Begin at the beginning, or at least at the start

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I’ve been working on a new book. It goes back to my epic fantasy roots and I’m pretty excited about it.  I’ve written a synopsis, done a bunch of noodling in the world to figure out how things work, maps, character descriptions and so on. I could probably keep on going forever doing that. But sooner or later I have to start the book.

Now for the big question–where do I start?

Well, that’s a thorny question, don’t you think? Or is it easy? Should be easy. Just begin at the beginning. I mean, that’s obvious, right?

Or maybe not.

That’s the trouble. Sometimes finding the beginning isn’t that easy. I’ll use this WIP as a for instance. I have quite a number of POV characters. So first question–who’s point of view do I want to be in first? What event do I want to start with? There’s a mass of events that will weave together into a broad plot. Which means building the foundation (oh, how I like to mix my metaphors) and then putting it together. But at the same time, it’s easy to freeze and say, oh! What if this is wrong? And then stew stew stew and type and delete and delete.

So I have chosen a spot. Is it the right one? Hell if I know. And it doesn’t matter. With Blood Winter, I ended up adding something like 8 new chapters to the beginning to make it right. I added three to Path of Honor. The point is, you have a vision and sometimes you just have to start. You have to dig into your characters and world and see what happens. Follow the story and maybe you started at the beginning and maybe you didn’t, but you started and let’s face it, of all the blank pages that are killer in a book, the very first one is the most unnerving and most difficult to face. So throw some words on it and get past it and figure out whether it was the right spot later.

And remember, as Neil Gaiman said recently, Enjoy the Ride.

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9 comments to Begin at the beginning, or at least at the start

  • Rhonda

    You added chapters to the beginning, I often delete chapters. Seems I tend to start my first drafts before the beginning. (This isn’t really a bad thing, because it gives me time to get to know my characters; in a first draft I start the first sentence with nothing more than a name.)

  • I’m in the same boat as Rhonda. I seem to start to early rather than too late, so in subsequent drafts it’s the beginning that gets the axe. But it does help to figure out more about my characters, especially backstory that can be moved to later parts.

  • Right now I’m in the frozen/stewing phase for the beginning of my WIP. I’m torn between several possible starting places, and while I’ve written three of them I still can’t decide which to use. And that makes me think perhaps there’s another, better beginning. Your post may just give me the kick in the pants I need to get BIC and just pick one of the beginnings to go with for now since I can always come back and add or delete chapters later.

  • Best of luck with the new WIP, Di. I find those opening chapter decisions incredibly difficult, and yes, it’s far more difficult with epic fantasies than with single-POV urban fantasies. When I outline my epics I include in the outline who will be the POV character for each chapter and chapter section, for just this reason.

  • Di, I adore beginnings. All the possibility and wonder and opportunity…to screw it up. I hate that extra voice on my shoulder that nudges me off the cliff in to worry. But really, it’s the wonder that makes it perfect. Thanks for this! I am so *there* on my WIP. Which is due Sept 15. *Must work!*

  • sagablessed

    I am kinnda stuck. I have two beginings, and could make both of them the start. *sigh*
    One thing about earlier beginings that Faith Hunter told me: “Write something from your MC’s childhood, or early dram/trauma in his/her life. It’ll give you insight to the character.” It also gave me my two beginings. It may prove to be a prologue, if I feel so inclined. Just have to work the drama into the plotline.

  • Rhonda~ I think I tend to start in the middle of the action, but then realize I don’t have enough foundation for that action.

    Laura~ Which is why it’s a good reason to do it. Sometimes I wish I could do a better job of figuring out characters first. But I need to dump them into the story to figure them out most of the time. Course interviewing helps sometimes. Just not always.

    SiSi~ Yes! Pantskickers are us! Seriously though, sometimes you’ve got to jump in and start writing and shrug off the notion that it could be wrong. So what if it is? You can fix it later.

    David: and after writing UF, I feel like the opening is terribly slow, and yet I know it’s not. Ug!

    Faith: Exactly. What if you screw it up? has so much more power than “What if you do it right?”

    Sagablessed: Once you dig into the full story and get to the end, my guess is that one of those beginnings is going to seem more right to you.

  • Razziecat

    Once I’ve got that first sentence, it inspires me to keep going. For me, the struggle is keeping that momentum. My WIP has a prologue, which belongs to the main villain; and after that the main story begins with the event that launches the “good guys” on their journey. So I have two beginnings, really. It’s a bit tricksy, as Gollum might say… 😉

  • Quote:

    “Rhonda
    July 16, 2012 at 8:27 am
    You added chapters to the beginning, I often delete chapters. Seems I tend to start my first drafts before the beginning. (This isn’t really a bad thing, because it gives me time to get to know my characters; in a first draft I start the first sentence with nothing more than a name.)”

    This is me. I can’t tell if I just suffer from OCD or if I’m just the pinnacle Gemini…