I'll tell you this: Writing the beginning of a novel is ridiculously difficult for me.
Thank God for NaNo writing buddies, a group of whom I've been emailing with during the past couple days. (*waves to Summer, Lola, Portia, JP, and Tara*) I mentioned in an email how much I struggle getting the opening scenes down, and I was surprised to learn that many other writers battle the same thing.
The root of the problem, for me, is the evolution of my writer's journey, to date. My path thus far has been paved with the short story. Since 2007, I've been honing the skills necessary to write successful short fiction. A short story focuses on one significant moment in time. Due to the constrained space in which you're writing, you don't indulge in a great deal of exposition. What the reader learns about the character is only what is necessary to understand his motivations and conflicts in that moment. And the majority of expositional information comes to the reader through clever characterization clues you drop here and there, meant not only to enlighten the reader but also to encourage her connect-the-dots participation intended to heighten her reading experience.
Backstory info-dumping is a cardinal sin, in short fiction.
When I write the opening scenes of a longer work, I'm overwhelmed by the space I'm afforded. The room I have to develop characters freaks me out. I feel like Little Red Dude in front of that maze, up there.
Donald Maass warns in Writing the Breakout Novel Workbook that one of the most common ways writers lose their readers is to bog them down with unnecessary backstory. I'm quoting him here from page 141:
"Again and again in manuscripts I find my eyes skimming over backstory passages in chapters one, two, and even three. Backstory doesn't engage me, because it doesn't tell a story. It does not have tension to it, usually, or complicate problems. However, once problems have been introduced, backstory can be artfully deployed to deepen them. It can be particularly useful in developing inner conflicts."
This makes me feel much better, because it gives me permission to handle the opening chapters like short stories, sort of. Also, part of my NaNo strategy included preparing scene cards on which I've written one summarizing sentence to guide my writing, so that I know what storytelling goals I want to achieve in each scene. All good, all good.
Still, the first three scenes were slow going and, frankly, suck. But, as my sweet friend Lola said in an email yesterday:
"Beginnings are hard...trying to get settled in to a new story is the hardest part. It's like working out or running...at first you just don't wanna, muscles are cold, can't get a rhythm going...then you hit a zone.
You can't edit a blank page, so don't worry about your first scenes sucking. Give yourself permission to suck and fix it later. I really believe we have to write ourselves into the story, to even find the REAL story. So ease on in and let go of perfectionism for your first draft. Save that angst for a later pass. :)"
Thanks, Lola!! What would I do without all the awesome support from my writing peeps?? And, I'm reminded of another thing: I have a ten-mile training run planned for this morning. Time to warm up those cold muscles and get into that zone.
Plus, that will give me an hour and a half to mull over the next scene and get ready for today's NaNo writing session!
Do you stuggle with the beginning too? Any support, suggestions, or offers to send me presents are greatly appreciated. (J/K about the presents! Unless, you want to send something... :p)