10 August 2012

Making the Beginning WORK

(Note: this post was composed about a month ago and lost in the deep dark depths of my harddrive.)

The beginning of anything is often the hardest: you have to overcome the intertia of not doing whatever it is you're about to start, and often you can be plagued by doubt or fear. What if I do it wrong? Can I actually do this? What will people think?

I've been writing for long enough now that beginning a new draft doesn't scare me so much any more. Where I used to prefer editing to drafting (my perfectionism was happy that it finally got a chance to make things RIGHT!), I now enjoy the freedom that drafting involves; it doesn't MATTER if I get it wrong, as long as I'm having fun :o)

That doesn't mean that beginnings are perfectly easy, though - they're just difficult in a different sense. As the Twitter peeps among you might have seen, I'm editing Sanctuary right now. Sanctuary is a YA fantasy, and I drafted a tentative blurb/query for it yesterday:

Moving halfway across Australia to Nowra, capital of nowhere, is the worst thing to ever happen to Edge. Three months on, she has no friends, the world’s most horrible bedroom, and no one to celebrate her fourteenth birthday with. Maybe that’s why she starts hallucinating that the butterfly is talking to her – though her dog seems to think the fairy is real enough.
Sure, finding out she’s a Traveller, able to cross between worlds to Sanctuary, home of the fairies, is a definite bonus. Making a new friend and realising that Sanctuary might be everything she misses from home is pretty great, too. But then the shadows appear, ominous and blacker than black. Edge is determined to find out where they’re coming from – until she’s dragged from Sanctuary into the land of death and almost killed by them. Now Edge must decide if her new home is something worth fighting for – or if, you know, running away to the circus might be the saner option.

But I'm editing! How does this relate to beginnings? Because it's in edits that beginnings are now brain-pretzeling difficult. The internet is full of really good advice about how to begin your story: begin in the middle of the action, show your character's voice, avoid excessive backstory, avoid shock-for-the-sake-of-shock lines, show your conflict, and so forth. However, while this advice is all great an necessary, it's not what I'm struggling with (though, granted, there is currently ALL THE BACKSTORY eating up my first page, which is not so good >.<). What I'm struggling with is something that not a lot of people seem to talk about: the themes.

See, the first draft of Sanctuary ended REALLY WELL. I'm completely in love with the last handful of lines, and they never fail to generate that 'Awww!' feeling, which is what I want. But in order for them to work, they have to be set up in the beginning.

The beginning has an epic amount of work to do: it has to hook the reader, establish the action, set the scene, introduce the plot conflict - and it also has to introduce the thematic conflict. It has to give a taste of what's going to matter in the story, what the MC's main drive is, what they're fighting for. And that, right now, is what I'm struggling with.

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