April 12, 2013

Posted by thejinx in enduring chaos, writing.
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Everyone knows that the beginning and the ending to a novel are the two most important parts of it. They are the initial hook to draw in the reader and the final payoff that the reader leaves with. If nothing else is worthy in the novel, they must be strong.

I will admit I tend not to give these parts their due attention. I love writing the middle; the gradual buildup of tension, the unveiling of story, the process of change the characters go through, putting pieces into place and assembling them together. To me, beginnings have always been a means to an end. Generally, I get an idea for how to open the story and once it’s written it changes little, because that’s not what I want to focus on.

I also perhaps don’t view novel openings the way I should; I am so immersed in my own world that I don’t look at it as a new reader would and try to see it from the point of view of someone who doesn’t have all the knowledge I do. The idea for the opening to a novel that gets lodged in my head often hits all the main points I need to address anyway, so usually only minor revision is required to clean it up to the point where I can call it finished. Of course, I also haven’t finished many novels, so I don’t have many openings that I can look at from the standpoint of a complete story and decide whether it suits the purpose effectively.

Halcyon was the first time an opening I wrote saw a drastic change from my initial idea. Upon actually writing it, I soon discovered my original idea for the opening might work well for a movie, but it lacked something for a novel. I suppose drastic isn’t necessarily the right word for the change I made to it, as I found merely starting the same scene a little bit earlier gave me the right opportunity to ease into the strange new world I created, which was perhaps the largest challenge to writing the beginning of the book, as well as giving me the chance to lay in hints that paid off later. Ultimately, it didn’t end up that different from my original idea, just a little longer.

Enduring Chaos, on the other hand, posed a much greater challenge with its opening. It has been rewritten several times as I tried to hone in on hook, relevancy, and character introduction, with much of my focus going toward the last, a tricky endeavor on its own, and losing the other points in the process. In my last attempt, I ended up resorting to a Google search on writing openings, and, after carefully considering the advice I found, decided that starting the story later served its purpose better.

It is, in fact, a pretty simple and basic piece of advice for writing the opening of a story: start it at the last possible moment. This was where I went wrong with the many attempts I made at the opening of the novel; there was so much history with the character and with the world that I was trying to portray enough to give the reader an idea of what they were in for, and I lost the hook and indeed the relevancy of the opening. I was trying to introduce the main character’s home life and ease into the story, things that don’t really impact the story, when all I needed to do was to show her leaving.

I still lament losing an exchange that provided some otherwise much more hidden character insight, as well as foreshadowing to a future book I would have loved to keep in. Ultimately, however, for the sake of the hook and relevancy, that dialogue had to disappear into the pre-story abyss. After that last change, I think I finally have the opening to a point in which I’m satisfied with it, but we shall see how it plays out when I reread the story after my edits are complete, as well as what others think of it.

Next time, because this post ended up decidedly too long to keep it together as I initially intended: endings.

How do you approach the opening of a story? Do you write it first or do you come back to it later? Do you find it particularly challenging?

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