'The Beginning is the Most Important Part of the Work'
In the garden there are signs of new beginnings all around.
My back garden faces north and also has to contend with an unkind westerly wind for much of the time, so plants can be a little slow to get going. This means I have to be patient. And so it is with beginnings of stories. Sometimes the process of starting is so scary that we delay or even dismiss attempting to write anything. Sometimes, when we think of the long task ahead, especially in the case of a novel, we think 'is it worth it?' Sometimes we can get so hung up on getting that perfect first line, or first few pages, that we stall ourselves and get frustrated because we aren't making progress. We live in a world which is obsessed with perfection and getting things done quickly. The underlying message is that if you don't do everything well, straight away, then you are lacking in something, even a failure.
But that is NOT the case. It is worth taking your time and being patient. I met a writer last week, Nigel McDowell, who took 9 years to complete his first novel. From beginning Last Chance Angel to its publication must have taken approximately the same amount of time. There's a lovely post by Malachy Doyle on The Picture Book Den (dated 20th January) about the twists and turns of creating a picture book story. It is an inspirational lesson in the value of remaining open, fluid and patient.
First lines ARE crucial, especially when writing for children. If young readers don't engage with the story within the first few pages, they are not going to persevere. But that doesn't mean that you should get totally hung up on the beginning at the beginning, if you see what I mean. My first drafts are often complete rubbish. My beginnings are clumsy and make me cringe when I go back to them but eventually, if you follow your intuition, the right sentences will reveal themselves. So my first piece of advice is not to wait around for that fantastic, captivating beginning. Instead:-
It is more than probable that your first line will come at the start of chapter two or three. When re-reading it will jump out at you and you will know instinctively that this is where your story should begin. It doesn't necessarily mean that you have to completely lose those first couple of chapters, it just means that the information contained there needs to be woven into the story at a different place.
Begin at a point of change
With children's books especially, the story should begin at a point of change for the main character. Something has happened which has upset the equilibrium, is throwing them off balance and causing a problem which needs to be solved.
Introduce us to the main character straight away
In Finding Fortune, Pippa Goodhart begins with this:-
Ida looked at the stone slab under her feet. She read the twirly writing that listed names and dates of her dead Berringer ancestors. Soon Mama's name would be added to that list.
Create an atmosphere
It was the funeral that afternoon.
Pose a question in the mind of the reader
Here is the beginning to Jenny Nimmo's Dog Star:-
To Marty, the dog star had always looked much the same as any other star. It had given no hint of the amazing part it would play in her life.
Tug at our heartstrings
Create a sympathetic angle for the main character. Ida has lost her mother. Maybe in another book someone is being bullied or feeling left out. Find something which children will identify with, a difficulty to overcome, and if your character has depth and appeal, we will immediately want to know how they deal with their difficulties.
I hope those few tips have helped any of you just beginning your writing journey. Above all, don't be too hard on yourself, (must remember that one myself!), give yourself and your story some space to breath and have faith that it will all come together eventually.
Thank-you for reading. I hope you have a happy week.