Honestly, its been a battle this week between end-of-the-school year errands, writing the blog and the fun challenge of picking out eye-glasses frames from Warby Parker. But I’ve still got to write my pages, and to re-think the very first one.
A great way that is working for me to find the beginning point of my novel is to visualize the ending. Imagine the way the character is feeling at the end. Pretend how are you feeling as a reader when you read that last page. Swooning, justified or wistfully satisfied? Desperate to download another from the same author? If you can get a handle on how you want your main character to grow, then it helps to start as far away from this spot as you can.
I’d heard this before, but I wanted to start the book, right where the adventure began. I didn’t realize that I wasn’t letting my character have far enough emotionally to go. I’m actually excited to write some new first act scenes because it might mean the scenes I’ve already done can count as second act work.
Another way to begin is to pick the day in the character’s life when things have to change. Alan Watt of “The 90-Day Novel” says, “Our novel begins on page one by establishing the world of our story. We are also introducing tension. Something is unresolved in this world.” Ok, but if we are introducing the world, but not revealing the “Call to Adventure/Inciting Incident/Catalyst,” then what do we do in this opening scene?
To help answer that question, I checked in on what Donald Maass has to say in his “Writing the Breakout Novel Workbook” about first lines. He asks, “What is the intrigue factor in your opening line? What question does it pose, or what puzzle does it present?”
He goes on to say, “It is the element that makes us wonder—“What does that mean?” or “What happens next?”–and therefore leads us to the next line where we may find the answer. All of this happens so fast that we are unaware of it. In the few seconds it takes to read an opening line, our subconscious minds already are racing ahead. Without us being aware of it, our eyes jump eagerly to the second line. Will that line tell us what we need to know? If not, maybe the third line will. And so it goes. We are hooked. ”
Maass includes around 20 opening lines from all kinds of published works in his book. A quick walk over to my bookcase, or maybe a scan through my Kindle will help me test his theory.
So start your novel with an intriguing opening line. A puzzling statement. A glimpse of something that doesn’t make sense. A little problem. Maybe you don’t even have to understand it. You can always rewrite it in the revising stage. But if you put a little intriguing spin on that first line, you might just follow it right down the rabbit’s hole into your novel.
I’m now getting a feeling that I should write a scene where my character is in a very uncomfortable place, that could be funny, but where you know if she doesn’t do something soon, she will be stuck forever. And that idea makes writing the opening scene sound like a lot more fun for me, if not for my poor, unsuspecting main character. (Bwah-ha-ha-ha!)