Dear Opening Paragraph:

It’s not that I hate you, it’s just that you’re not good enough yet.

Okay, I admit it.  I kind of hate you.

The problem is that I need you to do a lot of things very quickly.  Partly this is for reasons of craft, but mostly it’s because nobody knows who I am yet.  I don’t have a name.  So I’ve got to grab you, the reader, right away.  I’ve got to get you hooked, let you know where you are, where you might be going.  Who’s after you and what they want.  I’ve got to set expectations that you’re going to want to see fulfilled.

Then I have to fulfill them, but in a way you don’t expect but still find pleasing.  But that’s a different problem.  Right now I just need to get you to listen to me while I tell you what you need to know without boring you with the wrong details.

For you, this is the way in, the part of the story that will be farthest from you when you get to the end, though with luck there’ll be some resonance between the two, even though they’re so different, or appear that way now that you’re looking at them through different eyes.

For me, this is do or die.  If I don’t get it right, this will be the only part of the story an editor ever reads.  They’re busy people.  They have stacks and stacks of manuscripts to sift through to fill a limited number of slots.  The math isn’t hard, and I don’t take rejection personally.

The problem is I’ve been thinking about this story for a year and a half.  The characters feel like people to me; the sequence of events is clear; the undercurrents running beneath the landscape are mapped and charted and the wells dug in what I think/feel/hope are the appropriate places.  The story is more or less written.  But there’s so much information I feel the need to pack into the first few hundred words that I can’t figure out how to do it to my own satisfaction, much less figure out how to square that with something somebody besides me would want to read.

As you may have guessed by now, that’s where the impetus behind this blog post, as well as the facebook post that began it (and, to be honest, most of my facebook activity these last couple of days) came from.  That’s the thing, right?  When you can’t figure it out, you go away for a little while and let the wheels turn inside the black box.

I used to think that being able to write more consciously would make it easier.  Maybe further on down the road it will.  Right now I’m going to go clean my apartment, since I’m done with this blog post.

5 thoughts on “Dear Opening Paragraph:

  1. Dallas, I always drastically rewrite the first paragraph (and the whole first scene) after I finish a book. Then in my many revisions and proofreadings, I revise the first paragraph probably 15 times more.

    My suggestion is to just to type something there and continue on with your scene. If you can’t get yourself to even do that, the first verse of “Mary Had a Little Lamb” will work fine as a placeholder until you have something more relevant.

    1. I’m pretty much at that point. I’ve basically written the story. It’s just the beginning that needs an overhaul. That’s the hope/plan, anyway. It’s just frustrating, because I’ve spent so much time with the story that setting the tone for what’s to come is turning out to be much more complicated than I had hoped it would be. I’m probably overthinking things, at this point, which is why I’m cleaning my apartment, or will be once I remember I’m not supposed to be paying attention to the computer, that is.

      1. Sorry my idea wasn’t helpful. Have you tried looking through your first scene for a paragraph that would work as a beginning? Or a sentence?

        If you want to send me your current first paragraph, I’ll tell you whether or not it hooks me and why.

        Good luck.

  2. I feel your pain. This was very clever and funny, and I love that you “hate” the opening paragraph.

  3. Shauna: It was definitely helpful; you validated what I’m doing. I love when people do that. And I will send along some of the current candidates. I think I’m just too close to it to see which way to go.

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