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Thursday, September 15, 2011

More Author Insight: Where to start...

When you’re starting a new book how do you know where the story begins?

"Beginnings are harder for me than endings - but I can churn out potential beginnings at a rapid rate. My editors and I normally go through about three or four of them before settling on the right one, and I appreciate their input. My storytelling style is flexible enough that I'm comfortable with multiple starting-off points...I never feel 'wedded' to one particular vision." - Lia Habel, author of Dearly Departed.

"I usually have an idea of a big event that kicks off a story.  Then I have to figure out how to introduce that event.  For Felton, it was the 600 yard dash in gym that really kicks off the story, but I needed to set up what a big deal that was.  Took me awhile to figure out how to set it up (same thing with the sequel, Nothing Special... I knew the event, but had to play around to find the way to introduce it correctly)." - Geoff Herbach, author of Stupid Fast.

"You start when something interesting happens... A stranger comes to town. A boy meets the girl of his dreams. A girl sprouts wings. A kid finds a dragon's egg. A vampire is staked through the heart by a were-unicorn... It's both that simple and that difficult because first, you need to identify what your story is. And sometimes you don't know that until you've written a hundred pages or so. I love writing beginnings. They're so... bursting with possibility. Kind of like the first bite of a pie. You don't know yet whether it's going to be apple or blueberry or an ill-conceived cauliflower pie." - Sarah Beth Durst, author of Drink, Slay, Love.

"I try to start when something changes for the protagonist. I used to think I had to establish character and setting first before anything happened. I was wrong! Showing how your character reacts to change is way more interesting." - Jessica Spotswood, author of Born Wicked.

"Someone once gave me a great piece of advice: 'Begin your story on the day that everything changes.' So that's what I did with Frost and with my upcoming book, Immaculate. Both have pretty obvious catalysts that change the main characters' lives in major ways. I begin not at the very moment it happens, but that same day." - Marianna Baer, author of Frost.

"Just a gut feeling. I begin where I’m the least bored. I’m serious. Honestly, who’s more interesting: the guy racing down the sidewalk or the one watching him go by?

People, whether fictional or not, are always works in progress, and beginnings are like speed dates. When you meet someone for the first time, do they tell you where they were born and all that? Not if they don’t want you to nod off. You only have a limited amount of time to grab a date’s attention, so you can’t let up. Yet anything you learn comes through in context; background and story unfold through interaction. Algis Budrys, a great writer and fabulous teacher, once said that you must write about a character with a problem, in a setting. I try to stick to that.
Now, are my beginnings set in stone? No, because books are a process, too. I’m telling myself the story, even though I always do an outline (a good habit I developed during my work-for-hire days). I know when I’m ready to start writing when I’ve got a) the title and b) that last line/scene. It’s just a feeling that builds to an itch and then an overwhelming urge—and boom! Got to write that sucker. (Which is not the same thing as waiting for the muse: except for the week or so downtime I give myself permission to take between books, once I’ve got that outline, I write something every day whether I want to or not.) Frequently, I’ll figure out the best beginning maybe midway through. It just happens.

However I begin a book, though, I always aim to give readers credit for some smarts. Drop them into the messy middle of a character’s life, I say. Have them meet someone at that major fork in the road and make them hop on for the ride." - Ilsa Bick, author of Ashes.

"When starting a story, I need to know just two things: where the story is taking place, and who the main character is. Writing the first chapters of a new story is kind of like a messy finger painting, where I have two colors (place and character) and I try and blend and build them into something that, though muddled, is interesting enough to pursue." - Angie Frazier, author of The Eternal Sea.

"I don't! I just try to start from a place of high action or high feeling or high stakes--or all three if I can manage it. I want my reader pulled in from the first page. But honestly, I often have to rewrite beginnings. They can be tricksy." - Stacey Jay, author of Juliet Immortal.
"The story begins where the change begins." - Stephanie Perkins, author of Lola & the Boy Next Door.
"Usually the scene that comes to me first is the first scene. Once in a while I change it, but it usually works that way for me." - Amy Garvey, author of Cold Kiss.
"I write murder mysteries, so I always try to start with why the victim is going to end up being killed.  Which usually makes for an explosive first scene, since nice people don't make for very fun murder victims." - Gemma Halliday, author of Deadly Cool.
"I don’t have any formula. Typically I stick the reader right in the middle of a conversation, and paint the surroundings from there out. It’s normally a pivotal conversation that foreshadows the upcoming conflict I’m going to suck them into for the next day and a half." - Brena Pandos, author of The Emerald Talisman.
"I’m usually out walking and I hear the sound of something in my head.  The sound of a sentence, typically, not even the precise words. I walk and I walk, and when that first sentence makes itself completely known, I know that a story has started to find me.  I don’t know who the people are yet.  I don’t know where they are going.  But I know the mood.  The entire process is a mystery." - Beth Kephart, author of You are My Only.
Stop by Tuesday to find out what other genres the authors would like to try!

1 comment:

  1. for me, it's always about the character. i write everything i know about them until their darknesses surface.