Friday, March 22, 2013

Opening lines

So a guy walks into a bar.... and then something fun, ironic, moronic, interesting or lame happens. We all have heard these stories. Openings that are used over and over again become tired, boring and cliché. And as writer, let alone a joke teller, you have to watch out for these.

We have all started a story with our genre's version of "A dark and stormy night." And when you are starting a story, you may as well start with one of these lines. They can get you going on writing your story so that you can develop the characters and plot. (And then come back and change the opening.)

There is this movie about writers/writing called "Finding Forrester" that I like to use as an example. There is a point where our main character is having some trouble writing. He can't seem to get past the blank page.

To help solve this problem Forrester pulls out something that he wrote long ago, and tells him to start copying it until he feels his story start to emerge, and then to break away and continue writing. This piece of writing becomes important later in the movie.  But what did it do for our young writer?

Starting a Story:

It got him started. He was no longer on line 1, but on line 57, and had broken through the barriers that were holding him back.  Sometimes the first word is the hardest word to write.  The first sentence is the hardest sentence.  And the first paragraph is the hardest paragraph.

When this is the case, skip it.  Skip the first line, sentence and paragraph and jump into the story. You can use this method, write "A guy walks into a bar." Then move one.

Fix it Later:

We know that first lines are important. If we don't get them right, we can lose our reader before they start. And sometimes this gets us stuck on these lines. But we don't have to get it right right now.

Save it for your first edit, or a rewrite pass of the story. No one writes without making corrections, so let one of your corrections be fixing the first line or paragraph. Even if you spend the same amount of time on the task, you won't be staring at the blank page when you do it.  The pressure of all the other writing will be gone.

But don't forget to fix it.

Don't Forget:

Just because the "Good enough for now." plan worked to get you started, doesn't mean it is good enough to leave that way. Don't let yourself be lazy, just focused.

After the story is out and written to the first draft, it is time to revisit the beginning of the story.  Generally there are one or more things that happen to my stories;

1.  I started the story too soon. I should cut the whole opening, sometimes the 1st chapter and start there.  It can be hard to do, but sometimes it is soo much better for the story.
2. Started with a crutch like "A guy walks into a bar" and I need to fix this now so that people won't burn the book. (or in the case of ebooks, delete them and then blog about how bad the opening was.)
3. Missing beginning. From time to time, I start writing a fun part of the story and just skip the part that sets it up. In these cases, I need to write it.
4.  Identity crisis. My story started with a main character that I end up not liking and I need to write a beginning with the real main character.

I am sure this is not an exhaustive list. For me, and certainly not for you.  But I know what are my common corrections are, and I don't beat myself up for using them. In fact, I rely on them.

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