Kootenai River in NW Montana, near Canadian Border

Kootenai River in NW Montana, near Canadian Border
photo by Gene Tunick of Eureka, Montana

Monday, February 25, 2013

Tip O'Day #424 - How to Start?

Guest blogger Jessica Knauss on “Creating an Exciting Beginning.”

I write in two genres. For short pieces and my contemporary longer fiction, I can honestly say that the first few lines drop into my head. It’s as if my muse says, Here you go. What happens next? It’s the most exciting part of writing and gets me enthused for the entire story, so I hope that enthusiasm is transmitted to the reader.

I was sitting at a table at my grandmother’s house, absently rubbing the bony part of my nose, when the first line of Rhinoceros Dreams appeared out of nowhere: “Allie had an outsized bump on the bridge of her nose that made her think she might be turning into a rhinoceros.” Although the story went through several drafts, the first line was a keeper from that moment.

On the other hand, the first line of Unpredictable Factors in Human Obedience involved the main character ordering vegetarian substitute bacon for the charity dinner that figures in the climax. Once the first draft was finished, I realized I no longer needed the part about the fake bacon. I cut it so the story starts with a hint at the main character’s self-absorption, but I’ll never forget that the story would not have come into being if not for that lost sentence.

My current WIP, a New Adult paranormal tentatively titled Middle Awash in Talent, begins this way:

When my little sister staggered through that rough-hewn doorway, blood still dripping artistically from the slash across her bellybutton where they’d sewn her up, and declared that she no longer needed my attention, she finally started to seem interesting to me.
Beth and I started off on the wrong foot.

That crazy image, written during that time between sleep and waking, eventually led to a vivid narrator, a world where some people train to use their telekinesis or other strange powers, and unexpected twists and turns at a breakneck pace all over the northern hemisphere. When I finish it as a novella or novel, I may change a few words of the beginning, but overall it has served the story exceptionally well.

My muse hasn’t been so generous with my historical novel. Although I’ve finished the first draft of The Seven Noble Knights of Lara, the really inspired passages take place well within the book. In fact, I put so much pressure on myself to write an awesome beginning that I started with Chapter II. I’ve now gone back and forth with the beginning four or five times. Can it start slowly? Should the beginning with a bang be an entire chapter, or just a prologue-type fragment? How much of the bad guy should I show up front? What will draw the reader in? Once the novel gets going, all my beta readers have reported feeling like they’ve been transported to the year and place and can hardly put it down, but I’m far from figuring out what would make a new reader turn the first page.

I hope my editor can help with this decision. There’s still a chance the right beginning will drop into my head when I’m least expecting it, but that doesn’t seem like a very reliable method, if it’s a method at all. I’ve written The Seven Noble Knights of Lara much differently than anything else – it was well planned, while my contemporary stories are purely pantsed. So when I do figure out this beginning, I hope it’s a technique I can use for all the other historical fiction I’m planning. Wish me luck! Any suggestions are welcome.

Jessica was the first person to interview Dixon as a writer. She blogs at this link and provides updates about The Seven Noble Knights of Lara here.
For those unfamiliar with the word pantsed, this refers to the spectrum of writers, with planners at one end, and those who write by the seat of their pants at the other end. Thus, some authors refer to themselves as pantsers, and their prose could be said to be pantsed. Class dismissed.

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