Sheryl R. Hayes

Figuring out writing one word at a time.

In the beginning… and beginning… and beginning…

After a few false starts, I’ve gotten working on the fourth draft of the story.  I’m finding this time is that things are finally starting to feel right.  Or at least, now the first chapter is feeling right.

During my first pass through the story, I struggled with where to start it.  I had a thought about starting it where three of the main characters meet under less-than-ideal circumstances.  But since I wasn’t quite sure what those less-than-ideal circumstances were and I was chomping at the bit to begin, I started the story a little further on where the lead female character wakes up.

I finished the start of the first draft just in time for BayCon 2011.  I missed the deadline and didn’t have enough completed for the writer’s workshop. I did have enough done to participate in a panel called Iron Editors.

Iron Editors was an hour and a half long panel comprised of four people, a mix of editors and authors.  The exact make-up of the panel varied from year to year depending on the volunteers, but it always worked the same way.  People anonymously submitted the first two pages of their story.   The panelist would perform a quick read as if they were going through a slush pile, marking up the documents.  They would then discuss the reasons they made the comments on your work.  The author’s job was to sit and listen and hopefully gain some insight.  It was always entertaining as well as being educational on some of the mistakes that might get your story tossed aside.  So I took a deep breath, left my pages in the drop box, and waited for the panel wondering what I would be told.

It was embarrassing.  I was told that I was falling into a cliché that almost every story had used the prior year, something I had no way of knowing because I had not attended that edition of Iron Editors.  I was starting my story with my character waking up.  Chastised, I took my paper back and rewrote the beginning, starting the story.

I chose a different point in the plot and with a different point of view character.  This time I knew what the not-so-ideal circumstance was, but I was faced with the choice of telling it from the protagonist’s or the antagonist’s point of view.  While my first instinct was to go with the protagonist’s, I needed to spend some time in the antagonist’s head, so I wrote what he saw.  I had it done in time for BayCon 2012 and I submitted again in 2012.

This time the reaction was worse.  I was told the one thing that no writer ever wants to hear. While well written, it was stated by more than one person that the two pages I turned in were boring.  And they were right.  It was a massive example of telling instead of showing, and the actual plot did not begin until in the middle of page three.

So back to the writing desk.  I rewrote the beginning a third time, cutting out the first two pages of text completely.  I excised that section, cleaned up the action sequence, and then submitted to the BayCon 2013 writer’s workshop.

That draft was better received, but it didn’t feel right.  One of the comments was to the effect that the scene felt like I should be later in the story.  I agreed, since that was where it originally was.  So I moved it back  and trimmed more off the beginning, and submitted it to the Convolution 2013 writer’s workshop.  Only after I submitted it did I realize I was right back at that clichéd beginning I originally started with.  Frustrated, I put the story aside for November and December and focused on writing other things while my subconscious percolated.

Mid January I picked the story up again.  I decided to try again with an earlier scene, but from another character’s point of view.  To my surprise, this time it wasn’t a struggle, and I wrote it out relatively quickly.  I have chapter one finished, and for the first time, I’m happy with it.  I can’t really describe how it feels in any other word but solid.  The irony was that this was the original idea I had at the beginning but didn’t write in favor of starting the story a little further into the plot.

So what have I learned from all this?

  1. Trust your instincts.  If you want to start something at Point A with Character B, do that.  Even if it means you aren’t writing linearly.
  2. If for some reason Point A with Character B doesn’t work out, your subconscious will come up with a solution.  You may need to give it time to work, but it will work.
  3. If you aren’t happy with that section of the story, rewrite it as many times as necessary until (2.) takes place.

Where does that leave me now?  Chapter 1 is done and a good half of chapter 2 as well.  Chapter 2 involves a large section that needs to be rewritten before I can call it done.  That just leaves 23 chapters to go.

1 Comment

  1. This makes me want to go back and look at my process for producing one of my completed works. It might be fun to do a novel dissection–one chapter at a time. Good post!

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