Saturday, May 15, 2010

Progress update for the birds

Where I am in the writing process:
I'm re-writing my first novel... for like the zillioneth time.

In the fall, esp. during NaNoWriMo, I work on a new novel.

In the spring, just like birds migrating back to their nesting areas, I always head back to this first novel (I'm ashamed to admit how many years I've been working on it), hoping maybe with just a few more tweaks, I can get it just right.

I've read some other articles about how a lot of authors weren't able to make their first novels work, even with multiple re-writes. But somehow I just can't bring myself to give up. This past week I wrote about 3,500 words. I completely re-wrote my first two chapters from scratch. I switched my main character from third person point of view to first person, with the hope it will help me bring out her "voice" more.

My current problems:
I had a major upset earlier this spring when I discovered the novel was more than twice the acceptable word-count for a Middle Grade novel. Just recently, with the help of a new crit partner, I've discovered that my novel starts in the wrong place, and it's not clear what my main character's motivation is. This is embarrassing for me, because this is kind of a "newbie" mistake, and I like to think I'm past that stage (feeling very humbled). But at the same time, it's also solved my other big problem for me - how to get my word-count down. It's going to hurt to slash all those chapters I spent months on, but the result will be worth it.

My question this week: How do you start a story? (Dialogue, description, action, etc.)

I firmly believe you should NOT start with dialogue or description. Not unless you are a professional writer and so well grounded in the rules that you can start breaking them. I've studied every novel I've read so far this year, trying to figure out "what about the opening of this novel makes it work, that I want to keep reading?" NONE of them have started with dialogue or description, at least not right away or in large quantities. A couple have started with the main character's thoughts, but most have started with an action sentence. Something interesting is going on right away, and you as the reader are invited to watch the scene unfold. Only problem is, applying the same principles to your own book is very, very hard.

Wannabe Writers is a writing group for the un-published and anyone is welcome to join. It's a place where future authors can ask questions, share stories, and get feedback. Click (here) to find more about how it works. I hope these writers do not mind my rather opinionated first visit to their group. I think it's a great idea & looking forward to meeting some new writers. >

What do you think about novels that start with dialogue or description? Does it work for you?


  1. Description? Dialog? Action? How abut starting with all three? Isn't that what tags are for?

    I'm still out to publish my first novel (from this round of my non-career) -- chopped some 50,000 words, including 12,000 that became a novella/novellette.

    I console myself by saying writing is a fluid activity in a constant flux.

  2. I love to start a story with an eye-catching statement that both draws the readers in and tells the reader the idea that's going to be completely overturned. Then I start up the action right away. Not every book is the same, but generally that's what I LIKE to do.


  3. I've rewritten my first novel three times now, and I'm still not satisfied with it. But it's getting closer, and I know I will keep coming back to it too. I think the problem is so many of us writers start by writing something so important to us, that it's just so hard to let go of the story. If we were smart, we would write a couple practice novels that didn't mean anything to us, just to get us ready to write the ones that do!

  4. I think it depends on the genre of the novel, and what they say! If they say, "Hi my name is Beth" that's not a good start. But if they say, "My grandma was a space pirate" I think that's a more interesting start!

    I try to start my novels with action.

    Good luck on the rewrites! My first novel was way too big for the genre (YA and it was 116,000 words) But I still managed to get it published by an indie company.

  5. Welcome to Wannabe Writer's. Look forward to hearing your thoughts. My very first WIP is my practice novel. I keep going back to it and am in the process of rewriting it and it has become a whole different story. Once I finish my other two wips, I'll be going back to it again.

    I don't think description is a good way to start a story either. You have to hook the reader first.

    My post is up now.

  6. Hello, Margo. I applaud the fact that you are still at it after so long. It took me twenty years to finish my novel. Okay, marriage, two houses, two kids, careers, etc., had much to do with it taking so long. The fact is it still took twenty from start to eventual finish. I, too, changed characters, plot, etc. I say keep at it. There is a story there that wants to come out.
    In terms of how you should start the story, my question would be: how does the story want to begin? I worry less about rules and allow the story to go where it wants.
    Good luck to you. I realize we do not know each other, but I would like to be here when you post that the story has finished itself. ;)

  7. you are invited to follow my blog

  8. Hi Margo! It's nice to meet you through this wannabe writers thing. I think that the books that I have loved the most have started out with action. But there are also some books (not as many) that start with dialogue that really pulls me in. I think Aubrie is right, it depends a lot on what the dialogue is. And I think dialogue plus action would be hard to get wrong :)

    You are doing great with your writing! If this story keeps calling to you then you'll find what you need to get it right:)

  9. Action and/or a small bit of mysterious dialogue is what I like to see. Description is hit or miss depending on the book, e.g. a back cover promises action and suspense but the first page is describing a minuscule insect that has no bearing on the story, then no thanks.

  10. Rewriting is okay to do hundreds of times someday it will be perfect!!

    Also, great advice!

  11. Dialogue, out of the blue, seldom pulls me in. I don't know who's speaking, so I can't care about what they're saying. Ground me with a little instant-world-building so that I will care.

    The best opening lines are the ones that make me rubber-neck ... the ones that make me go, "Huh? How is that possible?"

  12. I'm with Cynthia -- I hate dialog openers.

    Open with something intriguing like "No more!" said Margo. and I'm like WTF is going on?

    It gives me that feeling you'd get with older cell phones/wireless handsets when you suddenly start picking up someone else's phone conversation. You have no idea what's going on and no reason to be interested in what they're saying.



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