The Bad Beginnings Blues

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I’ve been engaged in a tug of war with my brain. There’s an idea lurking in there that I have one end of, while the other end is tucked into one of those little squiggly lines on my brains surface. I try to pull it out, but my brain is not letting it go. It won’t allow me to fully realize this idea I have in my head, an idea I know will be epic, if I can just get it out

Let’s back up to the beginning of this tale. I accepted a challenge from Cordelia to write more often and actually finish some projects this year. I was excited at the prospect of having someone to bounce ideas off of, to proofread my work, to tell me whether or not a piece needed to be reworked for the eightieth time, to tell me when something is crap and should be flushed down the toilet. I even had a solid story to start with.

I didn’t think the story needed much tweaking, only, the story I was telling didn’t seem finished. The thing’s I wanted to tell didn’t fit the story I had, though, because of the focus. After mulling this over a bit, I came up with an amazing idea. One that would fix my little dilemma, but create a slew of others.

The story I’m referring to is Candy Apples. Candy Apples is one woman’s struggle with a specific kind of addiction. She is in a support group with other individuals, two of which she interacts with regularly. The problem was, as I reader, I wanted to know more about these other women. The glimpses of them I saw in this story were so compelling, I had to know their stories. But this wasn’t their stories. Through several days of thinking and plotting, I came to the conclusion each woman needed her own story. They were strong enough to stand on their own. If the stories unfolded in such a way, I could even share certain events in Candy Apples from their perspective.

Then my mind ventured on and came up with a frame work for the other stories, which led to the realization other stories, and a little research, were needed. All of this was falling together and working out seemlessly. I ended up starting to examine one of these women’s stories, where I wanted to start, where it fit in my framework, what symbols and motifs would be important, etc. Finally, I was ready to start writing.

Only nothing came out.

This never happens to me.

I usually have spectacular first lines of my stories that start right in the thick of things and really set the tone for the story. This is especially true of Candy Apples. In the creative writing class I was in when I wrote it, one thing everyone agreed on was how awesome that opening line was. But somewhere along the way, I’ve seemed to have lost my first line mojo. I blame it on planning.

I’ve talked about what part of a story I get first here. It’s usually one of two things–a character or an opening line. Rarely is it a plot or a scenario. I’ve also talked about planning ahead versus going with the flow. I usually go with the flow and plan where necessary. This time, I had a strong character, already established in another story. This time, I’ve plotted out many of the important plot points and I know where I want to end the story. This time, I can’t think of an opening line to save my life.

The opening line has to grab the reader’s attention. It has to be interesting and intriguing, yet subtle and alluring. It has to invite you to read more without giving the game away. It has to seduce. In short, it has to work. This is especially true in a short story, as you only have so much time to establish a scenario and characters before you have to get things rolling.

I’m at a crisis point, a major stumbling block, very early in this story. Could it be I’ve lost my first line mojo for good? Does anyone have any tried and true techniques for crafting opening lines? Do you know of any good articles I can read on the subject? How can I wrest this opening line from the slimy recesses of my brain-squiggles?

4 Comments

  1. Usually, I don’t come up with the first line right away. It strikes me while I’m thinking of the story while doing a mundane task like washing the dishes or when I’m just about to fall asleep. I might scribble a few lines down, work with them, then leave them for a few days in a place I can read them often.

    Too much planning can ruin the surprise or in this case, the creative juices that spark a beginning.

    Forget about the first line for a while and just write any old sentence to start. Something like: Betty’s going to be the bitch at this meeting. She walked in the room and . . .

    By the time the first or second page it done, you may just find the right sentence to start the story.

    • 2blu2btru

      Thanks for the suggestion. Does this mean I have to wash the dishes that are piled up in my kitchen? 😉

      You’re right, too much planning does spoil the pie…like too many hands. I’ve overthought it. I should just wipe my brain and start clean.

  2. I agree with Diana. When I’m stuck, I just write around it. When I go through edits, I can smooth those things out.

    The first sentence is always hard for me because it has to be catchy enough to grab the reader’s attention. A lot of pressure for one sentence, don’t you think? 😉

    • 2blu2btru

      Indeed it is! Instead of “just keep swimming,” I tell myself “just keep writing” (A la Finding Nemo). Let’s hope it works, as I haven’t actually been able to keep writing without revising as I go before.

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