Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Beginnings




First of all, thanks to Annette and the other Working Stiffs for letting me visit here. I’m Sandra Carey Cody (Sandy to anyone who’s known me more than five minutes). I write the Jennifer Connor/Riverview Manor series, published by Avalon books. Jennie is the single mother of two young sons. Riverview Manor is the retirement community where she works as Activities Director. But enough of that - if you want to know more about me, I invite you to check out my web site: http://www.sandracareycody.com/


The best of times and the worst of times – Dickens’ wonderful first line perfectly describes how I feel about beginnings. I’m in the early stages of a new mystery – in my opinion, the worst (hardest) part of writing. I have to find a new way to murder someone (not easy since I’m a wimp and almost always skip the gory parts of other people’s books). I need to invent a fresh situation and a new adventure for my old characters (sometimes quite literally old since my series is set in a retirement community). How can I be true to the persona I have created for each of them and yet give them room to grow so they can surprise readers? One thing I’ve learned is that, at this point in the process, I have to loosen up – let go a little so my characters can surprise ME. Once I get into the rhythm of the story, it’s easier, but, oh, that beginning.

So much for the worst – how about the best? What’s best about beginnings? For starters, it’s another chance to achieve perfection. Okay, I know that chance is slim to none, but the possibility (remote though it is) is there. It’s inherent in every beginning, be it the first day of a new school year, a new job, a new relationship or a brand new story. When it comes to a new story, in addition to reconnecting with my on-going characters, I get to invent new ones. I get to make up new places for my characters to explore and new problems for them to solve. In this part of the process, there’s the opportunity to go somewhere I’ve never been and learn something I didn’t know before. That, for me, is the best part of any beginning, and perhaps the most intimidating.

The other interesting (make that maddening) thing about beginnings is that, for a writer at least, they never end. As I said before, I’m beginning a new book. In addition, the book I just finished could use a little tweaking before I send it out into the world–maybe a new first sentence. Yep - another beginning.

I suspect I’m not alone in being intimidated by beginnings. Everyone probably has a horror story to tell about something they were reluctant to begin – and probably a couple of success stories too.

10 comments:

Annette said...

Hi, Sandy, and welcome to Working Stiffs!

I, too, have a love/hate relationship with beginnings. Okay. I confess. It's mostly a "hate" relationship. I've learned it's best to just jot something down and keep writing, then come back when the whole thing is done and rewrite the first few chapters. By then, I know who the heck these people are and what's important to getting the story rolling. Or at least, I HOPE I do by then!

Tory said...

I have to say, I LOVE beginnings. All those wonderful creative ideas seem so fresh, so exciting.

Then you start writing them, and realize they have the same problems as all your other plots . . .

Oh, well!

Joyce said...

Thanks for visiting with us today!

For me, the first 100 pages are the hardest. It feels like it takes me forever to get that much down, then the rest seems to pretty much write itself.

One of my problems is that I almost always come up with a great first sentence that doesn't always fit when the book is finished. Sometimes I can make it work, but most times I have to dump them and come up with something new.

Karen in Ohio said...

My husband and I are both writers (all non-fiction, so far), and we have helped all three daughters with their writing. We have a family joke that the first paragraph is just practice. Inevitably, those first few sentences end up getting ditched in the editing process (we edit one another's work, if I can stand the criticism from the former English major).

It must be the same with a longer work, that your first efforts are false starts, sometimes.

My problem is that there are too many choices to make. Which direction will my character take? It has me stymied, and has kept me from getting started for a long time. Any hints?

Anonymous said...

Love the comments. Thanks for your input. It's interesting to see the differences in our feelings about beginnings. The one thing we all agree on is that they are IMPORTANT. Karen in Ohio asked for hints. I say (and I don't claim to be an expert) JUST DO IT - KEEP GOING NO MATTER WHAT. If it's bad, it can be revised, but you can't revise a blank page.
Sandy

Jennie Bentley said...

I love beginnings, too. There's nothing better than starting out with a blank piece of paper (new file/unpainted wall/a town you've never lived in) and have the ability to do anything you want. As for writing, it's extremely rare that I change my first sentence once I've written it. I do, however, have to have the perfect first sentence before I can go on. If I don't enter the story at the right moment and in the right way, the whole thing is going to suck. Same thing with protag/love interest character names: if they're not right, the characters don't turn out right, and I may as well forget it.

My problem comes after the first 100 pages; that's about how far I get before I run out of steam and have to stop and consider where I'm going. After the beginning, when all the characters are introduced, the setting is fixed, the problem (usually a murder) has happened, and it's time to get down to the 'real' writing... that's when I start having panic attacks.

My word verification is 'spelly'. I like it!

Gretchen Haertsch said...

Sandy, you capture so well the excitement . . . and worry of beginnings. It can seem as if there is an awful long road ahead of us -- especially if we're embarking on a novel -- but there's the thrill of starting something brand new too. My tricky part comes in the middle; some writers call it the "murky middle" -- too far along to quit, yet a long way still to travel. My personal favorite part of the writing process is revision -- polishing a piece of writing to really make it shine. That's irrestible to me and I can lose all track of time. It's what Louisa May Alcott called her "writing vortex."

Sandy Cody said...

Hi again,
Well, I signed up - no more anonymous for me! I feel exactly as Gretchen does - the most fun part of writing is revising - tinkering and shaping the story. And I admit I feel a little envious of Tory and Jennie who love beginnings.

Sharen said...

A terrific analysis of the exhilarating/scary aspect of beginning, Sandy, and a perfect quote. "It was the best of times, it was the worst of times" is my all-time favorite opening sentence.

I'm one of those who couldn't begin until I had the "perfect" first line for my novel. It happened to come to me in the middle of the night and I got out of bed to write it down. Everything flowed from there and, while writing the first draft, I was more confident in that opening sentence than anything that came after. Until I began revising, and ended up with a completely new structure which involved moving my original first chapter to a different place in the story line.

But that first sentence still haunted me as the "right" place to start. Eventually, I realized I could actually restore the original beginning and the rest of the revised structure would still work.

What's obvious is that the process of beginning is different for every writer. Good luck with yours, Sandy!

Marielena said...

Like Gretchen, I've always loved beginnings. My old newspaper days taught me to write an exciting and compelling lead because I had to hook readers in the first sentence. If not, they were on to the next article.

So what a perfect "beginning" sentence you chose on this topic, Sandy! Writing, indeed, can be like the worst of times and best of times.

For me, the worst are those "murky middles" -- the vast wasteland of not just filling up empty pages but creating a story that moves with passion and flow.

Although revision and rewrite are necessary to any type of writing, it's not one of my favorite processes. Sometimes I'm so immersed in what I write that I fail to see the obvious, both the good and not-so-good. That's where a good editor or experienced writing group helps. With a fresh pair of eyes, they can see what I missed, helping me to write the best possible manuscript or article I can.

One of my favorite Southern writers, Flannery O'Connor, had this to say: "I find that most people KNOW what a story is until they sit down to write one."

It's always a process, and even though we all may be overwhelmed at times with beginings, middles and endings, it always comes down to three words: Write, write ... re-write!