#FirstDraft60 Day 30: TOMORROW WE WRITE! #amwriting #nanoprep #nanowrimo
We’ve gone through twenty-nine days of prep work in order to get us, hopefully, to the point at which we’re more prepared to sit down and start writing a story than we’ve ever been in our lives. But if you’re anything like me . . . you’ve probably fallen a bit behind on the planning. (I will be spending my writing time today finalizing my hero’s backstory and then working on my premise, plot, and story summaries. And, hopefully, discovering my heroine’s real name so I can stop referring to her by her code name!)
Today is the last day of preparation before we set everything else aside—all the research, all the character casting/development, all the outlining, all the pre-plotting, all the world building—and start writing. So what is more natural to focus on today than how we’re going to start writing that story?
Writing Your Opening Scene(s)
The first five pages. Hooking the reader. Crafting a killer opening. Writing a gripping first chapter.
If there’s a book about the writing craft, there’s likely going to be a chapter—or a whole section—on the importance of a strong opening line/scene/chapter. Actually, there are entire books focused on just writing the openings (yet none that I’ve found that focus on writing a killer ending). Rather than repeat everything that’s already been written about crafting the “perfect” opening scene, let’s discuss what it means to sit down and write an opening scene—or a dozen—for the book you’ve been preparing to write for the last 30 days.
Don’t Lock Yourself into Your First Opening Scene/Chapter
Like everything else in what you’re about to write, the first scene/chapter you’re about to sit down and put into words is a first draft—it’s open for revision, rewriting, or cutting along with everything else you’re about to put down on paper.
You may have a scene in mind that you feel is the perfect opening scene for your book. For previous books, I’ve had several come to me, almost fully formed, which pretty much wrote themselves.
And those were the opening scenes I either ended up heavily revising or cutting altogether. (Such as this, which was the original opening chapter of Ransome’s Honor, which got cut in order to get to the plot of the story—the scene where William and Julia come face to face for the first time in twelve years—much sooner.) After rewriting the opening of what would become Stand-In Groom multiple times before figuring out the main plot element and completing the first draft—which necessitated another complete overhaul of the first third of the manuscript—and after submitting what I thought was the final version of the story for approval as my master’s thesis, when it came time to choose a reading for my oral defense, in re-reading the opening for probably the five hundredth time, I realized how slow and boring it was—and that I’d introduced a named character who had absolutely nothing to do with the story and who disappeared after that scene. So . . . snip, snip.
Don’t fall so helplessly in love with the idea of writing the perfect opening scene that you can’t move ahead and write the rest of the story. You can always fix it later.
Write More Than One Opening Scene
A great way to keep from falling into the “precious baby” mindset with your “perfect” opening scene is to write more than one. If you have more than one viewpoint character, this is easier than if you only have one. And if you have more than two viewpoint characters, it’s that much better. Write an opening scene from each viewpoint character’s POV. Give each character a setup and an inciting incident. It may be the same inciting incident for all of your characters (and in a romance novel, it’s when the heroine and hero meet, so it’s the same scene but from each viewpoint). If you have multiple plotlines in your story, you may have a couple of different inciting incidents, and this exercise will help you figure out which is the primary/dominant plotline, which will help you hone in on which opening scene may work best for your story.
Not sure what happens to lead up to the inciting incident? Start by just writing a couple of scenes about your main character(s). What’s a day in the life like? What needs to happen to your character in order to get him/her involved in the plot of the story? Experiment. Play around.
And if all else fails, send your character to the grocery store. You never know whom he/she might run into there!
Don’t Get It “Perfect”; Just Get It Written
It’s almost 99% certain that no matter how much you obsess over writing the “perfect” opening, by the time you get to The End, you’re going to need to either change, rewrite, or scrap your opening scene. By giving yourself permission just to get started and get something written so that you can actually get your entire draft completed, you’re less likely to give up because you feel like you’ll never be able to get it right.
Allow yourself to start in narrative. Or start with a scene description. Open with dialogue. Open with your character going through his/her daily routine. (Knowing that you’re going to be revising/rewriting these scenes in your second draft.)
Whatever you do, just get SOMETHING written. Start writing. Go back to what we discussed last week about allowing yourself to be in draft writing mode. At this point, it isn’t important to get it right, just to get it written.
Not Sure Where to Start Your Scene? Start in the Middle
Because it’s been drilled into our heads so often to open with a hook, the draw the reader in right from the first line, we tend to obsess over those opening words—are they active enough? Do they pack a punch? Are they memorable?
Who cares! This is just your first draft. That kind of stuff isn’t important—getting your draft written is the focus here. The best way to make sure you don’t fall into the never-ending cycle of “making it perfect” and not moving on from the first chapter into the most important part of your book—everything else—is to start writing in the middle of a scene. And the easiest way to do that is to open with either action or dialogue. Your character is doing something or saying something on the way to the inciting incident. Skip the setup beat. You can come back and fill that part in when you’re in the revision process.
At this point, it doesn’t matter if your opening doesn’t make sense to anyone but you—that’s okay, you’re the only one who’s going to be reading the first draft. So if you aren’t quite sure where/how your story starts, or if you’re having trouble getting started because of the anxiety of not being sure of exactly the right opening line to use, forget about it. Just jump into the middle of a scene and start writing. It doesn’t even have to be an opening scene. It can be a scene that happens halfway through the book.
While writing chronologically is recommended, not everyone can do that—or maybe writing a scene that happens in the middle of the book will give you the impetus and ideas you need in order to figure out what the opening scene needs to be in order to set up the middle scene you’ve already written.
Assignment: Go back and review all of the prep work you’ve done. Spend your writing time today reviewing everything you’ve put into your Story Bible and seeing if there are any gaps/holes you can fill in on this last day before we start writing. Then, if you’ve done all that and you still have some time left, start jotting down some ideas for your opening scene(s).
For Discussion: Are you ready to write? What are your biggest concerns going into the 30-days-of-writing part of the challenge? Is there any part of the prep work you feel like you need to go back and work on a little more in order to be better prepared? Now that you’ve completed the 30 days of prep work, do you feel differently about starting to write this story than you have about writing in the past?
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