On incurably loving the beginnings of novels

I’m on page 147 of my new novel in progress. Those of you who’ve been following my posts may wonder why I’ve added so few pages to my previous number.

Water Lily Pond Water Irises - Monet

Water Lily Pond Water Irises – Monet

Well. The short, blithely cheerful answer is: I’ve had to recast, rewrite. It wasn’t quite working. Now I believe it is, thank goodness. But nevertheless I’m only on page 147.

Not that I mind being in the first half of the WIP. Not at all. I rather wish I had seen the issues ahead of time and not had to change the structure–but oh, it’s been a lovely time of re-connecting with my story, of finding it’s true roots. Incurably, I love the beginnings of novels. And this is the subject of today’s post: the mental state of being at the front-end of the novel.

Other authors do not love the beginning. Mary Higgins Clark has said:

“The first four months of writing a book, my mental image is scratching with my hands through granite.”

In contrast to this–quite common, I believe–writing experience is mine:

Springtime at Giverny - Monet

Springtime at Giverny – Monet

“The first hundred pages or so, my mental attitude is that of being lost in a fun house–no, not lost, more staggering from one wonder to another”

Once I have a general plot and I know my novel’s theme and major characters, it’s as though a door opens, and here is a world which was always there, people who have always existed, and a truth I’ve been waiting to tell. It is the miracle of fiction writing, that the mind weaves lies which become the truest thing we know.

The first hundred pages can be exasperating. There are many side paths which look germane, but which really are other books. Not this book. One might take a few steps in, and then realize, no, that’s not my story. So beginnings are largely about choices. We must choose from an embarrassment of riches. We must not gorge, indulge or be swept away by possibilities. Well, perhaps some of this on the first draft. But we know in our hearts that we must later, cut, cut, cut.

The first hundred or hundred and fifty pages are a time of intense creative fire and at times, joy. I know that I’m being shown a tremendous story, and that inevitably, I will get only some of it right. But nothing in my life quite matches the pleasure of getting to try, and watching the book come to life on the page.

After page 147?

Oh, that is another story. There will be granite and a small portion of boredom… Another post!



7 Responses

  1. I write for the sheer joy of creation and to keep my mind active and at age 70, I really need to do this! I have written 7 books and have had them all self-published on Amazon. (8 if you count the Tales of the Ferryman and other ghost stories buried in my blog.) I set myself what seem to be impossible problems for my characters and then make them solve them. The little Grey Cells go into overdrive! One day my dream is to break even on costs so that the books sold will pay for Star-Seed to be self-published by Memoirs, after that, the money will go to my local Hospice.
    All the best, Barry.

  2. Kay says:

    Good luck with your writing endeavors, Barry. It’s a good life, and sounds like you’re following your dream.

  3. Dave Baker says:

    Thanks Kay, very interesting. I’m sure that, like me, many writers will identify with the variety of emotions that one experiences before giving birth to one’s new creation. I’m working through the third draft of my first novel. One more run-through and it will (have to) be ready for the publishers.

  4. Kay says:

    I do think it helps to identify those emotions, because they tend to be similar with each novel (and its stages.) Knowing this, it makes it easier to keep attitudes in perspective.

  5. Jim Sellers says:

    Kay, I can say with some certainty that, no matter how much I think I like my beginning chapter when I start, it has always been rewritten at some later point. Often on the second draft. I think this is due to the inevitable better idea that comes after the story has started to be fleshed out and I see a better way to begin things. That puts me somewhere between yourself and Mary in approaches to the beginning.

  6. Kay says:

    No, like you, I always rewrite the beginning. I just meant that I am so Happy starting out with a new novel and the sense of discovery and possibility. But revisions, often heavy, are always in store.

  7. Hi Kay, well as time went by I wrote a final episode in the Elf War series called Star-Seed Awakening, in which I pitted the High King against an organism that could control worlds! I had the satisfaction that those who read it, enjoyed the tale as much as the other ones. AND no, I did not make a fortune doing it, but had the satisfaction of pleasing those who discovered it!!!!!!
    All the best, Barry.

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