Tuesday, July 8, 2008


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?


Tabitha said...

Beginnings are definitely my achilles heel. Not the opening lines, I'm pretty good at those. The whole beginning is what kills me. It's not one of my strengths, but it's SO important. The entire story flows from the beginning, so if it's not right then my story won't flow right. So I spend WAY more time on the first chapter than on any other part. I've likely written 10 to 20 drafts of chapter 1 before even thinking about chapter 2. :) But once I get it right, everything else seems to fall into place. :)

PJ Hoover said...

I love your "I am not a cat" line. Too funny! And it makes me want to read on.
I don't get so attached to opening lines as to opening scenes. But let's see. Five books written so far, and two opening scenes have been TOTALLY changed. But they both did suck (I hope I've improved since), so I was actually happy and excited to see them go.
My Achilles heel? Maybe letting too much research spill over into my writing to where it sounds clinical at parts? And knowing how to identify this.

TerriRainer said...

Queries? Does that count? I wanted to pop over and thank you for the kind words (yes, I'm #53).

I deserved MOST of what was said, and now have made calls to members of my writer's group so at the next meeting you can guess what the main topic will be!

As for opening lines, here's mine:

"Laird Gordon Sinclair’s thoughts were abruptly interrupted by the blood curdling scream that cut through the cool early morning."

Don't be surprised to find me visiting often...

:) Terri

Keri Mikulski said...

I love the cat opening... And nice job with the revision.

Achilles heel? Definitely, description. I have to force myself to go back and write more description. I tend to get caught up in the action and dialogue and forget to include it. Great post.

Unknown said...

Tabitha--I wish I was more like you! I get so attached to my writing that I develop a block in revising!!

PJ--I don't know...I always kinda liked it when there was a lot of information and research in books. However, it should be noted that I am an incurable nerd who researches for fun!

Terri--Welcome! I hope I wasn't too mean on the Shark...I find that when on that site, I tend to channel the inner shark and get a bit too snarky. Good luck on revising!! And nice first line :)

Keri--Augh, description. I do that, too, especially around dialogue. I get so wrapped up in writing what my characters are saying, I forget to write about everything else so that it reads more like a script than anything else! Must go back and change that now, too....

Barrie said...

Re first lines: sometimes, at the library or the bookstore, I open random books and ONLY read the first line!

My writing Achilles' heel--as in ONE of them? Ha!

Vivian Mahoney said...

This is a great post. Hey, did you post this opening on Nathan's contest? I think I remember reading it somewhere.

Hmmm. Achilles heel? Heh, heh. Lately it's been writing dialogue so it sounds like it belongs to the nineteenth century.

Good luck!