I hate beginnings.
Whenever I contemplate beginning a new MS, I always feel as apprehensive and doubtful as I did when I contemplated when and how to jump into the swiftly swinging jump ropes for Double Dutch. With Double Dutch, I usually forced the turners to stop and let me start the jumping inside of the ropes. Ironically, it was when I tried to start double dutch the easy way, I’d always get tangled in the ropes, and the few times where I gathered enough courage to jump in with the ropes already swinging, I’d do pretty good.
But I digress.
I’ve always envied authors who can start a book with a witty one-liner (“Only one kind of marriage ever bore Society’s stamp of approval. Happy marriages were considered vulgar, as matrimonial felicity rarely kept longer than a well-boiled pudding.” *) or with an elegant, scene-setting, character-revealing turn of phrase (“The events that would drop Emma Hotchkiss–verily sink, she might have said–into a quagmire of sin and crime began on the first sunny day she’d seen in a week as she galumphed gracelessly across a green Yorkshire field in the vicar’s unbuckled muck boots.” *).
Granted, it may have taken countless rewrites and revisions to wrestle those opening lines out of their fingertips, but the heart of the matter is that I obsess and stress over opening the book justright more than I do over any other part of writing a book! Even more stressful is that I dream endlessly of my MSS before I sit down to write them, and getting the words to match the vision in my head is like chipping away at a huge block of marble with the world’s tiniest hammer and chisel.
To combat my time-wasting efforts to perfect this one part of novel writing, I’ve devised a few tactics (brain tricks) that keep me from banging my head against my keyboard.
One is to write an incredibly detailed synopsis from start to finish. I consider this my “zero draft,” because I’m essentially getting the book out of my head without worrying over word count or prose. From there, I can see where I want to take my characters and chart the progression of their story arc, which then allows me to pinpoint what I want to convey with the opening line. The other tactic is somewhat similar to the first one, but is less pre-planned. I forget where I picked this up–possibly Edittorrent–but in short, I write down what I want to accomplish in the scene I am writing so I have a rough idea of the scene’s purpose. This in turn helps me pinpoint my opening and closing lines for each scene, since a scene is comprised of a beginning, a middle, and an end. It’s breaking writing down into bite-sized chunks that help me build the MS brick by boring brick (™ Paramore) as opposed to viewing its construction as one long vista of undefined work!