Especially if you’re me.
It’s no secret that I’m terrible at writing beginnings to stories. Sure, sometimes I get a killer opening line, like the one for THE MORTALITY VICE:
“My name is Henry James William Hyde, and today I forfeit my life.”
But the whole… start of the story is usually beyond me. I cobble together something to get my through, then skip to the ending chapters. Writing is a weird process to begin with, and it’s even weirder when you struggle to write linearly.
I’ve used this simile before: writing a story is like reconstructing a body.
You’re taking an idea and giving it substance. There are many ways to set up your specimen: Some begin with the skeleton (outlining) and fill in the organs (major plot points) from there, connecting it with ligaments and muscles.
As a pantser, I have a planogram of a skeleton tacked to the wall, but I’ve dumped all the bones in a box and gone straight for the organs. Since I can’t write forward, write backward. It takes the pressure off having a perfect beginning and I get to feed my impatience for getting to all my favorite scenes.
This, of course, may panic those of you who love and need outlines. I frolic through my own narrative flinging horror like paint and stitching in veins as I go. I install the bones when I need to.
There is no wrong or right way to start reconstruction.
First drafts will always suck. Will starting from the end give you a perfect opener? Nope.
But it will take the pressure off and let you move past it. It’s skirting around the wall and helping you collect the tools you’ll need to break it down.
You get better with practice. I’ve rewritten the beginning of THE KILLING TYPE five times. I’m about to do it again. The trick with beginnings is you have to make those first few pages count. In my case, I lack clarity. Read your manuscript backward to pick up the tools again. Where do you want to start? What’s the most important thing you want to give the reader to make them want to invest in your story?
Not all skeletons are rebuilt from bones to skin; don’t be afraid to experiment. There will always be something you struggle with, whether it’s the beginning, the mushy middle, or knowing how to end it. Don’t be afraid to get your hands dirty or ask for advice. Stick your hand in that pan of organs and see what you pull out.