Guest post – AE Jones: When the Beginning Isn’t the Beginning

Our guest today is award-winning paranormal romance author, AE Jones. AE Jones

When the Beginning Isn’t the Beginning

Writers have a number of commandments. Fundamental truths that apply to any type of writing genre or medium. The commandment I’m going to talk about today is this: a good beginning is imperative to the success of your story.

Does that seem a bit too obvious? Maybe so, but that doesn’t make it any less true. If the story does not capture a reader within the first couple of pages (some say the first couple of paragraphs) they will put the book back on the shelf in the library or bookstore. Now that digital sample chapters are one-click away for readers, this truth is even more the case. The beginning needs to draw the reader in.

But hand-in-hand with the whole ‘good beginning’ mantra is another truth: beginnings are very hard to write. Well that doesn’t seem fair now, does it? So how about if we delve into some of the reasons why beginnings are hard to write. Because when we understand the why, we can then learn how to fix it.

  • Backstory. Both a writer’s friend and enemy, backstory is necessary to establish the reason why the characters act the way they do. However, that doesn’t mean that the first chapter should be chock full of what they have done in the past. With backstory we often fall into the trap of telling rather than showing. And telling equates to passive writing, which is not what we want at the beginning of our stories. Often for many writers (myself included) that first draft of chapter one is really a character analysis. If that is the case, then move that chapter into a folder marked ‘characters’ and start again. This time don’t give the reader paragraphs of hearsay or what has happened in their childhood, instead tease the reader with hints of the character’s life through dialogue and action.
  • Starting at the wrong place. This one happens a lot. Some of this goes hand in hand with backstory since as authors we have a misplaced belief that everything needs to be explained up front when it can actually be layered into the story later. Often it’s a matter of finding when the writing starts to ‘click.’ No one is going to immediately write snappy, full-developed scenes when they first sit down and start a new story. But maybe after a few pages or chapters, the story finally comes alive and starts to flow. Don’t be surprised if that’s where your story truly begins.
  • Trying too hard. There is a lot of pressure to write the perfect first line, first paragraph, and first chapter. When sitting down in front of our computer and watching that blinking cursor flash on that empty page, we panic. To help with that panic tell yourself that the first words you write, heck the first couple pages you write are a warm up. They will be re-worked or discarded before you finally have the ‘right’ beginning for your story. If you keep that in mind, typing those first words isn’t as daunting a task.

What I find often happens is that as the story progresses and the characters come alive on the pages, the beginning no longer fits with the rest of tale. Don’t be afraid to go back and rework those first scenes so that they are now in line with where your story has evolved. Any way to make those pages memorable means that you have a better chance of a reader NOT putting your book down until they read ‘the end’. And that’s every writer’s wish. Another commandment, if you will.

AE Jones’ newest release is a box set of two novellas from her Mind Sweeper series:

novellas 3d boxset copyThe Fledgling – A Novella

Vampire Jean Luc Delacroix has been alive for nearly four hundred years. Alive, but not really living. This changes when he meets newly turned vampire, Talia. Feisty and beautiful, Talia is the first female Jean Luc has been attracted to in centuries. But when he finds out she is also a bounty hunter who is interfering with his investigation of a supernatural serial killer, he pushes her away for her and his own good.

Bitten and thrust into the supernatural world against her will, Talia wants nothing more than to do her job. She doesn’t have time to deal with an overbearing, ridiculously sexy vampire. But Jean Luc and Talia butt heads on their single-minded crusade to stop a murderer. And unless they can set aside their troubled pasts and learn to trust each other, they may never have an opportunity to explore their true feelings. Especially when they face off with the killer.

The Pursuit – A Novella

Thirty years after their initial meeting, Jean Luc Delacroix and Talia Walker once again cross paths. After seeing Talia again, Jean Luc’s feelings reignite. This time he will do whatever it takes to make her a permanent part of his life. Talia learned everything she knows about love—and about being a vampire—from Jean Luc. And when she comes face to face with Jean Luc again, she wonders if her continued independence is as important as being with the vampire she still loves.

Before either can acknowledge their feelings, they are embroiled in a deadly case of a vampire draining humans. In the midst of an investigation that threatens the very foundation of the vampire nation, can Jean Luc and Talia finally find the courage to follow their hearts? Or will the killer destroy them first?

Buy links:
Amazon
iTunes
Kobo

You can find out more about AE Jones here:
Website: aejonesauthor.com
Twitter: @aejonesauthor
Facebook: www.facebook.com/aejones.author1

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About Marin McGinnis

About Marin McGinnis Clevelanders are tough, a bit cynical, and just a little crazy, and Marin McGinnis is no exception. When she’s not chasing after big dogs or watching tweens skate around hockey rinks, she is immersing herself in Victorian era romance. She lives in Northeast Ohio with her husband, son, and two standard poodles named Larry and Sneaky Pete. You can find her here, at marinmcginnis.com, Twitter, Facebook, Goodreads, and Pinterest.
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31 Responses to Guest post – AE Jones: When the Beginning Isn’t the Beginning

  1. Marin says:

    Great post, AE! Starting in the wrong place is such a common problem, and so hard to recognize in our own writing. Good luck with the novellas, and thanks for joining us here today!

  2. I often write the first chapter five or six times before I’m finally satisfied with it. And I’m not talking about a draft that I refine… I’m talking full-blown rewrites. This obviously takes time, but it is essential.

    Great article!

  3. Beth says:

    This is a great article. I’m reading a book right now that has failed to catch me. The first chapter… it’s dialogue, but it’s all backstory. Dialogue is not the loophole to action for backstory!! 🙂 Also, Heroine–C1, Hero–C2. And they don’t meet until C3…late in C3, because we get a glimpse of the villain first. 🙁 I’m disappointed!

    I went to a workshop last weekend and someone said that our stories…we have to be dropped on top of the moving car! We can not pack our bags, get in the car, drive through the neighborhood to get to the highway, and then finally reach 65 mph.

    I completely agree.
    Thanks for being here today, Ms. Jones!

  4. Great advice, AE! Oh, that first chapter! So hard to write–I always think it’s funny how important I feel the backstory is in a first draft, then how much I whack out of it the next time through!

    Sheri, Amy, and Marin, do you do the dreaded “S” word? I fought doing these with a passion but I force myself to do them now and I find that you can spot beginning troubles very well if you force yourself to think out the story beforehand.

    Great post and fun blog, Marin!

    • Thanks, Miranda! I love, love, love writing the first chapter–it’s like starting off on a new, exciting journey. That said, I do go back and edit very heavily once I get to the end. I do write a synopsis (yes, I can say it too!) before I start, just to try to give myself a rough path to follow, although I usually have to completely rewrite it. Characters do have a habit of wandering off the path and getting stuck in the mud. 🙂

  5. AE Jones says:

    Miranda –
    Thanks! And if you mean do I write a synopsis (yes I said it outloud, don’t judge me) the answer is no.
    I am a pantser all the way. But maybe it would help me? Something to think about in the future…
    AE

  6. Pingback: Guest Blogging Today on Heart Shaped Glasses! | AE Jones

  7. Sandra Owens says:

    It’s funny because I’ve never had a problem with my beginnings, and have never had an editor tell me I needed to redo one. It’s the dang middle that gets me every time. Having said that, I agree with everything you said and love the “drop on top of a moving car” theory.

    I don’t know if you rewrote the beginning of MINE SWEEPER, and if so, how many times, but IMHO it was the best book beginning ever!

    • AE Jones says:

      Sandra –

      Thanks for dropping by! Funny you should ask about MIND SWEEPER. The first few lines of that book never changed. They remained constant throughout my multiple edits. I did clean up the first chapter a bit and tweak things, but I was lucky in that I had little trouble writing the beginning for that particular book – it was kimset 😉
      AE

  8. Bonnie Staring says:

    Great post, AE! I used to waste so much time revising and polishing the first chapter until I discovered that, by the time I get to the end of the book, I usually find that the story starts in the wrong place.

    • AE Jones says:

      Bonnie!
      So true. Books often start in the wrong place and sometimes it takes another person to tell me so!
      I think we get immersed in the story and it makes perfect sense to us that it takes someone else to lead us down the path!
      AE

  9. Nan Dixon says:

    Great post AE!
    I took to heart Donald Moss’s lecture that backstory doesn’t belong in first 25(?) pages of the book. (Or is it 50?) Imagine my surprise when my editor wanted to add backstory in the first 10 pages. Eek. I felt like I was breaking a cardinal rule and the backstory cops were going to come and take my computer away!!!

  10. Sharon Wray says:

    Such great advice, AE! I really struggle with backstory in the beginning because I have put books down that start too quickly. All action, no backstory, and not only am I confused I don’t care about anyone in the scene. It’s so hard to strike that right balance!

    Love your post. 🙂

    • AE Jones says:

      Sharon –
      Hi! Yeah, backstory can be a bad four-letter word sometimes. I just tell myself to sprinkle it in. Paragraphs of backstory (at least in my mind) is not sprinkling… 🙂
      Thanks
      AE

  11. Funny how we all love/hate different parts of the story. And all go about the process differently. It’s art :)!

  12. Amy Patrick says:

    Amy, this was right on time for me today. I’ve had a heck of a time with the beginning of my WIP. The “trying too hard” part hit home with me. I’ve scrapped 2 beginnings already. Let’s hope the 3rd is the charm. 🙂

    • AE Jones says:

      Amy-
      Happy this post was a timely one for you! We put way too much pressure on ourselves to be perfect right out the gate, don’t we? Deep breath and third time is the charm!
      AE

  13. Talia Surova says:

    Yup, I think you hit all the headache-inducing aspects of beginnings. Yup. Yup. Yup.

    I’ve often had the problem Sharon mentioned–to avoid the dread slow beginning with the backstory dump, I’ve started things too quickly, and my husband aka my always-first-reader will always say, “I don’t care about this person. Make me care before pushing her off that cliff.” That balance between hooking into the characters and pulling readers onto the moving story train is sooooo hard to achieve!

    • AE Jones says:

      Talia!
      Yes it is soooo hard to find that balance and your hubby is right, we have to CARE for them don’t we or we don’t invest ourselves in the story!
      AE

  14. Kathleen says:

    Beginnings are the hardest! I think many writers have to get the backstory out of their system in order to find the beginning of their story, sometimes 30-50 pages into the manuscript. It’s difficult to toss all those words however, so we hold on to it unnecessarily.

    Can’t wait to read the novellas AE! Great post!

  15. Kay Hudson says:

    Excellent post, AE. I’ve certainly started in the wrong place more than once, and I often see the problem in contest judging (I’ve learned a LOT from contest judging!).

    I’m not sure Donald Maass wants to see backstory anywhere, at least not more than, say, a sentence every ten pages. Wish I could figure out how to do that.

  16. AE Jones says:

    Kay-
    I wish I could figure out how to do that too…1 sentence every 10 pages…yipes
    Thanks for stopping by.
    AE

  17. Darcy Woods says:

    Wonderful post, AE! And such a great example of our diversity as writers and at what stage our stumbling blocks appear.

    Interestingly, I don’t think the first line of any of my books has ever changed. It’s all the rest that require triage! 😉

    • AE Jones says:

      Darcy-
      Hello my friend. I’m glad your first lines stay ‘true’ for you from the beginning. And don’t worry about the triage…we all clean up bloody manuscripts at some point in the process!
      AE

  18. Barb Heintz says:

    AE, I understand all that you are telling us, but it doesn’t come easily. I spend so much time modifying my beginning that I’ll never finish my book. I’m guilty of all those faults. I’ve got to be tougher with the big red eraser. Great post.

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