On the first Friday of each month, Novelista Annie Burrows will be drawing a question out of the jar where we've been putting all the questions about the writing process posed by readers –
This month, the question is:
Where in the story to actually start the novel.
The glib answer would be to quote Lewis Carroll “Begin at the beginning…go on till you come to the end: then stop.”
But, what is the beginning? A pivotal moment in the character’s past, which forms their character, or sends them on their quest? The moment they are born?
Beginnings are very important. The opening section of your story is the bit which will be available to a reader in the “browse the book” section if it is an ebook, or what a shopper in a real life shop will read to help them decide whether to buy your book.
So it has to grab them, and make them want to find out what comes next. You have got to make them interested in your main character, and what they are feeling, and what is happening to them. Or they will put the book down, and buy someone else’s.
And with so many new titles becoming available every month, they have a lot of someone else’s to choose from.
So, I would say, start your story at a pivotal moment. If you write romance (as I do) it is a good idea to start when your hero and heroine first get together, or reach some kind of turning point, so that the focus is on the developing romance right from the start. And makes it clear to the reader that the romance is going to be front and centre all the way through.
The moment my heroine has to jump out of the way of the hero’s curricle, which he is driving far too fast down a country lane so that she ends up in a muddy ditch. (His Cinderella Bride)
The moment when the hero first asks the heroine’s friend to dance, and, when she refuses, turns with resignation to the heroine, setting her heart a-flutter. (Captain Fawley's Innocent Bride)
The moment when the hero and heroine wake up in bed, naked, with no idea how they got there together. (In Bed With the Duke)
And the one I have just submitted to my editor opens at the point where my heroine socks my hero on the jaw.
However, when planning out a book, I don’t start imagining the story at such a dramatic point. The story which I’m figuring out at the moment, for example, began when I imagined the heroine in a situation which rocked her world, overturned everything she’d assumed about her life, and sent her spiralling into depression. I can’t start writing it from that point. Because it will be months before she meets the hero, and their romance starts. And it is the story of that romance I will be telling – NOT HER LIFE STORY.
So, I am going to have to tell the reader about that crisis in her life, in little bits and pieces, as she relates it to the hero. They will both explain why they react as they do, and behave the way they do, to each other, in conversation, as the pair get to know each other. In other words, the reader will get to know both of them while they are getting to know each other.
It would be much, much easier to write this story in chronological order, starting with the heroine’s crisis, taking her through her depression and the beginning of her recovery, and then relate how the romance with the hero completes the process of healing completely. But would anyone want to read it? Would the reader have the patience to wade through all that depression, and gloom, in the hope that a dashing hero would come into my heroine’s life and help her see that life is worth living?
And more to the point, would my editor?
What will hook the reader?
What will give them the best idea of what kind of story it’s going to be?
And, if like me, you have a pivotal moment in the character’s life which the reader really needs to know about – what is the best way to relay that information? In one big chunk (which is sometimes referred to disparagingly as an info-dump)
Or, in little snippets, which will entice the reader to keep on turning the pages? (And is much, much harder to write!)
And there you have it.
putting Ask Annie in the subject heading.
And if she feels qualified to answer your question, you might see it become the next month’s blog post!
Annie's latest release is "The Debutante's Daring Proposal."
You can read the opening section here
You can purchase it from Amazon, Harlequin, Mills & Boon or any of your favourite etailers.