One morning last month, I woke at 4:00 A.M. and couldn’t go back to sleep. No, it is not my habit to get up at four in the morning. Generally, I would yell at someone for waking me at four. If I woke myself on purpose at four every day, I’d probably still yell at someone. I’m not nice in the morning.
As I lay there, my mind decided to revisit my manuscript. It knows I’ve scrapped the beginning of Dragonfly Prince four times now. In my first draft Casey’s story began with a prologue of entries directly out of her journal. I thought this would be a good way to help the reader get to know her. She also waxed a little poetic. It was entirely wrong…and dull.
So, I decided to jump into the action and fill in the blanks later. Well, in Casey’s case, that meant she blinked and found herself in a completely new environment. Big no-no. Literary agents don’t want another “I woke up and didn’t know where I was” beginning. Seriously, I don’t want to read another one of those. It also doesn’t help my reader understand my heroine. Casey has issues, but deep-down, she’s a sweetheart. She doesn’t really want to hurt or deceive anyone, but there’s something about being in survival mode that can bring out the worst in a person—all the fear and frustration. And that’s pretty much all you see of Casey’s personality if you start from the moment she’s dragged out of a cave by Ivan, a rescuer whose powers of persuasion affect her like sandpaper. Only glimpses of her true character are allowed to surface. Add to this the confusion for the reader, trying to figure out what’s going on along with her, and it’s just a little too much drama.
All of the above I’ve known for some time—lucky me–but it didn’t answer the question, “How do I begin this story?” When it comes to currently published fantasy fiction, I’m like every other reader. I want to be hooked by the first line. Actually, I’ll keep reading for a few paragraphs, just to make sure I’m not being judgmental. It’s not that I want the first sentence to wow me, I want it to speak to me. I want it to have a different voice from the other stories I’ve read. Or the voice can be similar to another writer I enjoy. Either way, that’s what I’m looking for. So, that’s the way I want to write my story.
At 4:30 A.M. my brain was teeming, and I slipped out of bed to type out the new beginning. At 6:30 A.M. I was finished with the second run-through. The beginning is written, and it’s right. I know it is! It practically fell out of my head! Well, it was more like unwinding a neatly-rolled ball of yarn.
Strangely, the result was unexpected. In those six pages, the story took on a culture. It embraced an environment I know well and made it Casey’s. That’s what I’ve been trying to do for a year now!
I’m on page 352 of my manuscript’s 460 pages. I’ve begun the gutting process and rewrite for the ending. I know what’s getting thrown out, I know what’s staying, and I know what I want to add…all the way up to the last chapter. It is staring me in the face, daring me to draw it to a close. It’s the toughest part for me, the ending. Surely it will be easier this time around. Surely I’ll get it right this time!
And I will be at the beginning again in this writer journey.