Wednesday, July 22, 2009

The First Page

By Robin Kaye

Beginning a book is always difficult, especially when you don’t have that beginning scene to build the book around. I think it’s because I’m slowly changing from a seat-of-the-pants writer to a plotter in the hope that if I have the entire plot, I’ll be able to see if there are holes in it before I write the entire book. This is especially helpful since I am now writing on deadline.

Back when I was a card-carrying pantser, a scene would pop into my head and like magic, I’d have a fabulous opening scene and from there the plot would flow. Now that I’m a quasi-plotter, I have the whole story line and at the very least, the hero and heroine in my mind. I know what’s going to happen in the beginning, the middle and the end. I have the conflict, the black moment and even the happy ending but where do I begin the book?

Every character has a back-story whether it’s written in the text or not. His or her entire life story is in the author’s mind. That’s how an author crafts three-dimensional characters. The author knows where the character grew up, how the character was treated by her parents and siblings, her first heartbreak, and the one thing the heroine regrets. The author knows why the heroine acts the way she does because the author is carrying around that character’s baggage.

My next book: working title, “As Good As He Gets” is a marriage-of-convenience story. My question is: does the story begin at the wedding? The proposal? During the writing of the pre-nup? What’s the most exciting? What’s going to grab the reader by the throat? Well, they can all work, or they can all fail. The thing that’s driving me crazy is that all-important first scene has yet to pop in my head and I don’t know how to make that happen.

I’ve written the first scene but it doesn’t blow my skirt up. Don’t misunderstand, there’s nothing wrong with the scene, but then, so far, there’s nothing exceptionally right with it either. Still, I can’t be rewriting the first scene over and over again. So I move on and pray that eventually genius will strike. What I want to know from writers is how do you open yourself up to genius striking? How do you begin your books?

And readers, which do you think would be better? The proposal? The wedding itself? Discussion of the pre-nup?


  1. Hi ~
    I say the proposal. "Marry me" is a great opening hook...followed by flabbergasted silence. Whatever it is, you're going to make it shine!


  2. I vote for 1) wedding, 2) proposal, 3) writing the pre-nup. The wedding is a do-or-die event, no turning back, or if you do turn back at that moment you're guaranteed a scandal. So, out of the three opening options you gave us, I pick the wedding.

  3. Ever since I wrote that opening line for Slave, I've been asked (and struggled) to repeat it, but the magic doesn't always appear on demand, and sometimes you just have to let the pantser take precedence over the plotter. It may not show up until halfway through the book, but other times, it's just there in my head waiting to happen. You have to take it on faith.

  4. Hi Robin,

    Lurker emerging from closet here.

    As a recovering pantser myself, I still write scenes as they emerge in my head--mostly because I worry about forgetting them!

    In terms of your story, I'm drawn to starting with the pre-nup, because of the layers you can create. On one level, you have these two people sealing a business arrangement, but beneath the surface there's definite sexual tension that teases the reader, and leaves her wanting more.

    Just a thought--and good luck with it however you decide to go!

  5. Thanks Chris, Elisabeth and Rosemary!

    Cheryl, I kept waiting for lightning to strike for Breakfast in Bed, it still hasn't and I'm still not happy with the beginning and I've already sent the copy edits in!

    I think plotting has ruined it for me. On the other hand, it is nice to know what's going to happen and in what direction the book should take.

  6. Hey Robin,
    I vote for proposal because in a marriage of convenience the proposal would be entirely different than a marry-me-because-I-love-you story. The tone/style of the proposal could then carry over into how the H/H act during the pre-nup and wedding scenes. JMHO

    I deal with a bit of an opposite problem. I imagine all kinds of opening scenes when I should be sleeping, am in the shower, driving the car, etc. I'll get really excited about the fab opening, but then can't think of enough story to go with it. Seems like such a waste.

    I'm sure the perfect opening scene for AGAHG will come to you! Good luck.

  7. Hi Robin!
    Having read your first two books and thoroughly enjoying them, how about the girl walking down the street in a tiff talking outloud to herself in several different languages as he struggles to keep up. So basically after the proposal and before the pre-nup.

    Deborah V.


    I'm a pantser, tried and true. Tried plotting. Numerous times. To no avail. It sounds great on the paper, but then the characters take over, and we're off on a tangent. The edits are brutal, of course, so I do understand your quasi-change. Wish I could do it. Hate edits. Like a gazillion piece jigsaw puzzle.

    As for your dilemma: I suggest you write your book then pull the most nail-biting of the three scenes for your beginning. (See? Jigsaw puzzle.) That way you aren't stalled and have options.

    Sorry I missed you before we left. I'm still amazed at how much you manage to do in any given day!


  9. It would seem logical to open with the proposal, setting it up and letting readers know of the marriage of convenience... BUT how funny would it be if there was this wedding going on and both the H/H are considerably annoyed with the situation, one that's too good to pass up... the rolling eyes, the sarcastic vows, the snide inner monologues--could be genius. And then go into the proposal...pre-nup... and so on :)

  10. Start where they're both in jeopardy. I'm thinking someone (Ben, I'm presuming) is the one who's going to ask b/c he's the one who needs the marriage. But what if Gina asks him for some reason. Maybe she's saying it off the cuff and he takes her up on it?

    Jeopardy or a sexy opening line (opening line from Catch of a Lifetime, that was chapter 4 in the original version: "There was a naked woman on his boat.")

    What's going to draw your reader in. I'm with Pat, you might have to write all of those scenes and see where the biggest hook is.

  11. Hi Robin,

    I'd say start with the proposal so we know what is at stake between the two. I've always loved the marriage of convenience plot and most romance readers do.

    Good luck!

  12. Please, not writing the prenup! Legal drafting isn't sexy! I can say that from long experience. ;-)

  13. I love the marriage-of-convenience plot, too. Good luck with it, Robin!

    Really enjoyed your post. My bet is you can make the story exciting no matter where you start it--each possibility offers so many delicious opportunities!

  14. Okay, I opened THTH and must say, I don't find ANYTHING wrong with your opening. In fact, I'm hooked and, since I have no time to read, am blaming YOU for what won't get done!!! (Convenient, isn't it? LOL)

    I hoped to take it to the hospital with me, but doubt it will last that long. Favorite line so far? On the contrary, hhe looked...big and um...happy to see her. Very happy. (heeheeheeheehee)

  15. Before I read what anyone else has suggested, I'd like to vote for the pre-nup. You could have a freaking ball with that and show all the ways this marriage is doomed to fail before it even starts. And then of course they'd fall in love and defy the odds. Weddings have been done to death, but pre-nup meetings? Not so much. Now I'll go see what everyone else said!

  16. Geez Robin,
    I wish I knew! I too was stumped for the opening scene in my current WIP so I did something I NEVER thought I'd do. I opened with a Prologue! It is action packed, but neither the hero nor the heroine are in it.

    also trying to be a reformed pantser

  17. Wow! What great feedback! The way I started it was with the marriage but I think I might go back and try beginning with all three and see which is funnier. I love all your ideas and will definitely use them!

    Thanks bunches!

    Hugs...Robin :)

  18. Hey Robin!
    You could always do what I do, when faced with options A,B,or C -- choose option D :-)

    What about starting with a scene where she's being fitted for her wedding dress, or something like that? Then you could contrast the "ooh, isn't it romantic" comments/opinions of the people around her with her own ironic knowledge that it's a marriage of convenience. You could flashback to both the proposal and the signing of the pre-nup, if you like.

    Phyllis A. Whitney used to say the best place to start any story is with a character with a problem, doing something interesting.

    I'm sure you'll get it figured out.

  19. Hmmm Am I the only one rooting for a Pre-nup start? True, legalese isn't sexy. But there can be so many emotions while the couple is sitting in the lawyers office wondering how life got so off-track that they ended up there. All visions of the Barbie fantasy wedding are gone (I don't know your heroine, so the Barbie thing may be waaay off base, but you get the point)

    But, I'm a panster struggling to be a plotter and I've written my opening scene 3 times. In my final draft I just shifted POV from heroine to hero and it made all the difference in the world.

    Good luck Robin- can't wait to read it.