Beginnings are Hard

Getting the beginning of a story right is hard.  Oh, it’s not hard to start a story; it’s just hard to get it right when all the dust settles. 
When you finally get that idea that’s been percolating for weeks or months all ready to go you have no trouble putting words to page.   The first draft, especially the beginning, seems to flow.  Partly it’s because it was the kernel of an idea that got you started in the first place and so you know how it starts.  You might even know how it ends.  The middle part seems like the hard part initially because you need to stitch it all together and keep the story moving forward with meaningful drama to fill in the holes.  But you muddle your way through the middle and then hit the final stretch, which, by the way, seems to go on and on.  You think you’re almost at the finish line but it’s like someone keeps moving it away from you.  Finally you cross the finish line, and it’s a victory, although it’s short-lived and less spectacular than you thought it would feel.  You know you still have a mountain of work ahead.

Once you finish that first draft you can breathe a sigh of relief and maybe step away for a few weeks. But you have to go back to the beginning again for the revision and this is when you can start poking sharp sticks into your eyeballs trying to solve the issues with your beginning, which suddenly doesn’t look as good as it did when you started on this journey.
There is so much advice out there about how to start your story.  It should grab your attention right from the word go, but don’t use gimmicks and make sure you touch on all five senses in the first few pages or was that paragraphs?  But really, you should make sure you sink the hook by the end of the first chapter, but keep in mind that you need to lay out some normal in there also and set-up the “Big Problem”.  Don’t just go on and on with exposition, and make sure you show and not tell.  You have a whole lot of information that you’ve been working on, you know, all the time spent world building.  You have a compulsion to share that info with us even though it really doesn’t move the story forward.  A lot of that can go into your boneyard of lonely used sentences.  It’s kind of like the Island of Misfit Toys.  Those words still have a fading hope of being used again in some form, maybe in a sequel.  Anyway back to fixing the beginning… 
You knew where you wanted the story to start but your alpha readers are telling you there’s not enough action there, you need to start the story in the middle of the action.  But which action and which problem?  You are likely introducing multiple issues in the beginning so where do you start?  With the “Big Problem” or maybe a smaller conflict just to get the ball rolling?  Some writing columns will tell you that really there are four acts to a novel, and you should put in some foundation of how our protagonist lives before he slash she encounters the “Big Problem.”  Maybe you didn’t start far enough back.  But remember, every chapter should have a conflict and move the story forward.
Having alpha readers is essential to this task.   As the author you can often hear how your characters talk and you know what they know, but the reader has to discover all this by what you “show” them.  It’s really easy to miss things that you forgot as the author that the reader doesn’t know already.  The alpha reader can spot these from a mile away because they get confused.  You didn’t provide enough background material somewhere, so you have to go back and add that in.  Now you’re definitely not starting in the middle of the action. 
So how do you reconcile all this?  Well, you actually listen to your alpha and beta readers.  You don’t have to use every piece of advice, but when you see repeatedly the same comments about a particular section then you need to understand what they’re telling you and go and fix it.  Maybe not with their words, but it needs repaired somehow that answers the concerns they had.  You manage to fix all these issues but you need to make sure you don’t lose your “Author’s Voice” in the process.   I wish someone would tell me how to do that, but that’s a post for another day.   Now you’re nearly done, but you haven’t read it out loud to make sure it sounds right and flows properly, so you find someone to read it to you out loud.  You go back and iron out all those rough spots.  
I don’t want to even talk about how many iterations this may take.  I’ve rewritten and revised the first chapter at least a dozen times, maybe more, I’ve lost count.  And of course any changes you make have repercussions throughout the book and you have to make sure the continuity holds up.  YMMV.
Whew!  Okay done.  Now you start sending that one out and start the process all over again…
Who said this was easy?
Clear Ether!

Slacking and Star Wars and Merry Christmas!

I’ve been slack this week in doing a blog post but I’ve been enjoying the Christmas holidays and taking a little break.  I also got into the early beta and then early release of Star Wars: The Old Republic and have spent way too much time playing it.  It is absolutely what Star War Galaxies should have been.  The writing is fantastic, the voice acting is great and every quest has at least one cutscene.  The graphics are beautiful and the gameplay seems mostly balanced but the jury is still out on that one.  Overall I think Bioware hit a homerun with it.  The best part is my family is playing and we are doing battles together!  Five out of six of us are playing.



I sent out copies of the manuscript to 4 alpha readers and have got one back with mostly good reviews.  I still need to work on Chapter One of all chapters.  I’ve worked and reworked that thing like an old upholstered chair.  I keep putting new material on the chair but somehow it doesn’t work.  I’ve read in a few places to avoid a prologue but I think this story really needs one.  I’ve got critiques from multiple sources that the first chapter just doesn’t provide enough background to understand what’s going on at the beginning and without a lot of exposition I think a prologue will be the right answer.  I’ve plotted it out and I’m going to be working on it for the next couple of days.  I’ll send it out and then make a few more hopefully minor revisions and it will be ready for Beta Readers!


Christmas eve is tomorrow and I still need to get a few more little items for my wife, but everything else is ready to go.  We are going to do a turkey this year.  That will be a first for us, we normally do ham or Norwegian meatballs.  We also have company at the house and it really makes the holiday special.  I hope you all have a Merry Christmas or Hanukkah or Kwanzaa or whatever holiday you prefer.


Clear Ether!

It’s much easier to edit someone else’s work!

This week I had something nice happen. I connected with a new writing partner! I’m very excited about it. She is a little farther along in the writer metamorphosis, she has two novels completed already, but has agreed to work with me. We shared some of our chapters and did line edits for each other and it was very eye-opening. I met her over on Natalie Whipple’s blog: http://betweenfactandfiction.blogspot.com/

She set up a Writing Buddy matching thing, which seems to have really taken off and is no longer on her sight. I feel very fortunate to have wandered over there at the right time.

I learned that it is much easier to edit someone else’s work than your own. This is likely for at least two reasons I can think of off the top of my head. First, it is material you aren’t familiar with. I can tell you my first chapter has been edited so many times I’ve lost count. I’ve rearranged it half a dozen times also. I’m intimately familiar with the story, so much so that I have a hard time seeing it clearly now. It really pays to have a fresh set of eyes on it.

The second reason it a little more esoteric. It’s not my story, and I have nothing emotionally invested in it. I haven’t spent 3 years toiling over it and stroking it and coaxing it to life. I can see sentences and structure and see things that are slightly confusing because I don’t know what the writer had in mind when they created it. As the creator you know the entire story of every character, at least as far as you care to. You know what they are thinking when you’re in their head, but the reader only sees the words and sometimes as writers we can get a little lost in there. It helps to have someone able to show us where the dots aren’t connecting properly.

I hope you have a writing buddy, if you don’t I am highly encouraging you to get one. We’ve just started working together and I am already reaping the rewards of that contact.

Good luck in your writing!

Clear Ether!