It’s no secret that the beginning of a manuscript has to entice people to keep reading or the rest of your manuscript may never see the light of day, no matter how wonderful and exciting it becomes later on. Actually crafting that compelling opening is easier said than done, though–at least for me.
When I sat down to write the manuscript that got me an agent, I wrote the scenes that my brain told me came first. Meanwhile, I was also incorporating a little bit of an old manuscript I’d been working on for years. (See this entry.) The result was an odd mishmash of chronology for the first four chapters or so. One of my beta readers thought the jumps odd and wanted more clarification, particularly when it came to worldbuilding. (The manuscript is fantasy.) I thought about it and added a few more passages I thought clarified things and I was ready to go.
Of course, most (but not all) agents ask for a sample of the manuscript along with the query. I only had 5 or 10 (sometimes a bit more) pages to grab their attention. Partial and full requests came in… And the vast majority were only from agents who had requested queries only (no sample pages) for the first e-mail. I started wondering if that meant my concept was enticing enough but not my first few pages…
And then I got an R&R on a full request. The problem? The beginning, of course! The agent agreed with my beta reader (maybe they’re really in tune–that agent was my beta reader’s agent by then!): I needed to fix up the beginning and work on clearly worldbuilding. So that was two people who thought my beginning needed work–and maybe more, and the others who rejected it didn’t have time to tell me.
I took a time out from sending queries and spent a slow three weeks reshaping the beginning. I cut long scenes, rearranged ones I wanted to keep and cut, cut, cut passages. Then I drafted a new first chapter–twice. I didn’t much like my first attempt at a new beginning. Then I was struck with a different idea, and I wound up writing two completely new chapters. This version started with action, and I used that action to worldbuild. At first I was wary about re-doing the beginning, but I loved the final result!
I sent out the revision and continued to query other agents with my brand new beginning. Material requests rolled in, and this time they were from agents who saw sample pages at the start! I got a few passes, but of those who took the time to detail their reasons, all were complimentary–particularly about my worldbuilding! And, of course, it was this beginning (10 pages with the query) that netted the full request and then my first offer of representation.
I’m learning. Both of the beginnings of my two WIPs start with action. I like them–but at the same time, I wouldn’t be surprised if I have to go back and tweak the beginning at the very end!
How do you write beginnings? Do you fix the beginning later or think of a compelling image to start the book before you start?
8 thoughts on “Ending at the Beginning”
This is fantastic! I always dissect “the hook” of every literary piece, from novels to poetry. Curious if you’d share the first line or two in a future post? (I think this will be one of my next blog posts!) To answer your questions, the beginnings sometimes are born out of revisions–or the entire story is built around them from the start. I try to make the beginning of every story and chapter a sensational hook to keep the reader engaged.
I agree. Sometimes you have a scene in mind for the beginning that can lead to an entire story. That’s sort of the case for one of my WIPs. I might share the first few lines sometime! Thanks for the interest!
I’ve redone my beginning. I try to start with action and within the first three paragraphs have some sort of dialogue, but that’s just me.
Sounds like a good plan! My original beginning was a lot of narration.
I always have to start at the beginning. I figure I’ll figure out the end when I get there, lol. But no, really, I remember when you were writing your novel and how you talked about writing scenes out of order; I was horrified! I definitely can’t write like that, brain doesn’t work that way. I need to start at the beginning and take it from there.
I had to redo the entire beginning to my current WIP, as you know! The first chapter more or less stayed the same, but there was a lot of chopping and rewriting involved with the rest of part one as I figured out where I wanted to take the story. Not my favorite thing in the world to do, but at least I recognized early on that I needed to do some serious editing.
I still skip backward and forward, but at least with that manuscript I mostly went from start to end… Not quite, though! (I often write later scenes within a chapter and go back and fill in the gaps so I know how a chapter ends!) And then I had to re-do the beginning anyway. I remember you saying that about the WIP! I’m glad you stuck with it, though.
I write from all ends and the middle of the story while I am drafting. It lets the story come out of my head and take shape.
For example, two days ago, while running, a new character appeared who insisted she be inserted in the middle of my WIP. She helped to define the sad life of my antagonist.
In my first novel, more than half of my heavy revision was on the first 20% of the story. I agree with you: the beginning is critical.
Thanks for the post!
I love when that happens–having a distinct image for a scene that takes place later in the book! It helps me figure out what I have to write from Point A to Point B. When I was writing this story, I was about 50 pages from finishing when I pictured the ending! So I wrote the last chapter and then it was just a matter of getting there.
No problem. Thanks for sharing!