Saturday, May 12, 2007

The Trouble With Beginnings

Beginnings are nasty. They are ugly. They are wicked.

As I mentioned in my last post, I've been reworking a suspense novel that I'm anxious to get out into the world. For the most part, my writing has followed a semi-linear path; I began with the notion of several major scenes that I planned to hang the book on. I started from the first and charged along until I hit a rough patch, at which point I went wandering.

This wandering generally landed me in a scene for which I had a reasonably clear vision. At some point after completion of the new scene, I would head back to the trouble spot, hoping to have a clearer head and a new idea.

At this point, with over 400 pages and 80,000+ words, I've decided to start from the beginning and work my way to the end, without allowing for any side-trips.

So, I've been stuck working on the first chapter. For all novelists, this part of the book represents a brutal challenge for one simple reason--we haven't yet convinced our reader that time spent on our book will be a better investment that grooming his long-neglected ear hairs.

Our reader, be she an agent, an editor, or a prospective paying customer at Wal-Mart has a hair trigger at this point. She's as likely to drop our book in disgust as she is to pass wind.

There is no time--and are no words--to waste.

Beyond the need to entertain in those first few paragraphs, we've also got to set the tone, give a hint of genre, and introduce some important problem. It's a heavy burden.

In my quest for a strong first chapter, I've started my book with two entirely different scenes and re-written each of those numerous times, trying to get that first chapter to sing. Most recently, I introduced what could be perceived as an annoying gimic in the first chapter, an odd tonal thing with he main character having an internal dialog with himself. I thought that, if it worked, it would create a striking tone that readers don't see every day.

The problem was, no matter how many ways I tried to re-write it, I couldn't make it work. So, finally, I've come to my senses and--mostly--abandoned the notion, pulling some of the thoughts into a more traditional narative flow.

Having done these repeated surgeries on my first chapter, I can no longer see the material very well. So I'm going to be looking for trusted eyes to help me out here.

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