Finding the beginning of your story is important, and a lot harder than you think!
“But don’t I just start at the beginning?” Well yes, and no. There are a lot of ways to do it. You can start with the ending and work your way backwards from there. Or start right in the middle of things and jump back and forth. Or just start at the beginning and tell your story in a traditional, linear fashion. But where does your story start? Where is your true beginning? Is it a “Once upon a time,”-type thing or do you go back 4.6 billion years and start from there?
Like I mentioned in my previous blog post, my book used to have a prologue. It also had four more chapters, which I cut in favour of my current beginning, which is right in the thick of things. But recent feedback has made me wonder if maybe I cut something essential when I nixed those four chapters, and that where the story starts now isn’t, in fact, the true beginning. Maybe my story needs to start somewhere else, somewhen else. Maybe there is some treasure in that trash heap of chapters?
Or an idea, a, concept, a piece of information, a turn of phrase that can be polished into something resembling treasure. Because, dear friends, those four chapters are a dumpster fire of cliches and rookie novelist mistakes. Don’t believe me?
“Ellie woke up with a massive headache and sore muscles. The light that made it past the curtains and blinds stung her eyes. She swung her legs over the edge of the bed and gingerly climbed out. The laminate floor was cold against the soles of her feet. She stepped onto a rug and took a quick look in the mirror. Her hair was a crow’s nest and there were dark circles beneath her eyes.
“Must’ve been one hell of a night out,” she mumbled before she took a longer look in the mirror.
She poked her belly. The finger didn’t disappear too far in and Ellie nodded in satisfaction. She then stomped her feet hard and watched for unacceptable amounts of jiggling. Again she nodded in satisfaction and pretended not to notice the beginning of what would be orange peel skin on the back of her thighs. Ellie studied her profile and let out a slight sigh. She did have a pot belly, there was no denying that, and her upper arms could do with a lot of toning. She resisted the urge to take out the measuring tape, and got dressed. The daily morning routine was over.”
Here we got both the “waking up from a dream”- beginning and the “protagonist describes themselves while looking in the mirror”-cliche. Fucking yikes! Let’s compare that to my current beginning, shall we?
“They held her head down. Skin, burning up, leaving spots of condensation on the cold metal table. They folded her ear forward and pressed something against the bare patch behind it. Sudden flash of heat. She recoiled, metal clinking against metal and groaning under the strain. No screams. The pain was distant, like her skin belonged to someone else. Too tight. Too hot. Alive with things. Rotting iron and old flesh filled her nose. They turned her head, repeated the process. Held on to her head for a while, turning it back and forth. The chain around her neck chafed. Her hands in cuffs. Red, cracked, nails jagged and black with grime. “
These two extracts don’t even seem like they are from the same book! But when going from A to B I lost something. Yes, I cut out a lot of cringe, but I also cut out a darts contest with friends, a hunting trip, an incident at a school, a cheating boyfriend, a scary thunderstorm, and a run-in with the police which all served two purposes: character building and world building. Now that I don’t have four chapters of that my main character seems a little cardbordy, and my world is vague and confusing. So I gotta fix that somehow, without writing four chapters of cringeworthy trash, before I send the book to another agent. Wish me luck!
– xoxo Suzy