Wednesday, January 10, 2007

The Perfect Beginning

There's something about the beginning of a novel that has to be perfect. If your opening scene doesn't grab the reader/editor/agent, then you're SOL.
I've looked at my opening scene too many times to count now. But last night, it finally clicked with me. I knew all about hooking the reader and I thought my scene accomplished that goal. But when I looked at it again, I realized that no, it didn't.

A little chopping, a little slicing, and wallah, I had it. What had once been a rather ordinary scene was now transformed into (hopefully) a scene guaranteed to make the reader/editor/agent keep reading.

What did I do?

1) Cut out all backstory.
2) Revealed characterization through dialogue and actions
3) Started with action

In short, I did all the things that the Mighty Powers of Fiction Writing tell you to do. Why it took me so long to figure out, I'm not sure.

Here's one thing I've learned about fiction writing - you will never stop learning. You will never completely perfect the craft. Why? Because it's impossible. Or is it? What do you think?


  1. Yeah, that opening is the end all. Readers will forgive lags in the middle, but not in the beginning. Is it any wonder so many agents are asking for the first 5-10 pages with a query? The first page is always the toughest for me.

  2. No, I don't think we EVER perfect the craft of writing. It's an ongoing process - we're always learning, from reading, writing and workshops.

    Sounds like you did all the right things to your opening scene :-)

  3. I love that about writing - that you can always improve. What better way to avoid boredom?!

    Glad to hear that your opening scene is working well for you!

  4. The first pages are always the worst for me. Whenever I reread old stuff I much prefer my writing *after* the opening.

    Glad you got yours sorted.

  5. If I didn't learn from it, I'd stop doing it. I know I'll never stop doing it :)

  6. It's discouraging to even think about perfection. Reminds me of one of my college professors who refused to give any student an A on a paper -- because "if you students get an A, then what would Shakespeare get?" Jeez. Kind of makes you want to give up, huh? I say, let's not even strive for perfection. Let's just continue learning and writing. :)

  7. Good for you! It's funny how we hash at something forever until one day it finally clicks.

    No, I agree, I don't think you ever stop learing in this business.

  8. Every piece takes its own time and process to get where it needs to be. It was time for things to fall into place.

    You asked yesterday if juggling multiple projects is helpful, creatively. I find it is. As I get tired on one project, I can switch and rev up.

    Also, because of the whole feast/famine thing, contracts tend to come in bunches, and deadlines are deadlines if you want your money to come in and to get hired again.

  9. Anonymous12:53 PM

    Hey lady! Long time no talk! My chat thing is down, so I am finding you here!
    Need you to write me, my dad would like your new address as he has more history books for you. e-mail me at

  10. I'm on my 3rd novel, due to my editor at Putnam in 90 days, and I still feel I've got a ton to learn. But that's what I love about being an author! No one ever said it was boring, right?

  11. Every piece takes its own time and process to get where it needs to be. It was time for things to fall into place.

    That was exactly what I needed to hear, Devon. Thank you! (And people think cruising blogs is a waste of time!)

    Gee, Melissa -- I'm glad I stopped by. :D And I'm glad your opening finally fell into place for you -- nothing's more frustrating than knowing something's not quite right with your story, and yet not being able to see what it is.

  12. One thing I always used to tell my students was just get it down. Don't worry about rules or grammar or spelling or names. Just get it down. Once it's down, you can play with it to your heart's content - over and over again until you know it's right. Often we're too close to our own work to see what would be screaming at someone more objective. So long as we get there in the end, who cares?

  13. I think we're works in progress throughout the entire journey of life. Writing fiction reminds me somewhat of the practice of law in that it's always a "practice." It's not that we can never get it right; it's just in a constant state of development as reading tastes change, writing styles change and of course, editors at publishing houses change.


I love to hear from you!

New Digs

I've got a new home on the web - stop by if you get a chance!