Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Today's struggle: openings

Today's struggle: writing backwards and filling in the missing opening scene of the manuscript.

See, I thought I'd try to get around my writer's block by writing the scene AFTER the opener, so as to alleviate the block I always have for the first page of a story. And yes, I was able to write, but now that I'm going back...

Can I just say how much I hate writing the first five pages? It's so intimidating. We all know that we need the perfect opening hook, line, paragraph, lede, lead.... I mean, entire writing books are devoted to the subject ("Hooked" and "The First Five Pages" come to mind, and yes, I own both books).

Here's the list of the do's and don't's that I've culled over my many years of reading writing books and now, agent blogs:

Tips for writing the First Page:
  • You can't start with a character waking up.
  • You can't start with a slow description about the weather - unless it's all foreshadow-y and moody, and you've published before. (Or you've cheated with an exciting prologue, but that's playing with fire too)
  • You can't start with a slow description about the setting (unless you're a 19th century author, or previously published with legions of followers).
  • You could start with dialogue, but some people hate dialogue openings. I'm one of them.
  • You could start with action, but not too much action or you'll confuse the reader and fail to connect.
  • You want to have a character with voice, but too much and it looks like you're trying to hard.
  • Or you're too gimmicky.
  • You could start with description of another character... but not too much. See the above on the dangers of too much description.
  • Avoid prologues. Like the plague. People hate them. No, really. They really do.
  • And the list goes on.
So, is it any wonder I'm all paralyzed over here? I've got a legion of books and agents and others jumping up and down in my subconscious saying, Don't! Nope! Wrong!

Now, don't get me wrong. I'm glad they pointed out all those overused, or problematic first line openers. I just wish I could forget it long enough to let the story flow.

But dagnabbit. Sometimes ignorance really is bliss.



  1. Karyn, I find it best to start with a sentence - any sentence - that intrigues ME about the character or story and then don't look back until the end. At least for me, my opening paragraph, and often page or pageS get cut in the final, final version, because it wasn't in the end, the right place to start. So, dive in, don't worry so much, and revisit it at the end. Maybe it will stay, maybe it will change, but it wont stop you from completing a manuscript.

  2. What I'm inclined to do...since starting isn't my problem, it's visualize the opening like a movie. Your reader has been sitting there in the dark and you want them to be glad they paid their ten bucks for the ticket, right from the get-go. Charm them. Give 'em something quick and dazzling, or slyly funny. Maybe talk it through with your critique group; brainstorm with them. Personally, I don't like skipping around in my story when I'm stuck on a scene because even though I'm an outliner vs. a discovery writer, I 'discover' a great deal in the course of fleshing out my outline. That doesn't mean I won't go back and change things as need be, but I lose my bead on the character if my timeline isn't generally linear. Maybe I should shut up and put my money where my mouth is, though! Get writing. (If you want, I can skim what you've got already and throw some ideas your way. Just thought I'd offer!) Best of luck, lady...