In the beginning… the dreaded beginning…the beginning that has to be perfection. Immediate and pure. In the beginning there was (of course) the Word, and the Word was… Here are a few things the beginning has to be:
- a hook, a pull, a question: great opening line, page and chapter. Get that reader by the neck and don’t let go.
- make the reader care about the characters quickly, organically, and reveal them in an unravelling, organic way.
- get the vibe of the book down; the fictional universe it exists within and don’t give too much information. Get the reader interested and ready to invest.
- the start of the plot; and get it going by establishing intrigue, a question, mystery, a problem, a conflict…
I need to re-work my beginning having hold of the whole. I changed it, at some point in the process, from a prologue-y start in 2nd person to a scene that begins in media res. I thought that might be better but now I’m not so sure. I think not, now. Need to re-do. Here are the beginning lines of four novels I bought in Waterstones today (and well done me buying in Waterstones rather than on Amazon but, God, expensive!):
1. “In the beginning were the howlers. They always commenced their bellowing in the first hour of dawn, just as the hem of the sky began to whiten.”
2. “There is a photograph in existence of Aunt Sadie and her six children sitting round the tea-table at Alconleigh.”
3. “The sun turned the narrow dirt track to dust. It rose like an orange tide from the wheels of the truck and blew in through the window to settle in Frank Collard’s arm hair.”
4. “They took him to the top of Paramin Hill. Right to the top, where there was no one around, where no one could hear him call for help.”
What do I think of these beginnings? No 1 is the most self consciously literary, signposting its beginning status with the word beginning. 3 is the most descriptive. I like it, though, it draws me in, I like the detail of the arm hair and the fact that the character is introduced immediately. 4 is the most dramatic and immediate, signifying action. 2 is the most domestic. They all work, actually, in different ways. Perhaps number 2 captures me the least.
(Which is which? Monique Roffey, The White Woman on the Green Bicycle; Nancy Mitford, The Pursuit of Love; Evie Wyld, After the Fire, A Still Small Voice; Barbara Kingsolver, The Lacuna).