It’s Only The Beginning

by Brett Battles

I don’t remember exactly when I started THE CLEANER. And with THE DECEIVED, I know it was the summer of 2006, but that’s only because I had turned in the first 50 pages with my proposal to my editor then. My third novel, SHADOW OF BETRAYAL, was started much in the same way in the summer of 2007. And for my next novel (we’ll call it Quinn 4 – or simply Q4 – since there’s no title yet) I also wrote a few chapters just this July to get my publisher on board.

But in the months since I sent those pages off, I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about the new book. And as I mentioned in my last post, I’ve also taken a recent trip to the UK and Paris to do location research. Because of all this, the way the book starts has been morphing in my mind. I no longer think what I wrote this summer is the way for the book to begin.

The reason this is pertinent to my post today is because I made a plan several weeks ago to get Q4 going on November 5th. Why the 5th? One, because it would be enough after my return from Europe that I shouldn’t be effected by jet lag any longer, but mainly because it was the day after election here in the States, and I knew it would be stupid to start before that was over.

So now I’ve begun. And I can truly point to the 5th of November as the day when Q4 began. (Okay…for you purists, of course it began the first day I started thinking about it, but I’m talking about real words on paper, most of which will – hopefully – make the final cut!)

Beginnings are exciting to me. It’s not like I’m staring at a blank page wondering what to write. I’m jazzed up, ready to dive in, and usually within a few days I will have made excellent progress…it’s later, around page 80 that I might waver a bit, but for the beginning? Golden.

And since I’m writing a series, it’s like coming home. I want to see what my characters are doing now. I want to find out how they get into and out of what ever adventure they are barreling toward. And, most importantly, I want to see how their lives have changed. See, it’s the over-story, the personal tale of Quinn and Orlando and Nate’s lives which stretches over the whole series that truly interests me. It is the story within the story. One that is told in increments from book to book. I don’t know what’s going to happen. I have ideas, but often my characters have ideas which deviate from where I was going to take them.

So I sit here at the beginning again. Ready to go, and excited to see what happens next. The only think I know for sure is that in the course of the next several months, I’ll be learning more and more about Quinn’s world. And I can’t think of a better way of spending the time.

So let’s talk beginnings. We all know they are important. They make or break a good thriller or mystery. If you don’t get your reader right away, they’ll put your book down and never pick it up again…well, accept to take it to the used bookstore. So let’s get your thoughts…writer’s do you enjoy writing beginnings? If so, why? If not, why not? And reader’s, what are you looking for when you crack open a book and start reading?

Song of the day: THE BEGINNING by Seal (fooled you didn’t I? Thought I was going to choose Chicago’s ONLY THE BEGINNING, didn’t you?)

19 thoughts on “It’s Only The Beginning

  1. Jude Hardin

    Beginnings rock. I was about twenty pages into a YA horror novel when my agent called and wanted me to adjust the pacing on the ENDING of my PI novel. It took me a while to downshift into a different mode and find my voice for that book again. I’m enjoying that, but I’m really looking forward to getting back to the beginning of the YA thing.

    I think it’s important, with commercial fiction anyway, to get the old snowball rolling through hell ASAP.

  2. Alexandra Sokoloff

    The beginning is rarely the first thing I write – I’m usually in an advanced outline stage when a beginning will just come to me, always it seems when I’m not thinking about it at all. I’ll write it down really fast and end up polishing it later but that will usually be it, pretty whole.

    So I don’t know if I enjoy writing them but I don’t stress about them because so far they’ve always come to me all in a shot. That just happened last week with my fifth book.

    Have I mentioned that I hate this whole fetish with first lines? I couldn’t care less what the first line of a book is – I want to see the whole setup on the page. A too-clever first line is likely to turn me OFF a book.

  3. Wilfred Bereswill

    Love beginnings. In fact, I’m 75% done with novel 2 and the beginnings of a standalone are bubbling in my head. I have this great opening scene playing in my brain.

    When I use to remodel homes to pay my way through college, I loved starting the jobs, but had to gut through the spackling and fitting those last small pieces of molding.

    Give me a big-ass hammer and powerful mitre or table saw and let somebody else wield that putty knife and little wussy coping saw.

  4. Margaret A. Golla

    I love beginnings, but they never start out quite as good as they did in my mind. I have to rewrite the first couple of pages numerous times before I can move forward.

  5. Dana King

    Beginnings are the most fun. The idea is still fresh, you can take the story in pretty much any direction you like without having to worry about going back and changing anything, and you still get to play with the voice, which gets harder to do once you’ve established one for a couple of hundred pages.

    Endings are fun, too, getting to pull everything together, though harder. Middles are a pain.

  6. cj lyons

    Okay, guess I’m in the minority here–beginnings scare me. Not because I don’t know mine, I do–although it’s usually not the first scene I write (I tend to write out of order with the emotional high points first and then build to them).

    Beginnings scare me because I’m always afraid they won’t do the rest of the book justice. Like Catherine said, how do I convince the reader in one page, one paragraph, gulp, one line that this book is worth their time, energy and money???

    I tend to sweat and revise my beginnings more than any other part of the book.

    Now, my endings, ah, how I love, love, love writing my climaxes (yes, my books tend to be multi-climatic, lol!) and resolutions. Because for me that’s where the next book is already coalescing as my characters move on into an unknown future, the meta-story as Brett called it.

    Great post, Brett! And welcome back to the States!

  7. JT Ellison

    My beginnings never end up as the beginning, so I don’t worry about it too much. I love getting started on a new book though.

    It is difficult to drag your head out of one to do edits on another while you’re promoting a third, though. That’s what’s harder for me than anything, the juggling.

  8. Tammy Cravit

    I love beginnings – a fresh new idea, spilling onto the page for the first time, is a sort of a rush for me. Of course, the beginning I write may or may not survive revision, but so it is with every word in the book, so I don’t worry about that too much.

    No, what scares me is that long, dark, lonely middle when you’re staring at a blank page wondering what happens next. I know the plotters of the group will tell me to fill up more 3×5 cards and outline better. But I’ve found that if I know exactly every scene in the story, I lose the excitement and motivation to write the darn thing. Revision doesn’t get to me that way, but the one novel I thoroughly outlined before starting died of boredom-induced neglect around 100 pages in. My current novel-in-progress is up past 150 pages in manuscript and still crackling along happily.

  9. Louise Ure

    I adore beginnings. But for me that’s Page One only. I write it in ten or fifteen minutes, and never change a word of it later.

    Even the first few chapters are fun although I often rejigger them in the revision stage.

  10. Rob Gregory Browne

    When I sit down to write a book, writing the beginning, for me, is much the same as opening someone else’s book and reading the first few pages. I have nothing more in my mind than the back cover blurb — if that. So beginnings are very important to me because it’s as if I’m about to start a journey and have no idea where it will take me.

    When reading books, the beginning is crucial. If the writer doesn’t grab me in the first two or three paragraphs, I’m gone.

    Harsh? Maybe. But you can tell a lot about a writer by the way he/she starts his/her book, and I know almost immediately whether it’s a writer I want to spend time with.

  11. toni mcgee causey

    I love the first few pages–they’ll bubble up or appear to me and it’ll lock that story into place. I typically hate writing the rest of act one, and that’s where I concentrate the majority of my polishing/editing. Once I hit that act one turning point, though, I’m usually golden. By the time I’ve hit the mid point, the story flows and I can write the last half of the book in far less time than it took to write the first few chapters.

  12. Mark Troy

    I think a beginning is like icing on a cake. It tantalizes the readers and makes them want to get into it. Like the icing on a cake, I put it on last when I know which characters will be at the ending, what they’ll be doing, and what tone will permeate the story. The beginning is usually the last part of the book I write. Of course each draft has a beginning, but until the final draft the beginning only serves to get ME into the story. I may have as many different beginnings for a story as I have drafts. What usually distinguishes the final draft from the previous one is the beginning.

  13. Allison Brennan

    Rob, I have THE BRASS VERDICT near the top of my TBR shelf. Hmm, make that SHELVES. Grrr.

    I have a love-hate relationship with beginnings. Usually, I don’t start a book until the opening scene pops into my head. And I almost always know where the book starts–the only book out of 10 that has a different beginning after revisions was TEMPTING EVIL. But because I’m acutely aware of how important the opening is, I tend to panic a bit as I write the opening lines. Once I get into the scene, it’s much smoother.

    I’d love to write a series character, for just the reasons you said Brett. To find out what’s going on with them, where they are, what they’ve been doing, how the last story affected them, etc. Old friends. I love it when I can bring back an old character into my current book. With the book I just finished, I got to bring back lots of them 🙂

  14. Zoë Sharp

    Hi Brett

    I love beginnings when they rise up and hit you. One book I had an opening chapter I LOVED, but it just didn’t drop me into the right place in the story, so it had to go.

    For me the most difficult part is around the third quarter of the book. You’ve set your scene, engaged your plot, moved your story forwards, but now you have to start tying it all together towards the end. Do it too fast at this point, and the ending falls flat. Do it too slow, and … the ending falls flat.

    Third quarter, every time.

    So, seeing as we’re on beginnings – what’s the opening LINE of the new book?

  15. Catherine

    cj, my idea of the beginning of a book is a little broader than a first line or even paragraph. For instance I don’t really consider a prologue a beginning…it’s just a lead up to the beginning. The beginning for me varies from author to author.

    With some yes, that first line smacks you straight between the eyes and you go whoa, and then really engage…however there are so many ways to engage.I think beginnings can encompass the first chapter,maybe midway through the second, if that’s what is needed to make me care, right now.

    Case in point I just finished Zoë’s, Third Strike, and I love the first line,’I was running when I saw my father kill himself.’

    I mean once I read those first few words how am I meant to answer the phone now?

    However it’s not just the first line in this case, it’s the set up all the way through the first chapter that delivers. Actually the whole book does, in spades.

    An alternate type of beginning is in the book I’m currently reading Alafair Burke’s, Angel’s Tip. For me the beginning takes about the first three chapters to set up just why I should care, right now.

    I’m really enjoying this book too and facing that contrary feeling of trying to slow it down, to more fully enjoy it all coming together in the end. So I stopped at a key point to read

    5 short chapters and a cup of tea to go.

    cj I hope that takes the pressure off some.


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