Posted in Writing, Writing: Help

Ending at the Beginning

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?