From Sarah, With Joy

Writer querying two novels and some other word babies. I tend to effervesce.

New post every Monday

Monday, June 9, 2014

How To Stop Worrying And Love Your Opening

Since I started the idea of making video tutorials for writers, I've been going through a lot of writerly videos on YouTube. There are quite a few awesome people talking about writing on YouTube, things like creative prompts or improving your grammar or things like that. 

In one of the videos, a commenter mentioned that she was having trouble starting her story because she knows how crucial those first pages are, and didn't know if she could really get it right.

The responses to her dilemma were very good, I thought. The emphasis was on just starting, and worrying about getting it right later. Beginnings are maybe the hardest part, and we talked a while ago here on the bloggy blog about how clear action is what agents and editors look for in a story's opening.

But for our first drafts, the key is to just get words on the page. This YouTube commenter was worried that her first chapter wasn't going to live up to the rest of the story. She was so worried about giving her idea the best start that she couldn't really get it going at all.

The thing is, I know plenty of writers who end up chopping the entire first chapter anyway. On Writing Excuses (the podcast I've mentioned several times and will continue to mention because it's awesome), Brandon Sanderson talks about how he chops the beginnings off his drafts almost every time. For a lot of writers, the beginnings of stories are more to help you as the author set things up, and then become extraneous once the story is done.

Beginnings are important--crucial, in fact--but unlike a racer, you can take as many tries as you need to get things off to a good start. That's what editing is for.

So the point is, don't stress. Just write.

Sarah Allen

24 comments:

  1. For the first time, I really like where my current story begins and I even have a good first line. It's what follows that needs a lot of work.

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    1. That must be nice :) I love it when that happens!

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  2. Yeah I fretted over my first three chapters when I first started writing. In fact I wouldn't move forward until I felt they wre PERFECT. Of course they never were, and when I finaly listened to advice and pressed on with the rest of the story, I realized that I'd be making changes to those first chapters right up until pub day.

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    1. Exactly. We're always working on improvements, so the best strategy is just to move forward.

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  3. I will check out Writing Excuses. It sounds very helpful!

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    1. You won't be disappointed! Definitely one of the best podcasts on writing I've ever found.

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  4. I find the beginning to be easy - though I often find I'm stuck at the beginning & unable to fill in the middle. I do not think the beginning is as important as the end. I read several books that I thought the beginning was great but then gets disappointed by the ending & ends up hating the book. but I think you're correct, just write it all down and then decide later if you want to keep it.

    hope you have a wonderful day.

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    1. Ah yes, those endings. Also incredibly important. For both beginnings and endings, I think the best strategy is to just get it down and then work it until it shines.

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  5. Some people do get stuck on the opening, to such a point that they never get beyond it. Definitely best to keep going and worry about perfection later.

    mood
    Moody Writing

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    1. Exactly. As my high school teacher used to say, you can't work with an empty page.

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  6. Good post! For me the first chapter is critical. It has to grab the reader to get them to go further. But once I've settled on the grabber and written it, I don't go back until I've come to the end. I've found sometimes the end requires changes to the beginning! Sort of like a cat chasing it's tail? Round and round and round....

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    1. Haha, yes :D Which is exactly why it's best to just get the beginning out there, because it's going to get chased and tweaked and toyed with anyway :)

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  7. Excellent post for me to read today.

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    1. Oh good!! That really means a lot to me.

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  8. Fantastic advice. I tend to stress about my first chapter as well. I re-write it several times and then I still end up not liking it. For me it is the hardest part about writing at this point. But you are very right. I should just keep on writing and figure the first chapter mess out later.

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    1. Well thank you! And I definitely agree, beginnings can be incredibly difficult. I think if you get caught in the muck of a first chapter, then yes, simply moving on and deciding to come back to it later can be your best strategy.

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  9. I agree, completely! I'm pretty good with beginnings, but the entire 1st draft just has to be the story written for you, the writer. It's when you get to all the subsequent drafts that you have to start being concerned with whether or not the story is making sense to anybody else.

    I like saying that the 1st draft is the story that only makes sense to you, the writer, and then you need your betas to help you make the story make sense to other people.

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    1. I totally have to remember this as I'm drafting, because if I didn't I'd just keep stopping and stopping and never get anywhere. I have to keep repeating to myself, "you can polish later, you can polish later."

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  10. I have zero problems with the opening. It's the endings that I have problems with.

    Father Nature's Corner

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    1. Yeah, endings present their own special problems. But perhaps the same principle can apply, to just get it down and come back to fix it later.

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  12. Great advice on getting going! I've just run my first 3 chapters past my fabulous new writing mentor. She said the writing 'settled' in from chapter 2 onwards, but in the opening, was crammed with back story, changing points of view and new character names to remember. I had been so keen to cram the essence of the story, with everything the reader might need to know, into the opening that I had created a bloated, confusing text. it was a great lesson, learning to give the reader a bit of credit, and keep him or her waiting to know everything. However, you're so right, this sort of revelation can wait until you've got everything down!

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    1. This is exactly the process we're talking about. Good work :) You got it down, and now you can go back and fix and chop and do whatever you need to do to make your story shine. That's what beta readers and mentors are for, right? ;)

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  13. The first chapter and first page will be re-written so many times, it's not even funny. And yes, on one occasion, I chopped the whole first chapter. On another occasion, the first chapter became the second chapter, and I had to write a whole new first one. As you said, you need to get the words down for the whole book. THEN go back and look at the first chapter!

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I absolutely love hearing from you! Thank you so, so much for your thoughts and comments, they really do make my day. Consider yourself awesome. Also, I do my best to respond to every comment within 24 hours, so I invite you to come back and continue the conversation :)

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