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.