My A-Z Blogging theme is to cover 26 touch-me-not categories of fiction writing. These are frequently the trouble spots which can be useful components of the story if handled properly, but when rushed through, can cause all kinds of trouble. While the genre is fantasy, the tips can apply to anything, from romance to literary fiction.
The late evening sun glinted over the battlements, casting a long, crenelated shadow across the stone courtyard. A lone knight strode forward in the silence, his metal armor bearing down on him, as heavy as his thoughts. He was alone. He’d fought the good fight, and yet had lost…or been deemed unworthy, he wasn’t sure which. As he planted his lance in the lonely space, he sighed gustily.
Then, behind him he heard a rustle. A noise! An enemy! A chance to redeem himself! All impatient, he drops his lance and turn to confront this new challenge, his blade out and his shield ready.
Only to find that it was his sister with her multi-zoom digital camera.
“Come on, Kai. Give me something…a little more artistic than standing about.”
“I’m wearing this get-up because of you. You were the one who…”
“And you’re the one who loves it,” Monique said with a smile, even as she shaded her dark eyes from the light. “You wanted to come see this ruin of a castle while we were over here, so…”
“I didn’t plan to show up looking like a knight.” Not that he achieved that. He was a bit more of a hodge-podge, with a leather jerkin, belt and scabbard, blue jeans, and modern boots.
“It’s good for my portfolio. Now go over to that tower doorway,the one there with the arch, and look imposing.”
Beneath his reproduction metal helmet, Mordekai squinted at his sister. He half-suspected that this whole thing–the visit to countries far, the itinerary that included every castle they could find, and bringing part of his “renaissance faire” collection of knightly garments –was more than just an attempt to honor their parents’ memories with the trip they’d never managed to take. But Annette and I broke up months ago. She can’t still feel that I need…I mean, she doesn’t think I’m still… He let his thoughts trail off as he wandered over to the tower, trying to add some of the requested significance to his stride and threat to his tread.
One of the hardest things to write is the beginning. It needs to present your tone, style, and set up appropriate reader expectations–all without feeling like a scam to get the reader to keep reading.
And the same kind of effective beginning won’t work for everyone. Some readers detest beginnings that start with dreams or prologues. Other’s dislike being dropped into the middle of action or battle. In this case, the narration begins as melodramatic and full of cliches only to alter abruptly as Mordekai snaps out of his daydream.
Because it changes so quickly, it may not qualify as being truly awkward–at least, not as bad as if the daydream went on for pages, to where readers start to suspect that it’s the real deal, only to find out it isn’t–but it could still come across as over-the-top (which will actually fit the story as we move forward, so in this case, it might be the perfect beginining, setting the tone for wild, implausible things to come).
One thing that can help you avoid an awkward or problematic beginning is to take stock of your overall story. Does it contain humor? A high, literary tone? Action? Romance? Suspense? Whatever the signature components of your tale, they should be represented in the first few paragraphs, if possible. Otherwise, readers who like the beginning may find they don’t like the rest, and those who would’ve loved what comes later will be turned off by a bad beginning. Every word we write in the story is advertising for what’s to come, so if the beginning hints at mystery, intrigue, or fantasy, the rest of the book had better deliver.
Until the next letter,
Copyright 2017 Andrea Lundgren
Photo courtesy of gratisography
18 thoughts on “A to Z 2017: Awkward Beginnings”
I’ll tell you thins: I’ve rewritten the beginning of my novel some 30 times. Tell me about how writing the beginning of the story is 😉
And yes, part of the reason why I rewrote it so many times is that I got it wrong the first time… because I consciously made the wrong decision about tone and revelations.
But the problem is sometimes, when we write the beginning, we don’t really know wher ethe story is heading.
Thanks fo rsharing this great article.
The Old Shelter – 1940s Film Noir
I’m rewriting a story I first wrote when I was seventeen (I think it’s on its fourth or fifth rewrite now) and I wrote a prologue to it on my last rewrite.
I’ve since realised that the story doesn’t need the prologue, but I did. It’s helped me figure out what everyone’s doing before the story starts. Eventually that bit will get cut, but I know it’s what happened and I can drop hints of it later in the story.
I think a lot of the time the most important bit is getting started, and then recognising when your first attempt at starting needs to go. 😉
Cait @ Click’s Clan
Great idea for the A to Z challenge – story combined with good advice and tips. Look forward to reading more, and hope you can find time to read my effort. Good luck for the rest of the month.
Do I dare admit that I liked the beginning section that you deemed melodramatic and full of cliches? 🙂 I was getting all settled in for a good story.
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I suppose that’s a good thing. Actually, given the medieval mindset, referencing other works (which is what cliches are) was actually admired, not scorned, so the beginning would be an appropriate way to start a third person close narration story set in that time. But, the very fact that you were getting settled in and then the narration changed proves the “awkward” part, at least. 🙂
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Beginnings can be hard. There are stories that I’ve nailed the opening right away and others I’ve had to rewrite well into the double digits.
Good advice on beginnings and your example was dead on for me putting the book down where we went from cliché knight to camera-bearing sister.
Discarded Darlings – Jean Davis, Speculative Fiction Writer, A to Z: Editing Fiction
Andrea, I agree that a good beginning can make or break the entire story. Knowing what you are going to write when you begin is crucial or you can have a muddled mess. I am after the end of the A to Z, but want to still work through your 26.