Facets of a Muse

Examining the guiding genius of writers everywhere

How many tries for that (kinda) perfect opening?

23 Comments

It was a dark and stormy night.
It was a really dark and mega-stormy night.
It was night, and dark. And stormy.

Meh.

The night was darker than an inkwell and more stormy than the Classics IV.

Ugh. Ick. (sorry not sorry for the link ๐Ÿ˜€ –I couldn’t help myself ๐Ÿ˜‰ )

Wind whipped across the field, caressing the wheat into undulating waves …
Wait. Not dark enough.

Wind tore across the field, whipping at the grasses, pale waves snaking across the expanse. Lightning lit the night, flashing against angry clouds, exposing the undulating darkness boiling in the sky.

Hmm. Better.

How many times do you rewrite that first line? That first page? The opening scene? If you’re like me with my Book 2 project, the count is reaching double-digits. I think I’ve hit 6 or 7 do-overs. At least.

I won’t go into the multiple reasons and ways to rewrite that first line/page/scene/chapter because there are a lot of resources about the subject, such as Noah Lukeman’s The First Five Pages. Which, by the way, is a very good book. My main struggle at this point isn’t that first line or page, it’s the opening scene. I’m still trying to get going on the 6th or 7th (8th?) run at my rough draft for Book 2, and I feel like if the opening scene isn’t working, it may be causing the sticky wicket in my brain. Or is it my story that’s in need of some adjustment sending my opening off the rails?

Have you ever started a story, and it just didn’t “feel” right? Then you restart it, and it still doesn’t feel right? And even when you change the opening and think it’s finally going to work, it still feels wonky? So you rewrite it again. And again. And it seems like nothing is falling into place, even though you’ve got a working plot roughed out.

This spring when we got together for the Writers’ Institute, my writing sisters helped me with the plot. It was great, because it “felt” a lot better than my first stab at it (no, the victim is not stabbed in this one ๐Ÿ˜‰ ) I ran with that, and though I liked the revised plot more than my first go, it still seemed a bit off. And I continued to struggle with the opening.

Every year before our reunion retreat, we–my writing sisters–exchange about 20 pages for everyone to review, then at the retreat we discuss each other’s pages and offer feedback. This year I shared my entire 6th (7th?) first draft–all 20 pages of it (Don’t tell my Muse I still haven’t started the next do-over; he’s gonna lock me in my writing office every day and stare at me until I write a thousand words. ๐Ÿ˜ And he’ll probably hide my chocolate, too!).

Again with the help of my “sisters”, I’ve got a few tweaks to the plot that should solve some of the issues my subconscious kept niggling me about. I remember thinking a few things in particular didn’t seem right, but I couldn’t figure out why. I need to listen to that niggling, because it means somewhere in the ol’ gray matter my writer’s brain is paying close attention. Sure beats a two-hour detour (no, I’m not going to tell you how I missed a turn and ignored that little voice that kept telling me I should stop and turn around).

About that opening line/scene: don’t sweat it too much until you’ve got the first draft (and maybe second draft) finished. Seriously. And even though “they” (you know, all those more experienced writers and writing teachers) say the first line (or paragraph) should give the reader a sense of WWWWH, fine-tuning it can come after you’ve got the plot holes filled, the timelines in order, and the character arcs smoothed out.

You want to drop the reader into the middle of the action or at least some sort of goings on. No waking up and looking in the mirror or weather report unless it is pertinent and not boring or cliche. Even if you open with action, it doesn’t mean that’s the right action to open with. Case in point: when I workshopped my police procedural in a novel writers’ Master Class, I had an action-packed opening scene, or so I thought. My writing instructor guided me to make it better.

I wrote a new opening scene that keeps the gist of the action, but it now gives the reader a much better sense of the main character and the flavor of the story that follows. And it feels right. Or at least more right than the first one did.

The longer you practice writing, the easier it will be to recognize when the opening just isn’t “there”, and the better you will get at fixing it. Bottom line, if something feels off or wonky with the opening, it’s probably your writer’s brain (or muse) poking at you and telling you to try it again, because what’s there isn’t working. Listen to it.

Happy Writing Weekend!

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Author: Julie Holmes, author

A fiction writer since elementary school (many years ago), and NaNoWriMo annual participant for a decade, I have been published in small press magazines such as "Fighting Chance" and "The Galactic Citizen". I write adult mystery with a touch of romance, mystery with extrasensory elements, contemporary fantasy, and epic fantasy, and I'm represented by the fabulous Cynthia Zigmund of Second City Publishing Services. My debut novel, "Murder in Plane Sight", has been released by Camel Press (an imprint of Coffeetown Press/Epicenter Press). In real life, I am a technical writer and empty-nester with a wonderful hubby, one cat (what writer doesn't have cats??), two dogs, seven chickens, and more chipmunks, squirrels, and rabbits than any garden should have to deal with. My garden, our hobby farm, and Nature's annual seasons are some of my muses.

23 thoughts on “How many tries for that (kinda) perfect opening?

  1. I know just what you mean about deciding exactly how to start a story. I’ve had that sort of dilemma, myself. And a good beginning can really invite the reader in, if I can put it that way. It’s not always an easy decision to make, is it ??

    Liked by 1 person

    • No, it isn’t. I think if I can get the opening where I need it, the rest of the story will “flow”. I’m almost at the point where I’m going to just put [write awesome opening here] at the beginning and move on with the rest of the book.

      Almost. It doesn’t feel right to do that, though. It would be like a painter doing the walls before the trim. Have a great weekend, Margot!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Julie, I can relate! Until I wrote a few chapters, I thought the beginning was okay! Then, new ideas and the rewriting began. Actually chose a foreshadowing opening that introduces the main character & antagonist in a sort of emotional, action scene. Stuck with that so I could go forward. Happy weekend!
    ๐Ÿ“š Christine

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Iโ€™m on my 20th+ edit and Iโ€™m still tweaking the first line.
    Youโ€™re right get the story down and then a few rounds of edits before agonising over the begin. Thatโ€™s what editing is for.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I donโ€™t know if I could write a longer work, Julie. I tinker with a 500 word essay endlessly, and have new ideas pop into my brain at crazy times. Then I have to write down the idea immediately or repeat it until I can do so – or Iโ€™ll forget it. You canโ€™t do that level of editing and tweaking with a full length novel. Especially if your muse hides your chocolate! Good luck! You are on your way.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. That opening scene is one of the toughest parts, besides getting started
    Sometimes I have to finish the book to see what’s wrong. Even can’t get it sometimes until I edit. When that feels right it all seems to fall into place:)

    Liked by 1 person

    • I agree, Denise. Sometimes in the process of writing the draft I come up with better/different ideas for the plot. Then through the edit can fix what doesn’t match with the changes. And yes, when it finally feels right, it all works out ๐Ÿ™‚

      Have a great week!

      Liked by 1 person

  6. I’ve got a couple of books that went through more than a dozen openings, and I’m still not sure I nailed them. They either come to me on the wings of angels, or I have to do everything but sell my soul to figure them out. Obviously I much prefer the former.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Hmm… now I’m thinking about Supernatural. And I’m DEFINITELY distracted. (I’m hopeless.)

    Liked by 1 person

  8. I always see the opening that I want. My problem is the approach. Where do I go? How do I start? I do this every time.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. I had this problem with my last release, Cusp of Night. Rewrite, rewrite, rewrite. Not only the opening scene but the entire first half of the book. It kept screaming at me that something wasn’t right. I ended up changing the main character’s name (she insisted on being Maya rather than Hannah) and fleshed out her backstory. From that point on everything soared, but there was still that iffy beginning. My CP had me change it up, then my editor came along and had me hack off a section. Wow! It worked ๐Ÿ™‚

    Surprisingly the opening scenes in books 2 and 3 were pretty solid the first time out of the gate. That rarely works for me. I think Mr. E must have been channeling extra muse inspiration my way ๐Ÿ™‚

    I love how you talk things out with your writing sisters. It is so helpful to get feedback, especially when we feel stuck in the mire. Those opening scenes can give a writer nightmares, LOL!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Absolutely! And I know how it is if a scene or opening is working, it’s so much harder to write the rest. And talking things out with my writing sisters is incredible. We brainstorm everyone’s stuff. It’s amazing what 6-7 creative minds can come up with ๐Ÿ™‚ And I think Maya was right to insist on her name. Hannah just wouldn’t work as well, I don’t think ๐Ÿ™‚

      Liked by 1 person

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