Beginnings are hard. For me, one of the most difficult parts of writing a first draft is deciding at what point I should start my story’s timeline. What opening scene will catch a reader’s attention? How early is too far from the action, leaving them bogged down with mundane character introductions? How late into the action will leave them confused rather than engaged? Is it worth throwing in a prologue to give readers background information, setting the backdrop of future events? Or should all of the pertinent background information get woven into the storytelling as exposition?
When I’m reading, I tend to get impatient with too much exposition, but writing it I find even more tedious. In addition, trying to introduce characters whom I already know to some extent through pre-writing planning can compound my impatience. It becomes quite tempting to jump into the action or a pivotal point in the plot, but I don’t want to give readers whiplash by throwing them in the middle of a minor climax. Unfortunately, I know it will warp my pacing if I try to start writing from the middle of my plotline with the intention of going back later to fill in the beginning, leaving a massive mess to clean up later during rewrites and editing. I have decided against pursuing a number of projects in the past due to pacing issues. (Thankfully, I’ve been able to weave some of the characters and concepts from those projects into other stories, so the efforts have not gone completely to waste.)
Many times I have come across the advice of leaving the editing until you’ve finished the first draft, to just plow ahead, get the story written, and ignore the flaws. But I find that taking the time to reread, edit, and rewrite my beginning helps me to answer the questions I mentioned above. I can figure out in which POV the story would be best told and just how little my audience knows about my characters. What personality traits need highlighted at the very beginning so readers can follow my characters’ development and self-discovery? What dialogue needs to be reworked to set their voices clearly in the readers’ minds and ensure each character is his/her own person? Am I giving readers enough information for them to develop a relationship with my characters or do they come across as flat and one-dimensional?
If you have difficulty locking yourself into an opening scene as I do, then try giving the start of your next project a little polish before you get too deep into the story. Looking at that first scene from the perspective of a reader may help you decide whether or not it sets the tone of your story and characters in the way you desire. If it doesn’t, perhaps you need to find a different starting point or another POV. But don’t be afraid to analyze that first scene in order to start your storyline off right.
3 thoughts on “Beginnings are Hard”
Great advice here! Here’s something you might also find interesting: I struggled with openings for a while, but a friend in the film biz told me to read a few books about screenwriting, as a way to visualize storytelling from a director’s POV. I hope this helps you too!
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I’ve done some study in stage theater, but I’ve never taken the time to really look into film/screenwriting. Thanks for the advice. I’ll have to check it out.
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