Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Beginnings

Before I forget: There's a good post over on BookEnds about what effective voice is. I missed it while away, but I'm slowly catching up on all the good stuff. Also, slowly catching up on the 100+ pages of critiques to get done for my critique groups, but...

Anyway, I've begun thinking about revising my recently finish manuscript. Unlike most of my peers, I HATE revising...but I do realize it's a necessary evil. Anyway, I've been doing a lot of thinking about revising openings in particular lately.

For me, writing openings is the easiest part of writing, as easy as coming up with a title. In fact, I've got a few files on my computer with nothing more than a few words for a title, or a few paragraphs/pages of an opening. It's what comes after that that gets hard.

However, and this is the bad part...I often get too attached to my openings. I do. I've been writing long enough to know that I simply must kill my darlings...but not my opening lines!

It is this viewpoint that has really hurt me as a writer. For example, in my first manuscript, my opening line is:
"I am not a cat," said the cat.
I love that line! I really, really, really do! I'm not trying to brag or anything, but that line is the best line I've ever written (oh dear, I've peaked early). However, that line means that my main character must react immediately--and it really leaves me no room for building up the world or character. It's too much in media res...unlike many writers, I actually have to work on slowing down my beginnings rather than ramping them up.

The opening line of my next ms. is below. Can you spot the problem?

The last thing Heath expected to see on the day he started his quest to save the Princess of Baloria was a girl in the middle of the street, covered in mud, crying, and naked.

The last thing Chloe expected to see on the day she somehow evaporated from her own world into this one and found herself in the middle of a street, covered in mud, crying, and naked was a knight in shining armor.

It took me ages to figure out what was wrong with this (OK, OK, it took my critique group ages to convince me what was wrong with it). I jump POV. And, once again, I start too in media res. I've changed the opening since then, but I kept the main structure:

The last thing Chloe expected to see after she'd been unexpectedly sucked out of her world and plopped naked into another one was a knight in shining armor.

Her mind was still foggy, but she tried to sort through it. About an hour ago...
You can see how I've taken out the knight's POV and added in backstory, but you can also see how attached I am still to the original opening. Openings are my Achilles heel--they are arguably the most important sentences in your work, yet I fight against changing them so much!!

I've sworn not to do that with this new ms. It helps that this ms. isn't a sentimental novel. In general, I'm kinda looking forward to killing all those darlings. But I've still got a shaky hand taking the knife to those opening lines...

...so, what's your Achilles heel in writing?
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