Monday, March 11, 2013

Now, isn't that a wonderful beginning?

50 bonus points to whoever can name that movie. ;)

First, big thanks to Sarah for posting the question looking for inspiration for what we should chat about on here. And a big thanks to you guys for responding! We love hearing ideas of what y'all would like to know.

I had to take Ashley's question, though, because oh friend, you are speaking my story.

Ashley wrote: "I don't know if this has been covered yet, but I'd like to see a post on beginnings. That's usually where my writing gets derailed. I look over the first paragraph and think, "Yeah... I wouldn't keep reading this." What are the building blocks of a captivating first scene?"

GREAT question!

I used to do this ALL. THE. TIME. I'd come up with the most brilliant idea for a story ever. I'd run to my computer, sit down, start writing, spend three days writing nonstop on the story and then read back through it and it would be awful. Just terrible. So then I would trash it and do the same thing all over again.

There are a couple of things that helped me conquer the opening chapter challenges:

1. Write a quick mini-synopsis of the ENTIRE novel before you start.

I am not a planner but any means. I don't outline, I don't chart or graph or really know anything usually except that my main character will likely be female.

But, once I started writing professionally, I started creating proposals for my stories before I actually wrote them. And noticed that it helped. A LOT.

Instead of starting the opening chapter and getting lost in the details, I had a basic idea of what was going to happen and when. It gave me something to fall back on when I started thinking this story was a piece of crap.

2. Start in the middle-ish.

Everyone everywhere will tell you this. "Start your book in the middle of the action!"

Yes, I agree. Except when I don't. ;)

Some books should be started in the middle. Some books need to have that little extra mash-down-on-the-pedal right from the beginning. Other books, though, can have a "slower" start without feeling slow. My typical rule of thumb is if you are writing a novel in a third-person POV (example: Nathan looked over at his mother furiously typing on the computer while consuming an entire chocolate bar), start in the middle of the action. If you are writing in a first-person POV (example: I sometimes eat and type at the same time), you can start in a slower way without the story feeling bogged down.

One of the best ways, though, to avoid the second-paragraph trashing of your WIP is to start with some action. What does your character WANT? Start there and you'll have the plot line for your entire novel before your second sentence.

3. Don't reread your opening a million times.

Anything sounds terrible when it's read a hundred times in a row. (I am the mother of a two year old. I know this. I REALLY know this. Go, Dog, Go, I'm looking at you.) I know we say this all the time, but when you are writing in your novel, try your hardest not to be too hard on yourself. Maybe it doesn't sound like Francine Rivers or Karen Kingsbury or Insert Bestselling Author's Name Here. And you know what? That's GREAT news! Because that means that it sounds like YOU. You will have your own voice, your own way of telling the story. Embrace it. Yes, make it the best it can be, but once it gets there, stop editing yourself!

4. Don't be afraid to delete parts of your novel without trashing the whole thing.

There really is a time to delete. Sometimes I will be writing and get completely stuck. Completely. As in, it's not going to get better. The best thing you can do then is to back up to the point where it started going south. Did you introduce a new character who isn't working out? Add in a new plot line that just isn't so good? At least once a novel (and usually more often than that), I end up deleting pages and pages and pages from the book, which is possibly the most painful part of being a writer.

5. Take a break.

Step away from your writing for a little bit. Take a walk and try to really think through your novel. What is your book about? What does your main character need or want? What do you think would make your novel different than the others already out there? What is the takeaway value for your novel?

Once you have these things under your belt, it can also be easier to start back up again with fresh eyes for your book.

When all else fails, just remember to FOCUS...

F - Figure out your main character's biggest WANT (anything is possible here!).
O - Opposition needs to happen for there to be a story. Who or what is keeping your character from what they want?
C - Cue the conflict. No conflict = no story. How does your character react to the opposition?
U - Use drama without being dramatic. This is where showing without telling comes into play. Why is your character mad/sad/glad/bad? (Thanks Dr. Seuss!)
S - Stay strong. Writing takes perseverance. Don't force something that isn't good, but don't give up too quickly. Some of my favorite novels have come from beginnings that nearly landed them in my little electronic trashcan.

I hope this helps!! Now it's your turn - what is your best advice on how to stick with a story until the end??


  1. I don't have a lot of advice for sticking with it except that it takes a ton of determination.
    I have a new question though. Right now, in working on a rewrite. I decided to do it differently hoping to make it easier. I separated the plots and only focused on one at a time & will weave them together. I have the main plot written and a 1/2 -3/4 done with the subplot and I am stick needing one more twist...I think.
    Should subplots have as many plot twists, points, & layers as the main plot? If they do I need one more but if they don't I can jump to the ending of my subplot.
    Lets say the do. I'm at the part where needs to be one more thing before the climax/final battle. Do you know what I'm saying. In totally stick and don't know what to do with it. This is a point a lot of movies lull too. How do you drive home the last twist before the final battle

  2. I'm on my phone & I keep messing up. Lol. But I hope I explained it so you understand. I'm lost and stuck on finding one more obstacle before the ending starts wrapping up the subplot!

  3. I'm so glad you chimed in on this! Awesome thoughts!

    I'm with you on all of them, but I think #1 is soooooo true. The thing I love about writing a summary of the whole thing before I start is that I don't have to stress over the writing and whether it's perfect (until it comes time to polish the summary into a fit-for-other-people's-eyes synopsis!) but for me at the beginning it doesn't have to be perfect and I can say things like "some other stuff happens" but at least I have a general plan I can work with to inspire me when I get stuck. Then I can just be surprised by the details!

  4. GREAT post Erynn! Very helpful. Tonya, in my opinion, if you feel something is missing or still needed in your subplot, then it probably is. There's no set rule about subplots and layers, so if you sense that "hole", it's probably there :) I'd suggest trying to find a way to bring that next "jolt" or climax of your subplot to somehow connect or come full circle to your main plot. Connect them somehow for a twist or a punch! :)

  5. Love the tips! I always feel like my beginnings are flat as well. (So glad you asked, Ashley!!)

  6. Oh - as for sticking with the story 'til the end....I had to fall in love with my characters and want to know how it ended as badly as I do a favorite read.

    1. That right there is a great tip as well - it's important to actually LIKE your characters. ;)

  7. Wow. I'm so glad you tackled my question, Erynn! I've been meaning to ask it for a while, but forgot every time I commented. Anyway, this was an awesome post! I really liked the FOCUS acronym. Lol. I was so inspired that I ended up writing a sloppy first draft of a first scene in the middle of my British Lit class, today -and for the first time in a LONG time, I actually didn't want to trash what I'd written. :)

    1. That is fantastic news!! Yay! :) Keep at it! :)

  8. I'm working on it Betsy! Can you post about subplots? I know what they are but there's not a while lot of info about them. How long should they be? Does the subplot have to take while scenes? Like can you add parts in main plot scenes or does each part of the subplot need a scene and a same length scene as the main plot scenes? Does that make sense. I know in my head what I'm asking but it sounds like it might confuse people as I type it.

    1. I think a post about subplots is a great idea! But for now, I would recommend to not over-think them - try to let them become a natural part of the story. :)

  9. Yay Ashley!!!

    Tonya, I'll post about sub plots soon. Let me think on that. Erynn is right, too, subplots need to come naturally and as a sub element of your main story, not be too separate or forced. It still needs to be connected to the main plot so it doesn't feel disjointed