Writing Craft

Let’s Start At The Very Beginning…

Jenn McLeod got me in a singing mood yesterday with her lovely introduction to my first author interview on her truly fabulous blog, Author Harvest. You can read it here, where, amongst other things, you will see wonderful photographs of otters and learn what an otter can do to an oyster before breakfast!

Many writers host other writers on their blogs. It’s a great opportunity to get to know writers and authors and what makes them tick (in my case, it’s men in skirts). I’ve been thinking of a theme for my own semi-regular author interviews and the working title for these is: From Left Field, with Lily.

In keeping with how my blog began, and remains, a story of this writer’s road to publication, I wanted my author interview questions to work along this theme.

Late last year, Jennifer Crusie wrote a post about a book she first started in 2002, called You Again, which has resurfaced several times during the last decade and has never been finished. She lists the first paragraphs for each time she tried to rewrite, and goes on to include reasons why she felt these starts did or didn’t work. I found it fascinating. One resonating line for me out of this was: Start Where The Damn Story Starts. I took her words to heart. I hacked out my entire opening scene to His Brand Of Beautiful. When I did this (and I did other things too), the first two publishers to see this new version both said they wanted to publish my book.

In the next few weeks, I’ve invited some of my bravest author friends to come and be part of From Left Field, with Lily. Some of the brave things they have to do is share older versions and original drafts of their opening sentence and compare it with what they have today (and what has made it to the printed, or e-page).

I thought it was only fair if I’m asking my author friends to “be brave” that I do this myself. So I’ve been hunting for as many versions as I could find of my story and its start. I am not the ‘keeper’ that Jennifer Crusie obviously is – most of my older stuff gets diligently ditched to the Trash.

My writing friend Kylie Kaden says writers get so hung up on making the perfect start, they put so much pressure on themselves the whole thing can start to sound so forced… I agree with her. Everything you read says the start and the hook is everything, (like EVERYTHING) and if it doesn’t work no one will read more than two lines before putting your book back on the shelf, cyber or otherwise. “Oh!” As Lucky Number 7 says in the Lotto ads: “The Pressure!!!”

So here are a few starts to His Brand Of Beautiful. 

August 2011 (The original, original). Heroine’s perspective.

He looked exactly like she’d expected he would look, and somehow, exactly how he shouldn’t. She hadn’t expected the suit and briefcase, for one; but she had expected the body and the biceps. Christina opened the door wider, the man, and the smell of rain and wet bitumen, slipped in.

September 2012 (Hero’s perspective). For most of my story’s life, it started like this (Hero outside in the car).

Tate Newell drummed his thumbs against the worn arc of the Jeep’s steering wheel and wondered what to make of the bunch of balloons tied to the wrought-iron gate. Fat purple and gold balloons they were, helium no less, gyrating at the end of silver strings like horny teenagers at a rave.

October 2012 (Villain’s perspective) This was a Prologue, set seven years previously. At this stage, Crit Partners weren’t seeing the ‘nastiness’ of my villain… so I felt like I had to build in some very early backstory via a prologue. I quite liked this prologue, one day I will post it in full. It wasn’t long.

Bulletproof, that’s how he felt. Bulletproof. With a big fat capital B.

Man, he loved this bike.

He rode through Tewantin, heading for the blue shine of the river, letting six-cylinders thrum, making his way back to Noosaville—the line of speed he’d sucked up his nose at Eumundi giving him that extra pop.

December 2012 (Heroine’s perspective). At least three people who, by this stage, had read HBOB all told me I was starting in the wrong place (and I’d ditched the prologue idea – because it didn’t set up a contemporary romance to me – it felt more like romantic suspense). In Jennifer Crusie’s wise words, I wasn’t starting where the story started! So I cut to the second scene, where we had Christina inside her house, spying on the dude in the car, wishing he’d damn well hurry it up. Which in essence – was going back to the original idea.

Christina Clay cracked her front door wider and craned her neck for a better view of the tank parked in her street. If she used every inch of the three-inch heels, plus a little extra bounce, she’d discovered a hole through the camellia leaves that let her see the driver’s side window and the dark head inside it. The problem was, holding the position gave her cramp, finding the position gave her cramp, and he’d been parked there five minutes. Her calf killed.

And that’s how it’s stayed…  (we will have to see what my editor makes of it though… there may yet be another incarnation.)

Any author friends feeling brave, give me a shout out in the comments, or check my email in ‘About’. If you don’t mind sharing some of your early drafts, I’d love to have you be part of From Left Field, with Lily. (There are other questions too and they’re not so tricky!). Jenn J Mcleod and Juanita Kees will kick this segment off soon.






10 thoughts on “Let’s Start At The Very Beginning…”

  1. They’re all good Lily, but I actually like the original the best! It might be like multiple choice in exams – your first instinct is often the right on ( before you go and over think it!).

    My opening now is far more polished than the original, but also has a contrived feel to it, like it has lost my natural voice in the process. What a dilemma!! To polish or not to polish!? I did read somewhere that if it sounds like writing, you need to rewrite it!?

  2. Hey Lily,
    This is a great idea and very brave. I like the last start. Hope you don’t get too many edits 🙂

    I’m like you and have a million incantations of the start and I have to be finished before I can even hope to have the start right.

    Having said that, I’ve never stopped reading a book because of a bad start. When I was a kid my Mum told me I had to read 30 pages – I’ve since made it 100 – and it’s rare that I stop one (although I am getting fussier now).

    I keep all my stupid drafts and starts and rubbish. It just fills up megabytes on the ‘puter – although there are some folders of papers too. I’m a hoarder *hangs head in shame* but so far I haven’t made it on A Current Affair 🙂 I could probably share my shame, on a brave day, if you’d like.

    Cate xo

    1. Oh bah humbug Cate Ellink… any writer with “the voice like coarse stones rubbing through sand” line I saw yesterday need not hang her head in shame!! I would love to have you. Stay tuned.

  3. Fantastic idea Lily. And oh so brave. Will be interested to see if the finished published version stays the same. I can’t remember the beginning beginning of mine. But the now version is VASTLY different to the previous version(s).

    Given that agents place so much emphasis on the opening page this is a wonderful topic to explore. But i’m like Cate Ellink – I never judge a book on the opening pages. I’m never really ‘hooked’ until I’m 1/2 way in and am ‘invested’ in the characters.

    I’m happy to ‘share’ if you like, but I’m we behind you and Jenn in the process, so maybe not what you’re looking for…

    1. Hello Sandie
      Thank you for visiting – great to see you here!
      It is so comforting to think there are readers out there who will give a book a few pages. Somewhere (and I will have to google where) i actually saw an editor of a publishing house say much the same. She said something along the lines of, she is prepared to give a book until Chapter 2, to get started because she thinks everyone can make a hash of chapter 1. Wouldn’t it be nice if agents cut you that kind of slack?
      I think one problem though, in this e-book world (and HBOB will be an e-book) is that it makes books far more disposable. You don’t pay so much for them and so you don’t have such an investment in them… and in that environment I think if it doesn’t grab you very (very) early… people are pretty quick to dish it and move on.
      I look forward to keeping in touch. I would love to have you be part of my blog over the next months. I don’t envisage it as anything as regular as Jenn’s Author Harvest, but it will be fun to do from time to time.
      Best wishes
      Lily M.

  4. I actually liked all of your opening lines there 🙂 It’s hard, isn’t it, to get exactly the right start. I’m still not sure whether I’ve got it – I guess I’ll know when I start submitting 🙂

    1. Hi Kerrie.
      Oh openings! I spend more time on them than anything else. I think I’m loosening up about them more these days. So many brilliant books just “start”… they don’t have to start with the most fantastic bit of prose you’ve ever seen. So I’m trying not to beat myself up so much.
      Thanks for visiting,
      Lily M.

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