#5 is a no-brainer

5th item in our best/worst about being an aspiring author

how to begin your manuscript is the question.

so.  what's the answer?????

where the action is, of course!

this may seem like a huge no-brainer. but, unfortunately it's one of those things that for (some) is easier said/thought/dreamed than done.

action vs NOT

if you're like me (scary thought, i know) you've struggled with the H word worse than that V word (voice, for those of you who missed a recent post on that topic)...the HOOK.  *shudders*

take it from me, once you've finished your precious novel and you send it out to someone to read for the very first time you, deep down, expect them to sigh with the wondrement of it all and exclaim all its glories that you know to be true.

so when you post it on a forum (which, i know a recent "poll" showed none of you really do) or send chapter one, or your first 5 pages or even only your first 250 words to be critiqued it's a HUGE side-kick in the gut when the response is nothing more than completely negative.

maybe that never happened to you.

ahem, me neither.

except, here's my first (original) 232:

                I awoke as I did every morning for the past 15 ½ years and wished I could linger under the warm sheets for hours longer than I was able. Instead, I flung my legs quickly over the side of the twin bed into the cool air, like, as with a band-aid, getting it over with quickly would make it better. I wished my dad would let us turn the heater up once the autumn air cooled our house overnight. I stumbled, chilled, to my bathroom and into a warm shower where I could wake up and really think about the day ahead. It was in the shower that, not the planned events of the upcoming day, but the memory of the dream from the night before washed over me.
                I recognized the boy in my dream from French class, although I had never thought much of him before. In the dream he had done little, yet meant so much to me. The details of our conversation and sequential actions in the dream eluded me, yet the feelings we shared seemed real and remained with me. Fully alert from the pelting water, I knew the dream should mean nothing, but from the moment it worked its way to my conscious mind, I could not shake the real emotions of romantic feelings it had awoken in me for this never before thought of boy.

and here's my revised version.

I clutched the journal and pressed it to my chest. I twisted it side to side as my feet pounded the cool, frosty earth. Leaves swished and scattered as I raced through them. It was too late to worry about being quiet. My breaths came in labored gasps. I veered off the path and dodged trees, hoping to hide in what little coverage the fall forest left for me. With each step I neared the edge of the trees.

Why, why had I come here this morning? Such an idiot! A little spidey-sense or women’s intuition would come in handy so I’d know when to expect this, this thing!

Only, I’d had no warning.

Cloudy blue light had shined across the faded leaves, and when I looked up, the shimmering, whispering form had appeared out of nowhere.

Finally, I emerged, tears perched on the brims of my eyes. I darted left and sprinted to the boulevard that paved the road into Haven Park. I found it hard to believe whoever or whatever started chasing me would follow me out into the open, but I didn’t take any chances by slowing my pace.

A quarter of a mile to go.

Its hisses still sent a frigid dripping sensation down my spine. I couldn’t tell if the sounds were real or just replaying from memory.

yeah, not even recognizable.  but the premise of the story is the same.  promise. (see my query back a few posts)

so...what's different?  it's the action. (oh, and the removal of all novice mistakes that i am ashamed to have shared with you all.  (yes, i really started with her waking from a dream.  yes, then she showered, ate breakfast, did her hair, went to first hour, chatted with her best friend, and even looked in a mirror so i could describe her looks. oh, i know. ugh.)  it's still not perfect, but my reviews by critiquers have been much more favorable for this version than for the former one.

if you're struggling with your beginning (and HOOK) here are some links that might help you like they helped me.
  • nathan bransford's guest blogger valerie kemp discussed the all important first chapter here.
  • pub rants:  starting a novel in the wrong place.  go here.
  • storyfix.com:  hook vs first plot point. go here.


  1. Ooh that is scary stuff. I like the frigid dripping sensation down my spine. HAPPY CHRISTMAS :O)

  2. Excellent post Christy! The second version gets your heart pumping. You have learned so much. Congratulations.

    I also have an award at my blog for you ladies. Congratulations again.


  3. I love your rewrite! It's excellent! I wanted to read more. Starting with action is so important. I learned that lesson the hard way too.

  4. But what if your book doesn't have any action??

    Okay, that might be my next topic, I should probably research it anyway. >:(

    I remember those first few (ahem) attempts of yours. Great job with the rewrite!

  5. The hook is scary, but you manage to take the scary out of so many things when you post about it. :) Kind of like Traveler's insurance, only better! (And my apologies if you haven't seen that advert series.)

    I think I'll write about that guy with the funny-looking hand. That should be a good story, right? ;)

  6. madeleine-thanks very much! :0) merry christmas to you, too!!!!

    michael-thanks for the compliment and the award!! i've learned lots from your amazing critiques!

    heather- you are very kind! i should post more of my writing...compliments are wonderful happy little things!!! (of course, there are usually 10 negative crits to every .5 positive one, i've learned!) :0)

    erica-oooh...so right. then start where your characters life is first changing. that's still "action" as in actively moving the character from something old to something new. it could be "emotional action"...or some life-altering event that is occurring. does that work?

    su- go for it! yes posting about troubles tends to lighten it a bit. you're all such good listeners and most days i just need to vent!

    :0) merry christmas all. thanks so much for chatting with me during this busy time of year!

  7. Gotta risk being a devil's advocate here - because funnily enough I do have a dream (or the aftermath of one) at the beginning of my first chapter, and shower and breakfast and MC going to work. And despite breaking all those well known 'rules' I think it works.

    This is one of those rules which I think has us new writers obsessively rewriting and tying ourselves into knots - and sometimes unnecessarily. But yeah, starting with something slow and boring and failing to interest the reader in your MC or your story isn't good either...


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