There is no more difficult struggle, than the struggle to craft the perfect beginning.
The opening lines of any piece of writing, be it a novel, or even this blog, are probably the most important lines in the entire piece, because it sets the tone for the rest of whatever your writing. This hasn’t always proven tricky for me, but there are some pieces of writing that just naturally seem to stick in your craw and you struggle to craft that perfect opening line. Or worse still that perfect opening chapter. What is it exactly about these particular stories, that just seem to gnaw at us until we can’t sleep at night. Because even when we have a perfectly fine opening crafted, it never seems to feel right. But what does that even mean? What makes one opening more right than another?
As someone who’s spent a ridiculous amount of time attempting to craft the perfect (or at least, some semblance of perfect) opening line/first chapter for my novel over the past 12 years, I’d like to think I know a thing or two about opening lines, but for as many as I’ve read and written, it’s continued to be a struggle for me to find something that I like for more than a minute. Something that I feel captures the spirit of what I want to convey, and to be honest, of all the novels I’ve written up till now, this is the beginning that I’ve struggled with the most. What is it about this particular story and this particular opener that seems to stump me so?
I know the story backwards and forwards to a nauseating extent. I’ve had the opportunity over the last twelve years to really get to know not only my story, but also my characters, in a way that I never could have imagined when I first started the story. So perhaps in that way, that has become a hindrance as well. I know the story so well that I’m almost exhausted by it, suffocated by the knowledge. For me, most every story starts fresh with next to nothing known, so how do you create an opening line when you already know so much about this story?
The truth is, even after twelve years of writing, I honestly don’t know… I’ve read advice like read opening lines that you love, and while that helps get me inspired, I can’t seem to stop obsessing, is this the right way to begin? Is this the right place to begin? And it’s not without reason. The beginning is your first impression with your reader, it sets the tone and because I know my own tendency to not even want to continue if I don’t like how a book starts, I have to create something that would make me want to continue reading. But at the end of the day, it’s not about me.
I’ve been so deep in the thick of this for so long that I think this is part of my problem, I need to find some space from this story, to start something fresh and new, obviously after I finish these edits, but at least to give my brain a moment to not be so absorbed in this one idea as it has been for the better part of twelve years. This year I finally learned to give myself space between the draft and editing and now I need to learn to give myself space between editing and the next round of edits/sending out to agents.
So many times in looking back at old beginnings or even old ideas I can’t help but wonder, why I didn’t feel they were good enough; I realize that’s a dark path to wander down and frankly perhaps it’s better not to look back. As Edna Mode says in the Incredibles, “I never look back darling, it distracts from the now.”