When reading a book, it is easy to start in the right place. You open the book to the first page and start from there (unless you’re one of those people who reads the last page first – naughty, naughty!) But for the writer, finding that beginning may have taken several attempts.
I have just started writing the first draft of a book I have been ‘cooking’ for a couple of years. I have it all plotted out, which is unusual for me, I usually develop a character or two and see where they take me. This book, however, has been difficult from the start. I couldn’t find the right structure for it, although I knew it had to be in the first person point of view. Then the question was, set it in the past or the present? I decided on the present.
I wrote a few sentences – the beginning of the book, or so I thought. They were, if I say so myself, brilliant sentences – descriptive, poetic, intriguing. And wrong. They weren’t in my character’s voice and they weren’t the right way to start the book.
I tried again. Some more sentences. This time the voice sounded more like the character I had in mind, but only if she lived at the turn of the nineteenth century. Again, a voice issue. I sat and thought about my protagonist and all she was going to go through in this book. I thought about the character profile I had written for her (six pages long) and built a stronger picture of her in my mind.
I started again. And this time, I had nailed her voice. I kept going, feeling, if I’m honest, a little smug. I’m on my way, I thought. That wasn’t so hard, was it? Ten thousand words on, I had introduced more characters and set the scene, my protagonist was struggling with her inner turmoil nicely and being misunderstood by those around her. All good stuff.
Then I decided to read from the beginning for flow and continuity. And I was hit between the eyes by the fact that I still had the wrong beginning! I had started the story too far back and taken too long to get to the point. I don’t think a book has to start with a big action scene, but it does have to start at its logical beginning, not in some beautifully written back story. That can come in later if necessary, but the protagonist needs to find herself in the thick of the rising tension, not trudging towards it in the hope that at some stage in the not too distant future, she’ll get there!
So, I’m back to the drawing board.