Getting those first words on the page

Starting out on a new project is both exciting and daunting. The word count reads zero. The end is a long way off, and you wonder just how it’s all going to flesh out to 100k words by the time you type “the end.” I will say, the feeling is quite different now that I have a book out there, and the second is on its way. All sorts of doubts are lingering in the background. Mostly, I wonder if the story as I’ve planned it, is what readers are going to want to read. Am I taking this all in a good direction? Personally, I like where my story is going. It’s unexpected, at least based on what readers have seen with book one, both in overall plot and in character development, and dare I say, epic? I love epic stories. By epic I don’t mean necessarily in length, but in overall scope regarding what happens. I won’t get spoilery here, but suffice to say, Deadworld is not going to be an ongoing paranormal procedural. I’ve set high goals for myself and I truly hope I can achieve them. But I digress. Back to starting out.

Beginnings are tough, and likely the hardest, most important part of the story. You have to grab the reader right awayand set an interesting stage upon which things will play out. When you’re staring at that first blank page, there’s a lot of pressue to start at just the right place. Basically, it comes down to this simple point: start at the last possible moment. It sounds simple in theory but the reality of it is, finding that point can be hard. Start too soon and you’re dragging out your beginning and probably boring the reader. Start too late, and you find yourself back-tracking to fill in missing pieces required to make the story work.

In my case, where I’m writing a continuation in a series, I have downtime from the ending of the previous book, up to the point where new things begin to happen. Some of this stuff, while interesting and maybe even important, has nothing to do with the beginning of the new story. It can be worked into the story, but the last thing you want is to put something interesting down on page one, and then have pages of nothing until the real story begins, or even without the empty pages, make it feel like you’re just putting something in for the sake of interest/excitement when it does not relate directly to the story you are telling with this particular book. I consider what’s going on prior to the story actually beginning as much as the story itself. Characters don’t just materialize out of nothingness and begin to do things. Knowing what’s going on allows you to better understand where things really should start. Think of it as a movie, filming constantly, and your job as director of this film, is to decide where to splice out stuff just at the point where this story begins. That spliced material is still around if you need it, but the point is to start right at that moment when things get interesting, and everything moving forward pertains to the unfolding story.

One of the main points in doing this, of narrowing it down to that last possible moment, is the opening lines. You want that opening to not only sound interesting and cool, but to be at that moment when you have that first interesting thing to say about the story. Fill us in with backstory later. Bringing us up to date with prior events is far easier on the reader than wading through them just to get to the meat of things. Often, it’s easier to write what is going on just to figure out what that exact best moment is to start. You likely have heard or will hear editors/agents say the story started in the wrong spot, which pretty much means you gave too much lead-in and didn’t start at the most compelling moment. Start with the good stuff. Start when it’s really about to get interesting. Start at the last possible moment. These will be your first words.

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