Monday, January 10, 2011

Rocky Beginnings

by Olivia Cunning

Figuring out where a story begins can be one of the most difficult things for a writer.  If you start too early, you end up with a bunch of back story that has no bearing on the plot.  If you start too late, your readers might not feel connected to your characters before you throw those characters in front of the proverbial tour bus.  If readers don't care about your characters, they might stop reading. Finding that perfect spot to begin your novel can be a challenge.

Starting Backstage Pass was relatively easy. It starts a few minutes before the hero, lead guitarist Brian Sinclair, and the heroine, human sexuality professor Myrna Evans, meet for the first time. Here's a little parody I made of their meeting.
No, it's not REALLY this silly when they meet. This is what happens when I'm trapped in all-day meetings at work. I find ways to amuse myself. If you'd like to read the real first chapter, which is still funny, but not "dumb" it's here: Backstage Pass Chapter One

Starting the second book in the series, Rock Hard, was not so easy. It's a reconciliation story. The hero and heroine already know each other, so... where to start? It originally started about an hour before the chance meeting that throws the lead characters back together. The opening used to be about the lead singer of Sinners, Sed Lionheart, em, interacting with one of his groupies. Oh yeah, they are interacting alright. The scene goes deep into Sed's thoughts and shows how much the heroine, Jessica Chase, still rules his heart even though they haven't seen each other for two years. That scene is still in the book, but it's now chapter three.

I'd started the story too late.

How did I know that?

Several second readers couldn't understand why the heroine was so hostile toward the hero when they meet again. I decided it was because they'd already been mucking around in Sed's thoughts and have connected with him -- aww, the poor, misunderstood playboy. No amount of Jessica saying/thinking what a jerk he was would suffice. Jeez, Jessica, can't you read his thoughts? He's changed. Em, no, she can't. I needed the reader to connect with the heroine first, so they could understand her reluctance to get tangled up with this guy again. So I went back and started the story with the day Jessica broke up with Sed, so the reader can see that he really was a huge jerk. I also added a second chapter to allow the reader to connect with Jessica in the present, before we get into Sed's pining-for-her POV. I think it works so much better than the original beginning. I guess we'll find out when it releases in April. Initially, Rock Hard had a rocky beginning. I just hope it doesn't show in the much-revised version.

2010 ended with a bang for me. My debut novel, Backstage Pass, landed itself on thirteen different bloggers' best-of-2010 lists. Obviously, I was very excited. Thirteen has always been my lucky number.

2011 looks to be another great year for Sinners. Rock Hard has some big shoes to fill in April. The third book in the series, Hot Ticket, is slotted to release in October. I'm still waiting to hear what revisions are needed on that one. *chews fingernails*

Have you ever struggled to find the right place to begin your story? Or have you read a book that just seemed to start in the wrong place?


  1. Hi Olivia~

    I had to cut the first scene in Romeo, Romeo. It was a dinner scene with Rosalie, my heroine, and her entire family. It was funny, but it wasn't the right place. An editor I knew and loved was in the panel at the conference when that scene was read. Later, when I had an editor appointment with her, she told me to cut the scene, fix one other thing, and send her the full.

    All was not lost though, I ended up using that first scene in a blog. It really was very funny!

  2. Hey, Olivia,

    Yeah, actually, I do that a lot. I write the opening scene, think it needs something more in the beginning, and it becomes a later scene.

    An author once said the beginning is never the beginning, and so I don't worry about it. :) If it feels right, I go for it. If it doesn't, I keep changing it until it does. :)

  3. Robin- Good editors are worth their weight in gold. And readers love deleted scenes. The one I posted on my website gets tons of page hits. Well... I assume they like it.

    Terry- I guess the most important thing is to get the words on the page. You can't edit a word count of 0.

    It's supposed to be the first day of the semester, but we have a snow day. You know, teachers like those as much, if not more than, the students. :-)

  4. Olivia,
    Biggest writing lesson I ever learned was when I read the first line of Montana Sky by Nora Roberts. It taught me to hook the reader with the first line and to keep them on the hook until the last one.

  5. Hi Olivia! Having been given the opportunity to read Rock Hard, I'd have to say it works just fine. You've got another winner!

    I agree, the beginning is the toughest part. I've had to revise several books because the H&H didn't meet in the first scene. I guess I've learned something because in my current WIP; Tarq picks up Lucy's scent even before he sees her. And I'm sure you can guess what it does to him....

  6. Hi Olivia,

    Great parody! Yes, beginnings are difficult. The premise for A Lady's Revenge started from a single scene, one I was terrified would be too outside the box for Regency. So what did I do? I skipped and pranced around the beginning several times until I came back to the original scene.

    From what I understand, my "unusual" opening was what grabbed both my agent and editor. Sometimes your gut knows best. :)

  7. My agent had me cut the first chapter in Awaken the Highland Warrior. It was hard, because I loved the scene, but after I did it I saw she was right. Much more gripping.

  8. I'm glad I'm not the only one who has had this problem. :-)

    Carolyn- Maybe after I've written as many wonderful books as you have it will come a little easier. I can only hope. Nora does know how to grab a reader.

    Cheryl- Thanks! I'm so glad you agreed to read it. And especially that you liked it. I can imagine how Tarq will react to his heroine's scent. MEEEEE-ow.

    Tracey- I love things a bit outside the box (if you couldn't tell). I'm so glad you went with your gut and landed that contract.

    Anita- You can post it as a deleted scene when your book comes out. Fans love that kind of thing! It's like a little gift.

  9. The beginning of Hex Appeal was cut, but I just posted it since it was still fun for me and showed Blair's witchy power at her best.

    Some beginnings seem to be easier than others. Everything falling into place. Others ... don't. :}

  10. This is a constant struggle for me. I often start and book then back up then go forward. I like your "litmus test" though. I may try that.

  11. OMG, Olivia, that video is a stitch! Love it!!

  12. Linda- I read your comment and was like Blair witch. Blair witch. Why does that sound so familiar? Uh, duh. Perhaps I should start this day over.

    Shana- Nothing beats a few trusted beta readers. Ones who tell you like it is.

    Catherine- I've watched that video at least a dozen times and it STILL cracks me up. You. Are. Hot. Bay-bee. Can I turn your tuning pegs?

  13. Hey Olivia. I loved "Backstage Pass" and I'm super excited to read "Rock Hard". I completely agree with you about where to begin. It needs to be just right. You nailed it in the first Sinners book and I'm sure it will ROCK in the next one.

  14. Figuring out where to begin is always a challenge for me too. The original draft of THE HIGHLANDER'S SWORD had four chapters in the beginning that never made it in the final book. Backstory - the bane of my existence!

  15. Hi Olivia
    I've got to get the sound fixed on my PC - all I can think of is Lego people LOL. Love reunion stories -can't wait for Sed's book.

    As a reader I cannot describe the high I get when a book first grabs me & I'm hooked. If it happens on the first page it's a bonus but I know it doesn't suit every time.

    Most of the time, I only see the finished product so I don't know there are other choices of where a book could've started.

  16. Sara- I sure hope so. And thanks! You are awesome.

    Amanda- I sneak the back story in between sex scenes. ;-)

    Mary- Yes, you HAVE to listen to the voice track. That's what's so funny about it. They're saying some really cheesy pickup lines in a robotic monotone.
    It is hard to imagine books I've read with different beginnings. For instance, Harry Potter could have started with him getting on the train to Hogwarts. But then you wouldn't have gotten why he loves escaping his family so much. And experienced the arrival of all those owl messages.

  17. Hi Olivia - sorry to post so late...great blog.

    I've had books that I've started in one place, but then ending up not using those chapters in the book. But, I needed to write those chapters to flesh out my characters and get a deeper feel for who they are and what emotions drive them. Then I go back and begin the story where it will have the most impact.

    I do keep those unused chapters with my synopsis...which I generally scribble notes on and keep by my computer while I'm writing the book.

    I agree with Carolyn about Nora and starting your book in a way that will grab your readers. Once you have them, keep them on that wild emotional ride!

  18. Oh, Olivia, the video was hysterical! Thanks so much for sharing!