Tuesday, July 15, 2008

begin at the beginning – or not

Current work: nonfic/MH book 2 c1
Listening to: Martin Ostertag and Boris Bagger, Nocturne (cello and classical guitar)
Reading: Eileen Ramsay, The Stuff of Dreams plus some nonfic research

I don’t often do craft pieces (mainly because I dislike analysing my own work and why I do things – I’m too close to it to judge, and analysing it always gives me a nasty dose of Impostor Syndrome) but I spent a lot of yesterday dithering about this question. One that normally doesn’t bother me – I usually like the beginnings of books and have problems ending them. (We don’t talk about the saggy middle syndrome – my book and my body tend to share this problem, and although I can fix it in the book… no, let’s not go there.) But yesterday the book refused to start.

So where do you start a book? At the beginning? Or not?

I know the theory. In a romance novel, you’re meant to start
  • at a point of change (i.e. the beginning of the journey)
  • preferably with something that pulls the reader straight into the middle of things
  • and with your hero and heroine on the page together as soon as possible. (The theory there is that your readers are like puppies – they bond with the people they meet first. That’s quite insulting to said readers, but it’s a valid point: readers do expect to meet the hero and heroine first because they’re the most important characters.)

Now, the beginning of the journey isn’t necessarily the same as the beginning of the story. Yesterday, I could have started my book in three different places.

Number one was the beginning of the story (and involved a journey, so that appealed to me) – but it just wasn’t strong enough. I could see big information dumps (things which are better shown by the characters in dialogue and action rather than told by Mrs Omniscienct Narrator – oh, how basic a mistake is that? How many books have I written? Have I learned a thing?).

Number two skipped over that beginning and was probably going to end up being a love scene by the end of page two. Too much, too soon?

Number three was definitely a strong, dramatic opening – but it was the storm and I want the calm first. I want the readers to know my characters before seeing them tested.

And then there's the whole question of viewpoint. (Am dithering on that one, too.)

It doesn’t help that I watched a film with DH this weekend which I enjoyed hugely and set all kinds of ‘what if’ threads running through my head. A little bit of self-discipline is required. Which means getting on with what I’m supposed to be doing and not letting myself be distracted by new exciting storyline here. Especially as I know said distraction will wait: I’m putting off starting this book because I’m scared it’s going to go pear-shaped. It’s planned, it’s doable, it’s something I want to write. Bu-u-ut- I’m having one of those sticky moments where I wonder if I’m up to the challenge.

Or maybe authors change the way they work from time to time without realising it. I used to rush through a book and then the ending was like treacle. Maybe it’s going the other way round for me now, because at the moment I seem to be writing the endings first and putting off the moment where I have to write the first words.

Right. I need some trumpet-blowing to bolster me. So. Apologies in advance for this. The University of Leicester has done me proud with their press release (and I’ve had some nice emails about it); this weekend saw me in the local bestseller chart for the sixth week running with Heroes, Villains and Victims of Norwich; and One Night, One Baby is still in the e-harlequin top 10 ebooks. (That’s been ages – about a fortnight now.)

Thank you SO much to everyone who’s been buying my books. I will do my best to write a new story you’ll really enjoy. (And thank you, Jan, for passing on comments to me about Breakfast at Giovanni's (aka In Bed With His Italian Boss). Maybe I should redo my tagline as 'warm, realistic romance' or something like that...)

Plan for today: school run, guitar lesson, work, school run, evening meeting at Madam’s new school (where I get to hand in admission forms etc). And then a bit more work.


Jan Jones said...

You're welcome, Kate!

And maybe this is one of those books where you have to write the pre-story too? Then when it's all done, you'll know what to crop at the beginning and where the story-for-the-reader really starts.

Just a thought.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for being so honest with your dilemma.
I have spent hours trawling through craft articles on exactly this point - how to start a story so that you reveal the sympathetic heroine's ordinary world BEFORE you hit her with the hero, and point of change as you say - and achieve all that in 15-20 pages?
There are lists of things these first pages have to achieve.

For a newbie like myself, it sounds like option 2 combined with option 3. For MH this might work - but you know your characters.

As for making yourself work on current WIP when the new idea is enticing you away to the dark side? With you all the way.

Funny old lark, this writing biz.

And the next person who asks me what story I have 'churned out' today, may well hear my finest totally scary 'assertive voice' which has taken years of training to perfect.

Hope the characters behave and tell you where they want their journey to begin... today..

Margaret McDonagh said...

Beginnings are nearly always the worst bit for me. Being a pantser and very character driven, the more I know the hero and heroine, the more they speak through me and drive the story onward. At the beginning when we are all finding our feet, that's very difficult.

I also think that sometimes some rules are made to be broken! And sometimes what works for a particular story or pair of characters is not getting them together on page one.

Your books are superb and so are your instincts, so I'd suggest going with the flow and doing what seems right for your hero and heroine's story regardless of what the rules say! I know it will be brilliant, whatever you do.

Mags xx

Kate Hardy said...

Jan, that's a very good idea - thanks.

Ray-Anne - oh, yes, the dark side. (A chat with my agent has, ahem, made that one go back into marinade mode.) And I don't believe you're scary :o)

Mags - thanks for sharing (and for the compliment). It's really interesting to hear a pantster's take on things.