The Beginning (full stop).
Great opening lines are memorable. I suspect many people can quote the opening of Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities even if they don’t know what they are quoting. The first scene in a book is often the first one written. It may even be the scene that inspired the rest of the book (that image that won’t leave the writer’s mind, taking over until it has spawned characters, plots, settings, and hopefully a satisfying conclusion). Fingers tap the keyboard or grip the pen, speeding through the first pages, tumbling onto the next chapter, and the next until it is time to type The End. Of the first draft, that is. Then reality sets in. The first pages are the ones that sell the book. They are the hook. The decision to continue. They become THE EVERYTHING. I suspect that first pages, or first paragraphs or better yet, first sentences are more studied than any other pages in any manuscript. Workshops are organized around perfecting these critical pages (our very own Paula Munier frequently lends her expertise to a First Ten Pages bootcamp through Writer’s Digest). This is an excellent opportunity to receive critical feedback. However, what if you don’t have the ten pages yet? What if you have an idea for a story but keep fiddling with opening pages, second guessing yourself, until it is clear the book will never really start? I have two suggestions. First, read the first pages of books that are well regarded in your genre. How do they treat the action and introduction of setting or characters? Precisely how are these pages setting up the story for the reader? Second, visit Art Taylor’s blog The First Two Pages. Art features various writers each week, each critiquing their own work, explaining the whys and why nots of their decisions. When asked to post as a guest on his blog I was surprised by my recollections of earlier drafts. After a refresher glance at my old manuscripts’ pile I could trace my own decision making processes. The beginning shouldn’t be honed to the point that the rest of the book falls short of its sheer perfection, but those pages are critical. Should I turn that page, and the next, and the next all the way to the end? That is the ultimate reader’s question. Hopefully the end of the first sentence gets, a Yes. The end of the first paragraph, a second Yes and by the end of the first page it’s no longer a question. It’s a given. Then you can start to worry about a conclusion that surpasses the perfect beginning.