Friday, August 10, 2007

In the begining . . . .

I'm blogging for Danita today. The computer really DID eat her blog. In fact, it did such a good job that she doesn't have internet now. We're hoping that nothing else was lost. Remember, everyone, back up that work!

But, in Danita's honor, I'd like to talk about one of her favorite topics: Beginnings. Or rather NEW beginnings. My WIP is only the 3rd MS that I've finished, but neither of my previous two were quite the problem children that this one is morphing into. Both of my previous MS have had the same basic beginning since day one. In fact, in both cases, the beginning was one of the first things that came to me.

If only it were so for this WIP. Just deciding WHERE to begin was a trial. The book originally came to me in the 1st person POV, then demanded to be 3rd. Then I decided to bookend my novel with two funerals, and the beginning seemed pretty set . . .

Until it wasn't. Now, I've realized that if heroine owns the story, we need to begin in her POV. I've drafted a new beginning, but I'm feeling like there's too much action and too many characters all at once. It's a mess.

And, luckily, I'm not asking you to solve it. Instead, I want to know about YOUR problematic beginning: What's the most number of times that you've rewritten an opening chapter? What's the most radical change you've attempted? How long does it take you to love the new beginning? Ever chuck it and go back to the old? Ever burn a MS based on a beginning that refused to submit . . . .okay, just kidding on that one. I think. But, do share your tales of beginning woes. Misery loves a little company.


Alice Sharpe said...

Wavy -- Thanks for filling in for Danita.

Sorry your beginning is giving you such trouble. I'm glad one of your questions wasn't, "How do I fix this?" because, yikes, I don't know.

The book I am currently writing, the one Karen's blog helped me define the focus on, is the most problematic beginning I've ever had. I have written and rewritten this sucker a thousand times and sure, that's an exaggeration -- but not much of one.

The first chapter -- or what I thought of as the first chapter -- turned out to be eight tight pages (and I have rewritten that one umpteen times, too. Eli, in Dallas, thought I must be half way through the book, I was typing so much. Nope, just going over and over those blasted eight pages.) So now it's a very long prologue. Am I happy about this? No.

But then the first chapter. So many decisions! POV. Location. How much time has passed? Start with something thrilling, watch the pacing -- How much to reveal?

Today I realized there could be another element -- in fact there should be. So, here I am, back on page 15 again where I have set up an easy chair, a reading lamp and a hammer with which to hit myself every thirty seconds. All the comforts of home.

However, I am sorry to hear that you have to lose your first chapter as it seemed you liked it so much. The only word of advice I have to offer you is one I keep telling myself as I face the same dilemmas you describe (too much, too many, too much!) That word of advice is simplicity.

Don't try to get every last thing in there. But also keep in mind that as you refine further chapters, you will shift information. If you have too much in right now, it is probably writer insecurity where we feel the need to show every detail right up front, as much for our sake as for the readers. That usually wanes after awhile and we can get more reasonable.

I am trying to remember this: My book's job is to entertain. It is like a ride at an amusement park, and I am not talking about bone tingling chills, I am talking about entertainment. I want my reader to start in and be intrigued. I want her to say to herself, "Oh, I wasn't expecting that!" I want her to worry about how these people are going to make things work. I want the villain to make her skin crawl, I want her to feel my hero's sadness and my heroine's loss and I want it all to happen so seamlessly that she doesn't know it. And at the end, I want her satisfied and thinking she might take that ride again some day or one very much like it because that was a fun way to spend a few hours of her very important time.

Of course, the pep talk up there is aimed at me. So, Alice and maybe Wavy, too, keep it simple and logical and keep it fun and entertaining.

Back to work.

Eli said something the other day. She said, "Some books are gimmes'." I think she's right. But that means some books are the flip side of that. Like this one. Like yours. sigh...

Elisabeth Naughton said...

Great topic, Wavy. And one I wish I had an easy answer for, but I don't.

Alice and I talked about the fact some books are gimmees. You know from beginning to end how they're going to play out. They're easy to write and just seem to flow until you type those last two words. Other books - like the one I'm working on now - are not so easy. (Actually, they make you think of things like driving into a bridge embunkment and pulling your eyelashes out one by one to ease the pain pounding away at your brain, but that's a topic for another blog).

As for how many times I've rewritten a beginning? Ugh. You don't want to know. I rewrote the opening to book #3 (which I'm going to send my agent soon) about 20 times. Actually, I just redid the opening to that one about two weeks ago - again (and this is a book that's was "finished" (Ha! Is an unpubbed book EVER finished???) about two years ago). It's undergone major revisions since I first wrote it, but at the heart its the same book. I've never liked the opening of the fourth book I wrote (though I love the book itself). I've started and restarted it so many times I can't count. Something is wrong with it, but I can't pin it down. I sent it to my agent and she agreed. But because it's a darker style than I normally write, instead of fixing that one now, we've decided to table it and revisit it after I sell. Book #6 (the wip that will never end) has had the same opening since the beginning. I love it. It fits the mood and style of the book. But after Karen's blog yesterday, I realized the end of the first scene doesn't work based on my vision for where the book is going. Last night I rewrote the end of that scene and added in a whole different second scene. When I think about book "openings" I tend to think of the first three chapters because that's your set up. So yes, the "set up" for this one is changing as I work.

Like I said though, sometimes it just works from the beginning and you know. The book I landed my agent with? The opening never changed. I've already written the opening for the next book I want to write, and I think that one will stay as well (I hope). I have a feeling that book will be a gimmee (Lord, please let it be a gimmee. I deserve one after this wip-of-a-mess.)

I wish I was better help, but I'm not. Maybe someone else will have grand pearls of wisdom for you.

Thanks for filling in for Danita today!

Paty Jager said...

Great topic, Wavy! Thanks for stepping in, Danita was really bummed she had the blog all written and lost it and her ability to get online!

Anyway, the beginning of the book usually comes to me right after I've thought up the premise and know the main characters. I've "rearranged" the beginning of the first spirit book about three times. It's the one and only book that I've struggled with the beginning. Had reasons for starting it the way I did, then was talked out of those reasons by contest judges and CP's. Then I had to rework the change, pushing the info I had up front deeper into the story. But I like it now. It starts with a pop and brings the tension to the first page.

I already know the opening scene of Miner in Petticoats, the next book I'll start. And I've been snickering over a scene I thought up for the start of the series I've been thinking about writing.

You stated Now, I've realized that if heroine owns the story, we need to begin in her POV. How do you all feel about ending in the book in the other persons POV? I had one person comment that they didn't like the fact the spirit book ends in the spirit's POV and not the heroine's who it starts with.

Karen Duvall said...

Wavy, I agree that this is a great topic. And I feel your pain because I've rewritten my first chapters a number of times for the 4 out of 5 books I've written.

The book I'm working on now has had the first chapter rewritten 3 times. I'd originally wanted the story told in 3rd person from at least 3 viewpoints, then as I got farther along in the book and was only in the heroine's viewpoint except for chapter 1, you know what I had to do. 8^) This was based on the advice of the senior editor for Del Rey Books, Betsey Mitchell.

Now I've changed my mind again and realized first person is the best choice for this type of book. Most UFs are written in 1st, especially the noir type that includes some deep, dark mystery, and it just makes since. As long as I'm changing the setting and the heroine's goal, I figured a total overhaul starting with page 1 is in order.

I don't think the written word is ever wasted. The writing gets stronger with each word you write, and the story itself becomes more polished. Though I've got my work cut out for me with this book of my heart, I'm thrilled to do it because I know it will ultimately be a better book for the effort.

wavybrains said...

Alice--Awesome pep talk! And can I borrow the hammer? My original begining is now chapter 2. Maybe. Grrr. Who knows.

Eli--This book is so not a gimme. My YA is a gimme. My first book was pretty much a gimme. Book #3 is the red-headed stepchild with an anger management issue. It sounds like though that over-time, that's just how it is. Knowing that's part of the process really helps! Thanks

To me, it depends on the story. If your spirit can sum things up better than either character, then ending in their POV would make sense. I really like symmetry though, and a recent blog by Jennifer Crusie really reinforced that to me as well. Your reader expects a certain amount of symmetry. Thus, if you begin with spirits, they expect to end with spirits. If you end with spirits and it's the first time the reader encounters that POV, it's harder. I read a RS--forget the name, where the ending used a character who's viewpoint we hadn't yet seen. I was really disappointed by it, but I've seen several beginnings successfully use a villan's POV.

wavybrains said...

Karen--it was your blog where you mentioned changing the POV that made me reconsider it too. I've decided to stay with 3rd---too many funny things happen in the hero's head, but you really inspired me! Rewriting it in the first person is such a gutsy thing to do. And I'm sure the book will be better for it.

Alice Sharpe said...

Karen -- Your attitude is fabulous.

Put some in a bottle and ship it my way, please?

Karen Duvall said...

Ah, Wavy and Alice, you touch me! 8^) Thanks! I'm glad I inspired you, Wavy, and Alice, I'm cookin' up a batch of good attitude right now, just for you. Snort.

It's all a journey, right? We get so used to waiting, then disappointment, then anticipation, and then waiting again... The cycle could be considered vicious, but I think it's inspired. Boot camp for writers. Drop and give me 50... pages! Hee hee.

Speaking of rewriting, I have a paranormal mystery novel that got rejected by The Poisoned Pen Press a couple of weeks ago. They'd had it for several months, so I checked up on it, and apparently the editor I was working with has cancer and has been out of commission for some time. So someone else was kind enough to email me my rejection, bless her black little heart. 8^) She wasn't real nice about it, but you know, some of what she said got me to thinking about repurposing the book as a YA. Kind of like Nancy Drew meets Medium. I don't know. The idea's still cooking in my fevered little brain. We'll see.

wavybrains said...

Karen--Paranormal YA is burning hot. Several agents are actively looking for it. I'd think about getting a query out ASAP.

Alice Sharpe said...

KAREN -- I was thinking about that poison penn proposal and wondering what happened to it. You recycle that thing, girl, although if you are up to it and want to share, I would love to know what the editor emailed you. Eamil me privatelyif you like.

Wavy is right. The panic! Harry Potter over? Ack!

Paty Jager said...

Wavy, the spirit has had a POV all the way through the book, it just didn't start in his POV, but the way the ending is- it has to end in his POV. I can't tell you any more without giving away the ending, but it is his POV in the epilogue. So he has the last words.

Paty Jager said...

Karen, I need some uplifting! I forgot I sent the spirit book to the Pasic "Book of Your Heart" contest. Well, the judges remarks came back yesterday! Yikes! Makes me want to toss this book in, but the funny thing- It IS the book of my heart and I refuse to give up on it. It is the spirit book. Out of a possible 35 I received 19, 16, 28.
The comments are what got me.
One said I had nice narrative and style and another said it was choppy and disjointed! Huh??
Two though the beginning was fast-paced and great the other thought it was slow.
One said she knew exactly how it was going to end!!! I don't think so- not unless she read the ending in the contest I sent that too! The two librarians gave me the low scores and the book seller gave me a higher score, but said NA stories have fallen on popularity and become vaguely politically incorrect!

Well, pffft! This book has been verbally contracted by TWRP- so we'll see how many feathers(pun intended) it will ruffle! And I've asked my Nez Perce consultant if she will read it before it goes to my editor.

Sorry to clog up the blog with this, but it kind of stung when I opened the letter and read the judge's statements.

Karen Duvall said...

Hugs to you, Paty! I know how negative statements can hurt. Even when offered in the most constructive way, it still singes our sensitive writer souls.

I've heard of Pasic, but I'm not really sure what it is, exactly, but it being a contest makes me wary. I don't care much for contests mainly because of the experience you just described. If you read what I posted to the loop this morning, you'll see what I mean (about comments, not contests).

So take heart! TWRP is publishing your books, so there you go.

wavybrains said...

Sorry Paty! That sucks! Contest judges can be so fickle and illogical.

I know plenty of people who really miss the NA stories. And with all the emphasis lately on multi-cultural stories, I can't see it being politically incorrect unless it's stereotyping (in the 90's there were a lot of category books that featured "half-breeds" and other stereotypes--those probably wouldn't fly with today's audiences). Ignore the critics. You've found a home for these books, and the readers will embrace them. Remember, an amazing number of publishing industry types rejected Jean Auel's books claiming that no one wanted to read about prehistoric people. The readers proved them wrong. I have no doubt that your book will do the same.

Alice Sharpe said...

Karen -- PASIC, is a group within RWA geared toward helping published authors, etc...

I HATE contests. No thankyou on critiques. I know when my writing sucks and when it doesn't. I don't need other people putting on their little judge hats, no thanks.

This is my credo (off said, bears repeating) if the person reading my work can't write me a check, advance my career or help me in a constructive way, then no dice, I'm not submitting.

So, cyber hugs, Paty. Stuff like that sucks to get in the mail. I hope they all lay awake sleepless and don't know why. (Bad vibes coming their way!)

Pffft! indeed.

Lisa Pulliam said...

Sounds like a strong case for a chocolate IV, Wavy! :) That would be very frustrating, such an indecisive muse. But I guess changing opinions is better than no opinions, right?

I've rewritten an opening chapter a few times for a couple of contests I entered last year. The most radical change I did was change where it started and do it in another POV - so basically a complete change lol.

I've never gone back to the old, but I've only worked on a couple of MS so I haven't quite set up a pattern for myself yet.

Good luck!!!