Tag Archives: Beginnings

Ten Minutes for Beginnings

Running a blog for years–a blog about writing–well, one begins to wonder what one should write about.

Okay–that’s the line I started with. Then I thought–what am I going to say today? What’s new out there?

Probably nothing, actually. But as I sat here I remembered something Richard Peck said years ago when he was here in UT. He was talking to a group of writers and teachers. His bit of wisdom that I’ve repeated in every writing class I’ve taught since? “You are no better than your first line.”

That means for anything, I think. The first line of a campaign speech, of a novel, of a poem, newspaper, article, essay, picture book. Your blog.

“Your novel,” Richard Peck told us that day, “may start chapters in. Find the right beginning.”

“Start your novel where the story starts,” I tell my students. On the day something new happens. Don’t waste time with back story.

Get in and get on with it. Grab your reader and run.

“My book gets great right about page 40,” people will tell me. (And yes. That’s about the number they all say). Common sense tells us that means the story starts on page forty. Someone has some work to do.

While Richard was here, he looked at the first three pages of a novel I’d begun. He asked me two questions, one of which was, “Does this start in the right place?”

I dropped him off at the airport that day and as I drove away I realized he was right about the book. I’d started wrong. I chopped off the first line–a bit of Florida description, I think–and the book began right where it needed to.

“What you doing, Girl?” Daddy said, when the burying was done.

Introduction of two characters, a bit of voice and a problem. Buried because of an extra line. Exposed, front and center when the first line was chopped away.

A great first line won’t save a bad novel. But it can set you up as a writer and point you where you need to go. It can offer a feeling of what you may now do. It can be a promise to the reader.

I’ve not sold this book and it’s been years. There have been two editors interested. And now another editor is looking at that novel. But I learned something from Richard that I’ve tried to use in every book since–get rid of what isn’t needed. Quit meandering.

Write the story and only the story. Readers just don’t care about the rest.

So in this blog? Cut off the first 50 or so words. That’s where this piece really begins.

Now go do that to your books.


Filed under CLW, Exercises, First Line, Voice

Three Things Thursday

Every week, Thursday just keeps happening.


Am I the last person in the world to discover Garth Nix’s books?  Picked one up accidentally at a library a couple of years ago, but got busy; it was due — turned it back in without reading more than few pages.  Recently, I happened to see something about another of his book series: The Keys to the Kingdom.  Didn’t click with me because the other was part of an earlier series.  Didn’t even remember it until I saw the title of the first one while looking in the SLCounty Library’s system.  (WHO has 9 or 10 PAGES listed in the SLC system ? ? ?)  I dashed over to my local library and they happened to have the first of the “Keys” series: Mister Monday.  What caught my attention was the tie-in to days of the week, as I’d earlier planned a kids’ book with a similar tie-in to the week’s days.  I checked out three of his books, all from different series, and began reading Mister Monday.
Remember the claim that we shouldn’t write Prologues because editors/publishers don’t like them?  Well, his is 13 PAGES long!  And utterly fascinating.
Turn the page to chapter one and you leave the futuristic and fantasmagorical world he presents in his LONG “Prologue,” the mystery he’s brought up, the funny and antiquated character we’ve just met and all the spit-polish and mechanical beings . . . only to join an asthmatic 7th grade boy, Arthur Penhaligon (Arthur WHO? and is that name derivative . . . well, of course!), having to go through his first day of school in a brand-new town.
WAIT!  What happened to the funny little man, the mechanical beings, the magical words which disappeared mysteriously on their own, etc., etc., etc. ? ? ?  Of course, now I’m ALSO caring about this poor kid who’s having a miserable first day at school, a second hospitalizing asthma attack and is just barely saved by a mysterious . . .
Well, you get the idea.
Leave out the Prologue?  I don’t think so!  Besides, we may see that funny little man again when the boy finds the mysterious House . . .
Rules?  If you can make it WORK — GO FOR IT!
The beginning. The start of a new novel. Oh, gosh, I’m at that door. Again.
Is everything in place?
I think I have the first line(s). Not sure it’ll stay, but this came night before last.
“I’ve died four times (almost) and here I am on the tail end of twelve years old. At this rate, I won’t live to see nineteen.”
I have a bit more:
So far I know how I want the book set up.
I know what this character’s Daddy does for a living.
Not so sure about Mom.
Siblings? Maybe.
What she wants? Yup, got that.
But–I aint got no other ideas.
So now begins the long haul of exploration, deciding, listening in on private conversations, wondering, thinking, gazing into space. And then begins the complaining and worrying and . . . you know, attacking the middle.
The beginning. The start of a new novel. Oh, gosh, I’m at that door. Again.
That sexy beginning where anything can happen.
I love this place.
How do YOUR ideas come about?

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Filed under CLW, three thing thursday