When I started this blog, I intended it to be about writing and as anyone who drops by will know, writing posts hereabouts are few and far between. That is because I am good at waffling and not so good at getting on with what I should be getting on with.
So what could I say about writing that hasn’t already been said elsewhere – and much better – on other blogs? Truth is, nothing.
But I thought maybe I should try from time to time and where better to start than with beginnings?
I’ve heard it said that the beginning is the most important part of your story. I disagree. The beginning is a very important part, no doubt about that. Without a good one you’ll lose your reader pretty quickly.
I must admit I’m a beginnings tart. If I start to read a story or book by a new (to me) author and it doesn’t grab me fairly quickly, I give up. I may have said this before – life is too short and there are too many great books around to waste time reading one that doesn’t do anything for me.
But no matter how wonderful the beginning, how seduced you are by the opening lines, if the story sags in the middle and if the ending doesn’t satisfy, the beginning becomes meaningless.
A week or so ago I read a novel (by a well known author) in which the writer had deliberately misled her reader, adding elements to the plot which were only there to deceive.
I’ve nothing against plot twists and turns, in fact I like being surprised, but I do not care for deception.
The book I’m talking about was a whodunit. The characters were all so alike that I had to keep reading back to remember who was who.
One of the major “clues” which was referred to repeatedly throughout the book pointed to a particular person as being the murderer and on the last page it was dismissed as being of no significance.
Why did I keep reading it? Because the beginning hooked me and I wanted to know what happened. By the time I got to the end, I was so fed up I didn’t give a toss. Will I buy any more of that lady’s books? No.
So beginnings. The be all and end all? No. Important? Vitally.
A beginning is so much more than a single sentence, but here are some I’ve taken from my shelves. I ran my finger along with my eyes shut and poked four – and here they are (the Alan Bennett one being from a book of short stories so I chose the beginning I liked best) but otherwise – random.
On the many occasions Midgley had killed his father, death had always come easily. He died promptly, painlessly and without a struggle. Looking back, Midgley could see that even in these imagined deaths he had failed his father. It was not like him to die like that. Nor did he.
Father! Father! Burning Bright – Alan Bennett.
“What have you done with Fred’s hands?”
I pushed her gently away from me, to lift her left buttock about an inch or so, and polished it with the loofah.
“They’re on the radiator in the kitchen.”
Diana’s Story – Deric Longden.
I did not kill my father, but I sometimes felt I had helped him on his way.
The Cement Garden – Ian McEwan.
What did you ask, Andy Bissette?
Do I ‘understand these rights as you’ve explained em to me’?
Gorry! What makes some men so numb?
Dolores Claiborne – Stephen King.
Do any of those make you want to read further? Why? If you don’t, why not?
I read for pleasure. I find it very difficult to analyse why I like or dislike something. I like all the above beginnings and probably the Deric Longden one best. His books are the ones in this house most likely to fall apart from having been read so many times.
But I should really stick to talking about fiction. Trouble is I couldn’t tell you how to write a good beginning – I wouldn’t know where to start. A lot depends on the kind of story you’re trying to write.
You might not write your beginning until later. You may find your beginning somewhere in the middle of your story. If you think you’ve written an excellent first line, but it happens to have come in the middle of the story/chapter/whatever – move it. You have the power.
A beginning should promise, invite, excite, frighten, crook its finger, wink . . . well you name it, but it should do something to your reader. If it winks, it’s saying “Come on in, let me tell you something.” If it excites, “You’ll have to come with me if you want to know what happens next, but I promise to keep you on the edge of your seat.”
So there you have it, more waffle from me which has probably left you at this stage wondering why on earth you bothered reading it.
I shall now go back to waiting for the phone to ring.