Day 13: Another Lecture on Beginnings

September 14, 2008 at 6:52 pm 8 comments

Because I believe beginnings are so important and that I also don’t believe you can’t beat a dead horse, I’m going to talk about them again. I just read over mine in my current WIP and I’m very happy with it. Not perfect, but it doesn’t need a huge overhaul. Oh, if you don’t consider my hero and heroine don’t meet until chapter 2. Ugh.


First I want to point out beginnings are the true multi-taskers of your story. It has to be engaging, informative, show character, and a hint of foreboding for the main character(s). It may take several revisions to get all those things wrapped into the first few pages. It has taken a many of hand slappings for me to stop saying, “But the reader needs to know she owned a dog when she was 10” because really the reader doesn’t need to know.

I like to think of beginnings as the handshake. Even when you meet a therapist you don’t shake their hand and tell them your whole life story.  You’ll scare off plenty of people doing that.

Don’t believe me?

The next person you meet, while shaking their hand say this, “When I ten I owned a dog. My mother ended up taking the dog to pound. I cried for days. It changed who I was. I no longer trust people because of it. I still want to own a dog, but I can’t because I’m still dealing with issues of my past. What is your life story?”

Cue awkward moment.

So, why do some writers think it’s okay to do this in a story?

Because when you are a newbie you can’t think of others way to get your reader to like your heroine. You do it by showing who the character is. How? Practice makes perfect. You write your opening. Then you trim and trim until your little darlings, those precious words are stacked like corpses around your feet and then you might have something serviceable as an opening. After doing this many times you become a jaded writer and write a freaking opening that’s serviceable from the get go. Or maybe you are just mourning all those darlings you killed and don’t ever want to do it again. You might end up with something like this:

(copywritten, blah, blah, blah, I know where you live so don’t use it.)

Diary of a Food Addict:

When the plastic chair squeaked as I sat down I expected bad things to happen. I really expected bad things to happen the moment I saw the nutritionist had a size-two frame. She had perky breast and a perkier smile. It was natural for me to despise her. This woman was everything I wasn’t—skinny.

She broke the ice with, “You’re severely overweight. Oh, by the way, I’m Melanie.”

Bad, bad, bad things. “To sum up this conversation so far, I’m Fat and you’re Melanie.”

For me at least I find getting the character’s name in the first lines or so very hard to do in a first person, but that’s my own failing craft. The point is you know a few things about this character already and the first page isn’t even done with you yet:

1. She’s overweight, but she has the intentions of managing it. This tells of her conflict ahead.

2. She’s a smart ass.

3. She speaks her mind and isn’t apologetic about it.

This isn’t a perfect beginning, but I think the most important thing about first person is getting the reader close to the heroine. My rule of thumb is to let the reader know upfront that they may not like this person, but they are sure as hell interesting.

Next we have something a little different from me. It definitely has shoddy research, which you should never do with an opening. This one isn’t succinct, which means darlings will die once I finish this story, but I think it’s a good example of world building when doing it from the character’s POV.(copywritten, blah, blah, blah.)

Mora the Witch:

Mora glanced out her window, and her nerves jittered. She hated to even think the cliché in her head, but something, someone was coming. When she heard the roar of a motorcycle’s engine she narrowed her eyes. It wasn’t her sixth sense, but her woman’s intuition. No one else would have ventured five miles out to the boondocks on the outskirts of nowhere on a motorcycle.


Mora tossed down the rosemary she’d been cleaning back down into the sink. She opened her healing cabinet and grabbed a turquoise quartz, some herbs to ward off evil, and seaweed salt. She stalked towards her door whipping it open.

“Those who have not been invited in are not welcome.”

She said it two more times. A strong breeze pushed the hair from her eyes. She sprinkled the seaweed salt and herbs on her threshold. The quartz warmed her hand as the spell took hold. She took her time heading back to the kitchen. She placed the herbs back on the shelf, and then the seaweed salt. She glanced at the quartz and stuffed it in her pants pockets.

So what do you learn in this beginning:

1. This world is normal for the heroine.

2. She doesn’t see a problem warding off evil in the form of a man named Ethan.

3. This chick must have some powers if she can summon a wind with a spell without too much preparation. She’s likely to be skilled at what she does.

4. With one word, “Ethan” you suspect this relationship didn’t not go very well.

By far this opening isn’t perfect, but it has good bones. I don’t spend time pussyfooting and that’s my goal with every single opening I write and hopefully it’ll be your goal. At the same time your opening should fit the tone of your story. Hooks are great. I believe in them, but the hook should fit with the rest of the story. For instance if you open with a dead body I’m hoping you are writing a mystery. Or even a story revolving around a dead relative.

Ex: The stench of death hung in the air. Morgan rubbed Vicks under his nose to hold back the smell of decaying flesh and silently prayed it would work. He’d just had lunch.


Ex: Shelley Roland leaned over the open casket, glancing down at her least favorite aunt. She tried to hide her wince behind the lace hankerchief in her hand. She leaned back and whispered to Michelle, who was glued at her side, “They made her look like a two-dollar ho.”

Which one is your murder mystery? Which one is going to have humor? Tone, people, tone. So, I think that’s enough of a lesson today. Let me put my soapbox back up and we’ll do this again soon and maybe I’ll talk about endings.

Today’s totals: 1,016

Left to Write: 8,260

And I sent off the proposal. Dear baby jesus, I’m not cut out for this waiting stuff. *and I don’t know what happened to the stupid formatting. Ugh*


Entry filed under: revising, writing. Tags: .

Day 12: My Writing Anniversary 14 Days of Writing Wrap Up

8 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Abigail McKenley  |  September 16, 2008 at 1:26 am

    Good luck on your proposal….keeping my fingers crossed for you!

  • 2. raine  |  September 16, 2008 at 5:39 am

    Ahhh…another probe launched. 😉

    All the best of luck, hon!
    (And get used to that waiting. It’ll be a major part of your career, I’m afraid).

  • 3. Amie Stuart  |  September 16, 2008 at 1:49 pm

    OPenings are the best part of the book.

    And please, write slower. You’re making the rest of us look bad–okay ME, you’re making me look bad.

    Here’s my latest opening:
    “My nubs grew a half inch over the summer.”
    “Did you see Paulette’s. They’re huge!” Nancy stared at me over the top of her iced coffee, her large black eyes looking even larger than normal as she rolled them.

  • 4. Melissa Blue  |  September 16, 2008 at 1:57 pm

    Thanks for the good luck, Abi. I think I do better with waiting on publishers than agents. I just see the agent as a single person who has superhuman abilities. It shouldn’t take them months to read my proposal…

    Yeah, I know.

  • 5. Melissa Blue  |  September 16, 2008 at 1:58 pm

    (And get used to that waiting. It’ll be a major part of your career, I’m afraid).

    You know this just made me realize all those “prolific” authors really aren’t prolific they were just waiting on feedback and trying not to go insane.

  • 6. Melissa Blue  |  September 16, 2008 at 2:00 pm

    Amie, I love that opening. Tone, people, tone. 😉

    And seriouly, you make me look bad. I think we started writing at the same time and you were off from day one. I lounged around for two years and then started to really write. I’m making up for lost time is all.

  • 7. Amie Stuart  |  September 16, 2008 at 4:06 pm

    Everybody knows what they say about a girl with big horns LOL

    >>And seriouly, you make me look bad.

    *blushing* Did we really start writing at the same time? I guess now I’m making up for your early slacking *ggg* (which, sadly, I’m getting really good at)

  • 8. Melissa Blue  |  September 16, 2008 at 5:04 pm

    There is nothing wrong with making slacking a professional sport. I’ve gotten really good at it, but now the words are pouring out of me, so…

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