Write Way: Off the Blocks


Jesse's nuggets:

  • A solid beginning is needed when writing a great book.

  • Don't fear a blank page, you've got to start somewhere. Nothing is set in stone, so there's no pressure to be perfect on your first try.

  • There are lots of ways to begin a story. Don't be afraid to try several before picking.


How does a 100m sprint begin? The natural response might be thinking of the sound of a pistol firing--that's tradition, afterall. But there's a lot more that goes into the start of a race than that.


I'm not an experienced running (although the other Jesse Haynes competing for my Google PageRank is, so maybe I should reach out to him), but I do know enough to know that sprinters run for a warm up, they stretch, they run some more, they stretch some more, and then after they've broken into their heats, they get truly serious.


When they line up for a race, what do all sprinters do? They get low to the ground, assume a power position, and most of them come off the blocks, which gives them something to push against as they begin the race.


But why does this matter? Why do they go to so much effort getting ready to run before the pistol fires? To run a great race, a good start is crucial. In the same way, a good beginning is necessary to write a good book.


So that's why I'm going to share some thoughts about how to begin books today, starting with this one: don't be afraid of the blank page.


Often, writers talk about how they fear a blank document or piece of paper because starting is the hardest part of novel writing. Tell yourself this: nothing is ever set in stone, so you don't have to start by writing the first chapter. For me personally, in the three books I've published, I've never actually started with chapter 1 when drafting them. I've always written a later seen, established characters, and come back to revisit the first chapter later. In the book I have coming out in March, I wrote the first chapter three times. Remember that books are always changing, so don't put pressure on yourself to start it perfectly. (That will never happen!)


On a more technical note, there are several ways to begin a story. Some are more exciting than others, but different stories might require different ways of setting the scene. You can start with dialog, character descriptions, world-building (although procede with caution here), a viewpoint on life, or my personal favorite: mid-action.


Most of those strategies make since, but I'll elaborate on mid-action just a bit. It's often said to "get in late; get out early" when writing an intro, which means it's totally "legal" to dive right into the action. If you're opening your book with a bank robbery, for example, don't describe the way the robber walked into the bank or his exchange with the teller. It might be more interesting to begin the book with the robber on the run and loaded down with money. The readers aren't stupid--they'll catch up quickly as long as the context is there, and this strategy gives the writing a little mystery.


But no matter what style you choose or where you decide to open the book, don't forget that one of the beautiful things about digital word processors is writers can copy, paste, drag and delete with only a few clicks. We have it easier than ever to change our stories, so nothing is locking you into one certain way to write the opening scene. Experiment with several options, and most importantly, have fun!


Challenge: Think up a story about a dog digging up something he shouldn't find and proudly bringing it to his owner. Once you have the story your head, write three 100-word openings to the story, using three different method. Feel free to share in the comments!


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© 2018 by Jesse Haynes

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