Saturday, March 17, 2012

HOW NOT TO WRITE BEGINNINGS!

Last week I prepared a lesson on Beginnings for the writing group I belong to. To round it up I shared my own journey with the beginning of my WIP: Blackbird. I thought I'd share it here so we can all cringe at my myriad mistakes and maybe learn a thing or two.

Here's a brief outline of  my story and the main conflict, or inciting event that fuels the story.


My primary protagonist is 18 year old Maddie. She lives with her outlaw father in the mountains of North West Wyoming in the 1880s. Despite hating the outlaw lifestyle of her father and his men, she seeks to carve out a life for herself on the land she loves. 
The inciting event: Maddie will be given an ultimatum by her father: Be shipped off to an unknown aunt in the city of Boston and never return, or ride with his gang. Being the stubborn, pig headed girl that she is, she chooses to stay; confounding her father and every one else and setting off a chain of disastrous events. This is, of course, where the story truly starts. Everything before this is back story. 


Some setting up is required. The reader needs to understand the setting and time, and know enough of the protagonist to care about her decision. The question is: How much setting up?
This is the journey I have made over the past four years as I have learned how to write.
First draft: I started when my protagonist was about 10. Over ten chapters I set up her background, her relationship with her family and Logan (secondary protag) and threw in a few adventures for good measure.
The inciting event was perhaps 300 pages away!! But believe me, trashing those 300 pages was easy - my writing at this stage deserved to be trashed! 


Lesson learned: At this stage every sentence was a learning curve, but as for beginnings it was to find the 'inciting event'. 
Second draft: I started much later. I started at the point that Logan joined the gang. Still two years and far too many chapters before the inciting event! (You can laugh at my ineptitude at this point! I do!)


Lesson learned: I may need to know all these details but my reader doesn't. 
Third draft: I'd been reading plenty of writer's blogs and read a lot about starting with action. So I started with a bang: A high stakes action scene. Guns blasting; blood spilled. But after the gunsmoke cleared there were no consequences to this scene, it went nowhere. 


Lesson learnt: Action only works if it's relevant.
Fourth draft: I’m almost there: The inciting event is only a few months away. I opened with Maddie watching a funeral. It was meant to show how she felt about her Pa's gang , but was just plain passive. 


Lesson learned:  Don't start with a passive protagonist. 
Fifth draft: Opens with Maddie, spade in hand, increasing the hay field to support the extra cows she plans to buy. This shows her determination to make a life for herself on the land she loves. It shows her goal.
Her Pa turns up and tells her to stop! Immediately we have conflict and this conflict will slide into the inciting event within three to four chapters. Phew - I’ve finally got it. 


Lesson learned: Have the protagonist being active and show her goals. 


Now I just need to work on the middle and the end!

5 comments:

  1. All those lessons learned eventually produced the best beginning. I've been there myself so I know what it feels like. Thanks for sharing. Best of luck with the rest of your novel. :)

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  2. I made those mistakes when I first started as well. But slowly, I learned to start where the action is. Especially because I write mysteries, they want excitement from the start.

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