I have noticed more and more an emphasis within writing circles; one that perhaps more than any other part of writing – barring adverbs obviously – seems to arise across the different platforms – from novice to expert to agent to editor, and even, now and again, it troubles that rare voice, the reader. It’s hard to quantify as a ‘rule’ since it doesn’t offer any specific admonishments, less of a to-do than a make sure when you do, you do it right. Or as is increasingly the case, an ever growing list of to-don’t’s. Really how many of our common rules haven’t been a don’t? Put simply everybody seems to be talking about getting those first words – pages – right and the unerring consensus is that whatever you do or don’t do, will make or break you.
I read three articles within the space of a day all of which talked about the beginning and its importance. In The Write Life literary agents give us a list of the worst ways to open your novel while a Writers Digest articles sums up its list of common openings in kids books with ‘they’re almost always a rejection’. Um, aren’t all books almost always a rejection? Or did the ‘only-1%-of-the-slushpile-get-published statistic’ change recently? Of course its so much easier to sound off about what you don’t like. Which made the final article by Chuck Wendig an unexpected pleasure to read. Sort of. While I agree with the general advice and deeply appreciate missing out on the list of don’s, it’s all a bit vague, adding up to if you fuck this bit up, then you’re really fucked.
If we take Chuck’s pov and all those agents pov’s and editors pov’s then we might have to accept that the beginning is that important and if we accept that then doesn’t that make the advice given just – more? – as important? And if you take on all of those editors’ advice and agents’ advice and Chuck’s advice, you might be left wondering what the **** can I write?
Instead of saying write whatever the fuck you want (much as I would like to) I’ve decided to take a sort of Russian doll approach with this. A series within a series. I could address every don’t on the list, (cause I have that much spare time) but I can’t help but feel that what we really need here is some do’s. More specifically we need to start looking at what makes a beginning work. I’ve decided to take three books, of different styles, genres, and times; I’ll look at what worked, why it worked and how it might break the rules. As if there were actually rules..
I hope it might be helpful (normally I’m just sounding off 😀 ) because I do agree there is so much we can learn as writers from those opening lines and for those of us seeking publication, traditional or indie, it really can make all the difference in the world.