Beginnings

[originally posted 14 Nov 2007 at LiveJournal]

I don’t know what it is with me and beginnings, but until I have the beginning working, I don’t feel as if my writing is getting anywhere. I’m not temperamentally capable of skipping the beginning and coming back to it later. This has always been my way during essay and article writing, and today I discovered it applies to fiction as well.

I started my second short story today, part of my PicoWriMo target. The writing was flowing well. I had some plot points roughly worked out and knew where I was going. The characters were coming to life and acquiring personality. The descriptions were good. I was on my way, or so I thought.

Then, at around 700 words, I wrote something that I realized was the real beginning of the story. There was nothing wrong with what preceded it; it was simply not needed. So I started over, at the new beginning, and summarized all that preceded it in a single short, snappy paragraph.

When reading, I like beginnings that grab me right away and don’t waste time getting things started. There are many ways to do this, and they don’t have to be fancy — just interesting and effective. When writing I try for a strong opening. If I don’t have one, I don’t have momentum and the piece stalls until I get one. I have to get the beginning right, or close to right. Then it starts to flow into the right channels.

When I think of all the writers I’ve read, the one who does the best beginnings is Agatha Christie. I don’t always find her middles and endings as strong, but I’ve never read another novelist who can get a novel started so quickly and so well. Bang! You’re right into it, often chuckling or smiling at her wit. She doesn’t do it with a set formula either. Each novel opens uniquely. I think my favourite first chapter of all time is from The Body in the Library. It never ceases to make me smile. All of which contrasts sharply with the darker elements that arise later in the story.

Middles and endings have plenty of pitfalls of their own, but for me the critical part of any writing I do is getting the beginning right.

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About Gene Wilburn

Gene Wilburn is a writer ~ photographer ~ humanist
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