I have now officially begun writing my novel, The Rope, the Tire, and the Tree. After completing the lengthy, yet necessary prep work (refer to my previous post for the details on that), I have written the first pages of my novel.
I already blocked out my chapters, so I already had an idea in mind of how to open the novel. However, once I wrote the first lines of my first chapter, I realized this was not how I wanted to begin the story at all. It just didn’t feel right, and if it doesn’t feel right to the writer, then it won’t feel right to the reader! I did a little research, a lot of pacing, and a whole lot of thinking until I finally realized the problem.
When we think about a story, we think of a series of events that starts here, then goes there, and ends someplace else. So, when we start to write a novel, we often feel a need to begin at the beginning, at that place where the story starts, and that’s exactly what I did. So, why didn’t it work? It didn’t work because, * gulp *, it was boring. In my first post of this blog titled "Taking the Labor Out of Starting a Story," I talk about this very problem, so I am surprised that I didn’t follow my own advice when blocking out my chapters in the first place. However, I quickly, and thankfully, recognized the error of my ways.
Think about it for a moment. What happens at the beginning of things? Not much. A person or a group of people are sitting or standing around doing mostly mundane things and it isn’t until that extraordinary something happens that the action starts. Why do we feel the need to start with the mundane and work our way into the action? The answer is, we shouldn’t feel that way. If we don’t start at the beginning, then where do we start our story? Answer number two; en medias res, in the middle of things. More specifically, in the middle of the action. The opening lines of your story should directly connect with the core or your plot.
Using the examples from my first post, if you are writing about a college football player who dreams of being a pro, then start the story on the football field. If your story is about a town threatened by deadly forces from outer space, then begin the story with a spacecraft crash landing in the middle of a Midwestern town. If the plot of your novel circles around finding a serial killer who preys on college women with long dark hair, then open your novel with the murder of one of these women. From there you can either flashback or move forward. It’s up to you. Notice that in each example your story is opening with an action. It isn’t a student sitting at his desk in World Geography class dreaming about being a football player, or a Midwestern family gathered around the dinner table in prayer not anticipating any kind of danger to their existence, or the young woman primping to go out for the night hoping someone will buy her a drink. That all may have a place later, but right at the start, jump into the action!
I’m writing a ghost story. So, why did I start the story with the woman who will later be haunted oblivious to that later development and living her somewhat troubled, yet otherwise boring life? I DON’T KNOW!!! After I realized my error by boring myself with my own writing, I knocked myself in the head with my knuckles a few times and started over. And where did I start the second time? With the ghosts, of course! Already dead things in a less than dead space doing spooky ghostly things. Which brings me to another point. Your opening lines, paragraphs, pages and chapter at large, must set the tone for the entire novel. If you are writing a comedy, don’t open the book with a graphic death scene. If you are writing a literary drama, don’t open with Three Stooges slapstick or talking puppies. I’m writing a spooky ghost story, so I open with spooky ghosts.
Another problem solved. I will keep you posted on my progress and obstacles, so stay tuned. Until then, happy writing!