I'm beginning the draft of a new short story this morning (no, alas, not a novel) and so, of course, I'm thinking about beginnings. As writers, we all know how important beginnings are. I think Begin strong! must be one of the top commandments, ranking right up there with Show, don't tell and Eliminate the unnecessary.
But as readers, we all know how deceptive beginnings can be. It's true.
I've read many a wonderful Chapter One, only to be bored by chapters two and three, and to finally set the book down in chapter four, never to pick it up again. This is a fairly common reading experience for me. It must be the same short attention span that makes novel-writing seem so daunting. But no matter how often I experience this, it's always unexpected and disappointing.
On the other hand, I just read a YA fantasy with (in my opinion) a very boring opening chapter. I stuck with it only because it's a well-known, popular book, with hundreds of raving reviews on Amazon. And yes, I admit, it did turn out to be all right, in spite of the lousy beginning.
But nota bene: that was a book by an established author. Those of us still working on our first novels, or working to be published in major markets, we have to be - dare I say it? - better than that. Yes, we do. Sad but true.
I've received lots of rejections over the years that said: This story didn't grab me, sorry. This, I think, is code for: I didn't read it, sorry. The lesson for writers is that no matter how intrigued we might be by our own characters and the narrative problems we create for them, it's obviously not so easy to command the attention of strangers. And with the first sentence, probably; with the first hundred words, certainly.
But I try and I try. So, for the curious, here they are: the far-from-final, first 97 words of today's draft of the new wip (Warning: it's sf)...
To my nephew Jor, in Imilor. Greetings from Alahadir, defender of the White Queen. Regarding the slander and lies that have long afflicted our family, and the even worse lies to come. What you and your mother need to know.
Dearest Jor, I’m transmitting this message through the d’Al-sahr tapis, that oldest and slowest and most neglected of routes, because it is the one least spied upon. The news – filled as it will be with the imposter’s lies – will reach you before my message does. This is unfortunate but certain.
Tonight is the night of my death.
Bah! Posted here, it already looks different to me, somehow less exciting than the Word document I've been looking at. Well, ta-ta to all for now - it's back to the drafting board for me.