Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Finding an opening to fit the payoff


On the way to critique group yesterday I saw this scene and had to jump out of my car and shoot it on my handy cell phone. Flowers and snowy mountains are the bounty of California after it rains. The payoff.
At critique, I read the first chapter of my novel-in-progress, Sea Daughters, and got good feedback. But no one addressed an issue nagging in the back of my mind. I've been thinking it was a slow opening, and, these days, that can get a rejection in five minutes flat.
I decided to speak up and then found out there were concerns. One person suggested a starting point that I think will increase the mystery and tension immediately. The material was all there, but it needed an adjustment--move one thing up front, delete another scene.
The current SCBWI Bulletin has an article "Page One" by Karen Schwabach that suggests you should write the first page last, after you know what you are offering the reader, because it is a promise, a contract you need to keep. Does the beginning hint at what the story will be, where it will end?
I may write and rewrite the opening more times, but I feel like the changes I'm making today are a big step in the right direction. Have you found your opening only after you secured your ending?
P.S. I am going to be offline a couple of days. Happy writing, everyone.

34 comments:

Jonathon Arntson said...

Beautiful picture, especially since I haven't seen any grass for three months...

I like what you had to say.

Liza said...

Lovely picture...as always. I'm glad you got some helpful feedback.

Char said...

beautiful shot - love the POV

Tricia J. O'Brien said...

Jonathon: I'm glad I could bring you a bit of green. :)

Liza: Thanks, and, yes, the feedback was useful. I should also learn to listen to my own nagging voice, you know?

Char: Thank so much!

Karen Amanda Hooper said...

I always change my beginning over and over. It's a tough thing to get right. Glad you got good feedback!

Bethany Mattingly said...

I love the pic! I always have a hard time with the beginning. I try to just do something that can work until I can come back to it later.

storyqueen said...

Beginnings!! Arrrggghhh!

I am struggling with one right now (the whole prologue thing...sheesh) and I totally get where you are coming from. On a different piece, I couldn't figure out how to start the story, so I started writing a few scenes ahead of where I want to begin (with me so far?) so I can go back and write those scenes when I have a clue.

I have a really hard time letting go of book beginnings that helped me (as the writer) get into the book.

I think that might be why prologues are used. You can jump somewhere else in the story (ahead or behind) and give people the "thing" that will pay off, and then ease your way into your story.

Sorry this is so long. Rambly today I guess.

Shelley

Donna said...

Since my stories evolve in the telling of the first draft, writing the first page last makes sense to me.

Love the snow/flower photo, and now it's raining again. More snow, more flowers and eventually grassy hills.

Jemi Fraser said...

I had an info-dump beginning for my previous ms. Took many revisions to get it right! This one, I think I've done a much better job.

Paul Greci said...

Great photo!!!

Beginnings. Yes, I've played with beginnings and have altered them after the ending is set. I think the idea of the beginning as a promise of what's to follow, i.e. what is the story you are promising to tell, is a good guideline to follow. I keep that in my mind when I'm looking at my beginnings.

Jade said...

I re-wrote the beginning of SRH after I'd written my new ending. I decided that the new start was more interesting but also I wanted a start/ending that came full circle.

Lisa Desrochers said...

Why didn't I know you were in CA? Yay!

Openings are really tough. I've heard people say to write the book then ditch the first chapter and start with chapter 2. Not what I did, bu you're right. They expect it to start with a bang these days.

Bish Denham said...

That's an amazing camera you have on your phone! Another beautiful picture.

As for beginnings, I have a hard time starting a story of any length if I don't have a beginning. Most of the time it's just be a sentence that takes me down the road. And later, I can change it if I need/want to.

Natalie said...

I rewrite my opening scene many, many times. In my last manuscript I had three or four COMPLETELY different openings. The one I finally went with I wrote after the whole manuscript had been revised. I love the idea of the first pages being a contract you need to keep!

I hope your unplugged time goes well!

Wendy said...

Beautiful photo!

I'm never happy with my beginnings. I really want to change my current one but it keeps not wanting me to. Silly stubborn story!

V. S said...

Breathtaking. The beginning is always the hardest part for me, I am currently changing my beginning.

Yvonne said...

I've rewritten my beginning to move some of the action from page 3to page 1, but the arc of the story has stayed the same. If it feels right to you then it probably is. Trust your instincts.

Angela said...

For me, openings are always the hardest. I rewrite them more so than any other scene in the entire book.

Linda Kage said...

I love that idea, write the firs page last. You know, I've found that I had to go back after finishing a story and redo the first part. NOW I know why. Thank you so much.

Enjoy your time off.

laurel said...

I rewrote my opening five times, only to end up going back to a tweaked version of what I'd started with years ago. I knew something wasn't working in that opening, but it took three sets of crits to nail exactly what.

Live and learn, right?

Robyn Campbell said...

Pat, I have rewritten, redone, revised my opening probably one thousand times. I read that about waiting until you are done. But I need to do it first and then go through the pains with it. Because I have to have a starting point. A juncture at which I begin. And that is always my opening.

I shall miss you. Hope all is well. :-)

Tricia J. O'Brien said...

Hi everybody!!!! It's so fantastic to see all these comments. I am borrowing a computer just to check in, as I am away at the moment.

Karen: I'm still working on it. Even with the feedback, I'm not sure it's there yet, but I feel on track.

Bethany: That's a good approach.

Shelley: Argh, Yes, and I think I follow your method. ;)

Donna: It works, doesn't it?

Jemi: That notorious info dump. Sometimes it just is soooo convenient. ;)

Paul: Thanks! I like the idea of a promise, too.

Jade: A full circle sounds ideal. I'm glad you found a way!

Lisa: Yes, CA! I think we all probably start with too much stuff we think we have to convey but the real beginning is in there somewhere. At least that's how I feel right now.

Tricia J. O'Brien said...

Bish: It sure is! and thanks.

Natalie: I might be at three or four already, too.

Wendy: That is really interesting that your beginning is telling you what it wants. I like that.

Victoria: Thanks so much!

Yvonne: I think sometimes I let too much advice hinder my instinct. Thanks for that reminder.

Angela: Hardest and soooo important to get right.

Linda: Isn't it an interesting concept?

Laurel: It's good we can learn, right? But it's still hard. :)

Robyn: One thousand. Methinks you jest, m'lady. Everything is ok, just some stuff I need to take care of, hopefully won't be too big a deal.

VR Barkowski said...

Absolutely gorgeous photograph!

After endless rewrites, I finally reversed the first two chapters in my last MS, replacing ch. one with my beloved ch. two. It worked. I stopped editing. Doubt this would work with most manuscripts, though.

Elle Strauss said...

openings are the bane of my writing existence. Gah.

So much rides on the beginning, especially considering many agents won't read past the first page.

On both my current wip's, I've changed the beginning scene several times. Still not 100% sure I have it right.

Great photo's btw. You have more than one talent, I see. :)

Terresa said...

I like that suggestion, to write the first page last.

Enjoy your offline days!

Tricia J. O'Brien said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Tricia J. O'Brien said...

Hi everybody, after two days of some stressy and some fun stuff, I'm back at my home computer but a little bit spacey (Hence the deleted post and me trying again)

VR: That's fascinating that you found success by reversing chapter one and two. I upended one chapter by putting the last scene first and it really invigorated it.

Elle: Not too much stress to get it right, is there? And thanks!

Terressa: I had some great skies and stunning walks, thanks!

Shelli said...

love the pic! happy writing!

Catherine Denton said...

This is off your cell phone?! I'm so jealous. It's beautiful!

Sliding on the Edge said...

They're out already! My goodness. I hike the Garrapatas in March just to see the wildflower display. Maybe I'll have to go earlier this year. Loved seeing the flowers after all this overcast and rain. Thanks.

Tricia J. O'Brien said...

Thanks, Shelli. :)

Catherine: I had no idea when I bought it how good the camera in it would be. It has such clarity and depth of field. I LOVE it.

Lee: I'm in SoCal and I think you are up north where it's cold for longer. This is next to a roadside so I don't know if more remote areas are blooming yet. I guess when we get a long warm spell, this will turn into a great wildflower season. I'll have to plan some trips, too.

Solvang Sherrie said...

SoCal is so gorgeous after it rains. Great pic!

And good words of advice on openings. I often end up rewriting mine.

Tricia J. O'Brien said...

Hi Sherrie: We do live in paradise much of the time. :)