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Travis J. Smith
06-14-2009, 12:52 AM
After two to three dozen attempts at an opening line for my novel rewrite, I became so disheartened that I closed up shop for the time being. Days ago I considered where to start with the first chapter and settled for a direction for the opening line. That may not seem like much to kick start the rewrite, but I felt that if I really nailed this opening line that the momentum would simply carry over and things would begin to fall into place, as if the sentence were some sort of key.

What say you, AW? Is this something temporary all writers encounter every now and again, meaning I should I keep pecking away until I hit one out of the park with the opening line like I hoped to? Or is it more likely a matter of a lack of direction, meaning I should get a better sense of where I am going with the first chapter and then go back at it again?

I just beg of you to avoid giving me the usual, "Turn off that internal editor of yours and just write, be it crap or gold," sort of advice. Perhaps if this was a first draft, or a different situation. This is the first time going that route has felt like a distinct impossibility. This time I need a tone setting opening to get into a comfort zone because of unfamiliarity. Horror writer, I am not, but, just the same, horror is what this novel has become, which is a far cry from pseudo-literary, as I will refer to my other writing as, for lack of a better term. Beyond that, the plot's become a different beast, but that much is pretty obvious given the genre change.

citymouse
06-14-2009, 01:14 AM
Not having read a word of what you have or don't have I couldn't say, however, I had a situation where I thought I had a novel with a good beginning so I asked a writer friend to look at it. He came right back. He said it's good but you need an opening chapter! Well, I simply began at the first line of what I thought was my first chapter and wrote backwards from there. It required no mega-rewrite, just an add-on. Very unorthodox, I suppose, but it worked. I'm not at all sure I could do it again.
C


After two to three dozen attempts at an opening line for my novel rewrite, I became so disheartened that I closed up shop for the time being. Days ago I considered where to start with the first chapter and settled for a direction for the opening line. That may not seem like much to kick start the rewrite, but I felt that if I really nailed this opening line that the momentum would simply carry over and things would begin to fall into place, as if the sentence were some sort of key.

What say you, AW? Is this something temporary all writers encounter every now and again, meaning I should I keep pecking away until I hit one out of the park with the opening line like I hoped to? Or is it more likely a matter of a lack of direction, meaning I should get a better sense of where I am going with the first chapter and then go back at it again?

I just beg of you to avoid giving me the usual, "Turn off that internal editor of yours and just write, be it crap or gold," sort of advice. Perhaps if this was a first draft, or a different situation. This is the first time going that route has felt like a distinct impossibility. This time I need a tone setting opening to get into a comfort zone because of unfamiliarity. Horror writer, I am not, but, just the same, horror is what this novel has become, which is a far cry from pseudo-literary, as I will refer to my other writing as, for lack of a better term. Beyond that, the plot's become a different beast, but that much is pretty obvious given the genre change.

blacbird
06-14-2009, 02:15 AM
Why do you need to rewrite the opening line first? No law says you have to do the rewrite in a strictly sequential order. When I run into a thing like this that's bugging me, and don't immediately know what to do about it, I mark it for later consideration, and move on to other things. Eventually, I'll get back to it, and usually that serves to free it up.

caw

wordmonkey
06-14-2009, 02:54 AM
I believe Sydney Sheldon (if not him, it was someone who wrote the definitive airport/vacation page-turner-paperbacks) believed that the first sentence was so important that he would write the novel, get the entire thing totally nailed, then sit down and work on JUST the opening line.

If I remember, he'd also tweak the first page based on that line as well. But there ya go. A writer who was staggeringly successful (whether you like what he did, there is no denying his sales) who did the first-line last.

And whether you like it or not, whether you want to hear it or not, you ARE editing yourself.

Now it might not be the whole self-editor getting in the way. It could well be the inverse of the Sheldon thing. You know the value of that opening line and you're putting too much pressure on yourself to make it rock. So I would suggest you think about writing a chapter BEFORE your current opening chapter. I'm not saying USE that, just write one and remove the pressure your current first line is under.

Or.... kill the CURRENT opening chapter and start on the book at your current chapter two. Oftentimes we find in the rewrite that we started the story sooner than we should have.

And again, I'm not saying you should DEFINITELY edit out that chapter, I'm saying stop thinking of things in such a fixed way. Up until your editor at the publisher locks the manuscript down for press, ANYTHING can change.

Claudia Gray
06-14-2009, 02:56 AM
Writing (or rewriting) the beginning after you've finished is really a very good way to go.

Eldritch
06-14-2009, 03:10 AM
Don't know if this is the sort of advice you're looking for, but what helps me is to start off with a WTF sentence or two.

CheshireCat
06-14-2009, 03:16 AM
What the bird said.

I've found over the years that when I'm having trouble with something very specific, the best "cure" is to leave it alone and work on something else for a while -- and that may not even be writing, depending on what the problem is.

My subconscious writer works even when I'm not sitting here at the keyboard, and sooner or later that muse figures out how to fix whatever is bugging me.

It usually takes more time than I'd like, but I've learned to trust whatever's going on in my subconscious, because in all these years I've never not been able to work my way out of the problem.

Travis J. Smith
06-14-2009, 05:27 AM
In this case, the opening chapter from the last draft has become a prologue of sorts, at least for now, and this first chapter is more me starting completely anew than rewriting the story due to the radical changes I'm making to the plot.

But, I would imagine that the further into the rewrite I would get, the more elements from the last draft I'd likely hold onto. Since day one, with this novel, I've had more issues with the opening chapters than anything else. I took a similar approach to citymouse's with the last draft, moving backwards a little and writing a chapter that stands as a much better introductory chapter than the old first chapter.

Guess I'll return my attention to that fantasy novel of mine. Wrote one chapter of it, took my fair share of time revising and rewriting it, and then got caught up with other things, namely this novel. Hopefully I can apply what I learned with my most recent revisions of this novel to my fantasy novel. It needs some loving too! :Hug2:

Matera the Mad
06-14-2009, 06:21 AM
I don't worry about starting with Perfect Opening Lines. It's not important to me in the writing of the story. For that, I only need a pasionate love of the characters and their world. The POL can come later, when I am polishing up and trying to make the beginning as appealing as possible (the eternal impossibility of pleasing everyone :( ).

In fact, it can be easier to write the beginning after the rest is done. Where and how the story must start may be clearer when you can get a broad view. Striving for perfection at the beginning will too often kill the drive to write.

Travis J. Smith
06-14-2009, 08:39 AM
This is the first time I have tried to write the perfect opening line, Matera. I am stressing over the opening line because I'm in unfamiliar territory (horror) and I feel that a strong opening line can kick start me. Help everything fall into place. As it stands, I am not certain how point of view, tone, etc. will exactly play out, so once I feel the opening line's point of view and tone convey what I am aiming for, then, and only then, will I feel comfortable with moving on. Maybe a little more pre-planning can remedy that issue, but that's where I stand now with this opening chapter.

blacbird
06-14-2009, 10:55 AM
Maybe a little more pre-planning can remedy that issue, but that's where I stand now with this opening chapter.

This is my opinion only, but I think it's possible you're already doing too much pre-planning. Here's my suggestion for your opening line, which you'll feel free to change later:

I have no idea how to begin this story, but right now that doesn't matter; I'll fix it later.

Now go on to Sentence Two.

caw

Matera the Mad
06-15-2009, 05:30 AM
As it stands, I am not certain how point of view, tone, etc. will exactly play out, so once I feel the opening line's point of view and tone convey what I am aiming for... It's a catch-22 -- can't do this without that and that has to determine this. That is exactly why you should start to write onward. Let the tone grow, let ideas blossom on top of one another. Just write whatever comes to mind and never mind where it is going. You're creating a case self-induced writer's block by not allowing yourself any freedom. Nobody but you knows what goes down in that first rough draft. You can jump off from whatever turns out good. It's no different from obsessing about a title. The real problem is that you aren't certain of anything yet, the whole thing is too vague. Write some, plan some, write some more, plan some more. Let go and let it grow.

claire
06-15-2009, 06:47 AM
I think you're putting so much pressure on the opening line you're shutting it down. I'd try writing further in and then at some point come back to the opening. Otoh, maybe stepping away completely for a few weeks/however long you decide is a good idea too. Good luck!!

The Lonely One
06-15-2009, 07:05 AM
It's strange because in most scenarios (not always, but most) I'll only begin my story when I have a sweet a$$ opener. I mean, I've had a few wingers that led to complete nonsense, but it's usually an opening line that gives me steam forward.

Have you given this line a second or third pair of eyes? I don't mean the whole MS, JUST the line. Perhaps you should run it through SYW or past a few comrades with the guidelines of what you want out of it and just ask--what isn't ticking?

But like I said I'm usually okay with opening lines, it's just the middle sh(first person pronoun)t that gets me...

megan_d
06-15-2009, 07:19 AM
I agree with Lonely One. Beginnings are easy, dare say fun, but the middle... Boy, do I hate me some middles.

blacbird
06-15-2009, 07:34 AM
The night was . . .

The night was . . .

The night was . . .

caw

Travis J. Smith
06-16-2009, 12:22 AM
. . . it's usually an opening line that gives me steam forward.Exactly why I am putting so much emphasis on the opening line. Without it, what comes after'd just be a lot of hot air and crap. :tongue


Anywho, I thank you all for your advice. Stepping back from it for a little bit did wonders. Last night, while trying to fall asleep, I went at the opening line from a different angle, running through it out loud. The end result was not a home run by any stretch of the imagination, yet so many ideas began to sprout from that opening line that I stopped that train of thought early knowing I wasn't going to transcribe these lines all into my notebook in the dark, nor was I getting up and doing it. I needed my sleep, and I had that thought kids do about Christmas: the earlier I get to bed, the sooner I wake up and get to open my presents. In this case, the first chapter's my present. :D

Matera the Mad
06-16-2009, 07:07 AM
Hey, Merry Chaptermas! :D

blacbird
06-16-2009, 08:47 AM
Exactly why I am putting so much emphasis on the opening line. Without it, what comes after'd just be a lot of hot air and crap.

No it won't. Not if you actually have a story. Trust me on this, and try it. Please. I'm being serious here. What is the next thing that happens in the story, after the beginning? Work on that, under the pretense that your beginning is just fine. It's a form of visualization, I guess, but do something to kick your butt forward.

caw

Tanya Egan Gibson
06-16-2009, 09:31 AM
Since you're determined to write that opening line, I'd suggest sitting down and deciding to write 50 or 100 different opening lines. Seriously. Just write all different things. Be playful. Be serious. Go at it like people are going to read all 50 to 100 different versions. Then walk away from the desk. Reread them the next day and see if anything you've done has surprised you or captured your fancy.

Travis J. Smith
06-16-2009, 06:11 PM
No it won't. Not if you actually have a story. Trust me on this, and try it. Please. I'm being serious here. What is the next thing that happens in the story, after the beginning? Work on that, under the pretense that your beginning is just fine. It's a form of visualization, I guess, but do something to kick your butt forward.

cawWhat the issue is/was is that I myself was completely unaware of exactly what would follow. My ideas for what follows the opening line were vague at best. Writers such as Stephen King talk about working from little more than a particularly nagging image. One they want to work out the story behind. This time around I am taking an approach similar to that, although I am not without building blocks of a story entirely. While they may change (for example, one character mayhaps be but another character's delusion this time around), because I am treating this almost like another first draft, I do have a setting, characters, and a plot.

Certainly I'm not going in completely blind, as you can tell, but the opening line set for me my point of attack (point of view, tone, etc.) when I wrote it. What followed was reliant on that opening line and I imagine if the opening line were to have come out differently then what followed would be just as different.

To some, this may seem an odd approach, or one that stifles creativity in some manner, but after a few initial stalls it seems to be working out fine enough. All I needed was the break from working on it that a couple of you mentioned before I could celebrate Chaptermas. :D

Greenify13
06-16-2009, 06:37 PM
Since I'm uncertain of what the story is about and I don't have this problem I found this:
Practice and Theory of the First Sentence (http://jimvanpelt.livejournal.com/54431.html)
I read it, and it's very good and I think it could be helpful even if just a little. :)

Travis J. Smith
06-16-2009, 06:46 PM
Just to clarify where I stand right now:

I wrote the opening line, as well as some of the first chapter, after stepping away from it for a day or so. I would have written more if I didn't need some sleep.

But I am still thankful for that link, Greenify. I'll mark it for later reading, because though this is my first time having such an issue I still feel it is a worthy read for a writer.

Greenify13
06-16-2009, 07:01 PM
I'm glad you got the opening line, and the links there for you when needed, and you may not be the only one feeling the pressure of the first sentence. :)

Matera the Mad
06-17-2009, 07:26 AM
Writing is a broad spectrum; everyone fits into some range of it, narrow or wide, and every story is different to some degree. Finding one's best way is a matter of trying and trying. Sometimes it is very...trying :D

calley
06-17-2009, 01:37 PM
When I have the right opening sentence, the writing does just flow. I got out 2,500 words today on something I've been tearing my hair out over for a week, because I finally found that magic sentence.

Everyone's got their own process. If you're like me, that sentence is gold. Kudos on finding yours. :)