Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Let's start at the very beginning...

A very good place to start.

Unfortunately, you can't start a book with "Do re mi." You have to start it with something that makes sense and is exciting and grabs the reader and has action and drama and pathos and wit...blah blah blah.

I have started my fourth version of the Personal Demons sequel. I hesitate to mention its new title lest I discover, as I did with the last one, that someone else has taken it. (Google might help there, I'll give that a go.)


I lked the first three versions. I liked all of them. I thought that was where the story started, but it turns out I was wrong.

I hate starting new books. Nothing is scarier than writing those first lines--at least, not when the pressure is on.

Usually I just go ahead and start. Anywhere near the beginning is fine, because sooner or later, usually within that first chapter somewhere (although occasionally it's been as late as the third), the actual start of the book will reveal itself. "That's your goddamn opening!" a voice will say, and I'll see that it's right.

But lately, the last couple of books...the opening has been fraught with worry and doubt. Is this the right place? What if I'm wrong? Isn't this all just crap anyway, total gibberish?

They say you should start where the action is, and they're right. But in my head I always carry this too far:
I could start with the car chase...but then there's so much backstory...and that leads into a sex scene, and I don't want to start with that, and besides, the car chase just illustrates a point, I could handle the point with a line of dialogue, couldn't I, but if I do that I don't need the scene on the roof, and really the climax of the story is the big action, so...

And eventually I picture my entire book being this one line:

Some bad stuff happened, but they won in the end.
The End.

But I think I've finally cracked it now. The new opening has a hint of mystery, some humor, a little sexiness, some anxiety, and a healthy dollop of anticipation and "What's going on"-ness without being so overbearing with it that a reader might give up.

Of course, having said that, I'll probably re-read the new opening tonight and decide it sucks, and it will go in the bin (when I say " go in the bin" I in fact mean "stay unopened in the tomb of my hard drive") with the others.

What do you like to see in an opening, especially a sequel? What's the hardest part for you to write?


Mark said...

When I began working on the sequel to Happy Hour, I started with a similar scene from the first novel, a nightclub. It fleshed out nicely, got dirty fairly quick, but didn't really add anything to the world. So I kept adding stuff before that scene, and than that stuff got pushed back for more stuff.

Now, I've finally got the first chapter nailed down (isn't it fun to write so vague, have I even said anything?) Not that the first line would be a secret, the first line of Happy Hour is:

"Saturday night is all about the Well of Souls—see and be seen is the rule—there is no excuse for an absence, least of all a bad hair day."

First line of Road Trip:

"One of those movie moons, fat and bloated as a late-night salt binge, striped the graveyard in tree branch shadows, and spot-lit a certain blonde zombie perched ladylike on a tombstone."

Are they decent, I don't know. But I like 'em, just fine.

BernardL said...

I think reintroducing characters in a sequel is tough to get right. The author has to both interest first time readers, and not bore the ones who have read the first book in the series. I like to see action and dialogue interspersed with plot in the beginning. Yes, I know you did exactly that in 'Blood Will Tell'. :)

Arin Rhys said...

I've never written a sequel, but right now I'm in the end of the middle of a novella and it suuuucks so hard. I'm sweating blood onto the keyboard with every word. Of course, after I get to the beginning of the end, that will be the worse part. I think the hardest part is whichever part I'm writing right now. :D

Robyn said...

I am a dialogue ho. I love books, especially sequels, to start with dialogue. One of my favorite openings: (not mine)


It was literally a woman driving around cussing, and you couldn't tell if it was an I'm-late-to-pick-up-my-kids rant or a terrorists-are-here-and-chasing-me rant. I loved it.

Rebecca said...

I'm usually pretty good at the opening - still excited and enthused.

It's when I realise about half way through the book that the opening has become totally redundant because the book has gone in another direction entirely from what I'd thought (the risk of being a non-plotter, or a very very vague plotter) and I have to redo the beginning or get back on track that I have a problem!

Good luck with the sequel - sounds hard - definitely not something I want to try in the near future.

Anonymous said...

I usually find the start of a story after I've written what I think is the first chapter and a half.

It's not necessarily the start of a book that needs to grab me. I've already started reading. It's the end of the first chapter. That's where the hook has to be for me.

Hardest for me to write is the ending. I'm very good at starting...finishing, not so much.

Camille Alexa said...

I'm very good at starting...finishing, not so much.

Poor Seeley!

Lynne Simpson said...

I'm a big fan of starting with dialogue, but I don't always do start that way. I like evocative but relatively short opening lines.

Anonymous said...

You can start at a slow point and still get attention. I got by just fine with Moon Madness and it starts with a vague info dump.

But now, now I like to start with a visual. I don't stop reading if there isn't a "hook". But I do want to get a quick feel for the book or the character in the first few pages.

December/Stacia said...

I'd say they're better than decent, Mark! They make me feel like a hack.

This is my new first line:

The little demon leapt out of Megan’s closet when she opened the door, making her scream and drop her towel.

It will probably change a bit, but there it is at the moment.

Congrats on nailing down the first chapter!!

Exactly, Bernard. I hate infodumps in sequels but at the same time we have to let new readers know what's happening somehow. Groan.
Hey, you read BWT?!

Lol Arin yes, the hardest part is whatever part I'm writing now indeed. I'm usually pretty good with writing endings though, or at least, they come easily. Mainly because by the time I get to them I'm ready for the damn thing to be OVER already.

December/Stacia said...

Oh, Robyn, I too am a dialogue ho. I sometimes think I could write a whole book of just dialogue. (In fact, if it weren't for those sex and action scenes, I'd probably come close.)

Oh, I'm totally excited about the beginning, Rebecca, it's just really hard for me to pick the right place to start. But I love feeling like I'm about to write a great book--which is how I feel until I'm about five chapters in, when it becomes apparent I'm in fact writing a mediocre one. :-)

Lol Camille! Poor Seeley indeed!

I do know what you mean about the end of the first chapter, and I'm pretty sure mine has a good hook, but I need to fill ten pages or so before that, unfortunately, and drop a few hints.

Damn it! Now I'm thinking about how chapter one ends and wondering if the book shouldn't just start there!! GAAAAAAAHHHH!!!

December/Stacia said...

I'm happy opening with either, Lynne, or reading either. The funny thing is, I notice first lines now with books in a way I didn't before I really started writing. I mean, everyone knows the famous first lines (I can recite the entire first paragraph of Gone With the Wind from memory, just by virtue of rereading) but now I notice all of them.

Right, Michele, exactly. Trying to condense not only some plot and interest but an idea of what kind of book this is, is very difficut, especially.

Bernita said...

An intriguing incident that results from the scenario of the previous story might be a good way.
Funny, I'm contemplating a sequel to a short story. It would almost have to begin with "I was in deep shit" - so I may be biased.

Anonymous said...

As a reader I would like to be able to have a good read with the sequel having never read the previous book. I don't know if that is something you work towards or not.

I've put many a book back on the shelf because somewhere it said "3rd in a series" or some such thing. All I could think about was, "What about the first two?" -V95

Tempest Knight said...

I can't start writing until I have the "perfect" first sentence. I obsess about it. So until I do, pretty much any story is on hold. I'm weird that way.

kis said...

I have a million beginnings, but like you, it's hard to get past that chapter 5 (or 3 or 4) bump. I end up staring at the page thinking, "Jeez, this is the lamest thing anyone ever wrote." Then I get all tempted to start introducing new characters and subplots, which is okay for my epic project, but for erorom, not so much. Hmm. Maybe I ought to try polyamory?

And I hate, hate, hate writing those in between bits, even if they're just a few lines basically saying, "They went from A to B, and it took them four days." Bleh.

Redundancy is a huge peeve of mine, and it's why sequels are a challenge to read. Either the subsequent books keep getting thicker from all the rehashing, or they stay the same size and eventually there's no room left for an actual story. That's one thing I detest about Robert Jordan (and why I didn't read past book 3), and what I love about George R R Martin. Although neither series' books would really qualify as "sequels", at least George has the balls to assume I'm smart enough to have remembered what I read in the last book.

And I hear ya, V95. Nothing irks me more than finding an interesting-looking book that's part 5 in a series, with the first four out of print. Unless it's reading and loving book 1 by a new author, only to find sales weren't spectacular enough to justify printing books 2 and 3. Arrrrgh!

Anonymous said...

"Unless it's reading and loving book 1 by a new author, only to find sales weren't spectacular enough to justify printing books 2 and 3. Arrrrgh!"

Oh, yeah. That's a big grrrrr, kis. -V95

BernardL said...

I am reading Blood Will Tell, but I'm not speed reading it. I'm trying to savor it at about ten or fifteen pages a day. :)

December/Stacia said...

Lol, easier said than done Bernita. But I like "I was in deep shit" as an opening line. :-)

It's a fine line, V95--keeping the book accessible to new readers while not disappointing the old ones. It's one of the things that's so daunting to me about starting this book, honestly.

I just start writing, Tempest, and I figure the perfect opening line will eventually reveal itself. Not that I don't try to get the perfect line right off the bat; it just seems a better one always comes along. I'm not as clever as you. :-)

December/Stacia said...

Exactly, kis. The opening gives me enough momentum to get through a few chapters, but then I'm stuck. It feels too early to start opening all the subplot points, but something needs to happen or it'll just sit there. I hit another hump round about 30-40k words, but once I get past that I'm usually okay from there (as far as knowing what comes next, anyway), because I can start building towards the main climax of the book by deepening the investigation or dropping more clues or having a betrayal or whatever.

And yes, I HATE when series end before their time.

Gabriele C. said...

Beginnings are bad enough in standalones - I so won't write a series with the same characters. :)

Says she who's afraid the first chapter of A Land Unconquered introduces too many characters, and the one of Caledonia Defiant is way too slow.

December/Stacia said...

Sucks, doesn't it Gabriele! I hate beginnings, I really do.