The Beginning

If you are in the process of revising a book that you plan to query, or submit, or give away, or have anyone else read at any point in their life, you need BETAS.

Nope, not the fish, although they’re very pretty. And they’re feisty. It’s pretty awesome to have a fish that you know (and it knows) could probably kill you if it could just figure out how to get outta that bowl.

Anyway…

The Betas I’m talking about are Beta readers. People you trust (often other writers) who can read a book with a critical eye and tell you what needs to change. What could be better. What’s awesome and what’s crappy. Again, this has to be a person who is a great reader and preferably a great writer, because they have to know what they’re talking about.

A good Beta reader is worth their weight in gold, my friends.

Anyway, one of mine made a very interesting suggestion after reading SYNTHESIS. She suggested I use the beginning of Chapter 2 as the beginning of the entire book.

And I tried it.

And it totally, completely worked. Let’s compare, shall we?

OLD BEGINNING:

Intuition is a funny thing. You can’t explain it, yet there it is – tickling at the back of your brain like the world’s softest feather. It nudges you, whispers to you, and if you ignore it? Well, who knows, it could be nothing.

Or it could result in a freaking huge catastrophe.

Okay, so this is a decent beginning. We know we’re inside the main character’s head, but we don’t know who he or she is, where they are, or what’s going on. We get all that information soon, but there’s not much here to hook us.

NEW BEGINNING:

I don’t know how long it’s been since Doug got shot. It feels like fifteen minutes and ten years at the same time. I’ve been staring at my reflection in the airplane window for at least an hour, I guess, and it’s starting to get kind of weird because it’s like another me is staring back. Not just my reflection, but another me altogether, a wiser me who’s saying I should have listened to my instincts when I had the chance.

This feels so much stronger than the old beginning. First of all, who is Doug and why was he shot? Is he dead? Who shot him? Right off the bat, we know the main character is on a plane and something is terribly wrong. We don’t know who he or she is yet, but we want to read more.

Do you struggle with beginnings? If not, where do you struggle? And what have you learned from your Betas (either the fish or the people)?

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16 thoughts on “The Beginning

  1. Liana Brooks says:

    I’m going through this same problem over on my blog. 😛

    Personally, I like the first opening. It has Voice, there’s a lot of character there and it leaves me asking questions.

    The second opening is too flat for me. I read it and go, “Oh, look, someone died and she should have known better. I wonder what’s on youtube.” I can label the book in under a paragraph and it doesn’t hook me, even though it gives the scene and situation better.

    I like the first because it is the hook. It’s a promise that there is more if I will just turn the page. The second is the story in short.

    1. Anne Riley says:

      That’s really interesting that you feel more hooked by the first version than the second. For me, the more action in the beginning, the better. I like being thrown right in the middle of what’s going on. Funny how people like different things, isn’t it?

      Thanks Liana!

  2. Cara Bristol says:

    I actually like the first version. To me, it’s more seductive, more intriguing, more suspenseful. It makes me wonder what’s going to happen. The second version gives me too much information–I feel like I already know what happened.

  3. Dawn Embers says:

    Beginnings vex me. I haven’t shared any with beta readers since I’ve been waiting to finish the rewrite & edit before sending to them. But beta fish are good company when at a party and the humans don’t seem to notice that I’m there.

    Both are decent. With the second one, I stumble on “got shot”. Sounds like something people around here might say but I’m not sure if that’s what you are going for (here being Wyoming). I read the paragraph three times and each time those two words stood out. I did really like the part about the reflection maybe being another version of the character.

  4. Scott Welsh says:

    My sister had a beta fish and it ate her other fish. So it goes.

    I’d say some of the most useful comments I’ve received from my betas were about their feelings while reading. While I always love people pointing out my few grammatical flaws, the comments I REALLY love to read are the ones that say, “Uh oh! I really want to know what happens next!”

    Those are the ones that give me insight as to how I’m doing overall, and if everything is cohesive enough to flow like a story should. That way it’s easier to refine down to the point wherein my readers are crying when my characters are crying, laughing when my characters are laughing, and dying when my characters are dying (so to speak). So it goes.

    Also, I like both of your beginnings equally; they both go the distance necessary to establish your character, in my opinion. But always following the rule, “Start as close to the end as possible,” your friend was right in telling you that you should start the story in chapter 2.

    Hope I didn’t rant on too much. =)

    -Scotty

    1. Anne Riley says:

      Not too much at all! I totally agree. I love knowing how my readers feel while they read. It’s very helpful.

  5. Melissa Garrett says:

    (clears throat) Of course everyone is entitled to his or her own opinion, but I like an opening that starts with *something happening now* as opposed to a bit of inner monologue. Give me a bit of action, hook me, reel me in! The first opening is not bad at all, but I think it should be placed after the action of the second opening.

    😉

  6. Alexandra Shostak says:

    I struggle with beginnings, but when I’m reading, I honestly don’t pay too much attention to first lines or first paragraphs. I have a three chapter rule. If you can’t interest me after three chapters, then I’m done. But I’m not too hard on books for their very very beginnings, because I read mostly fantasy, and some fantasy novels are just HARD to jump right into, because the reader would be confused. 🙂

    1. Anne Riley says:

      I have a 100 page rule. Sometimes I break it and stop at 50 pages though, if it is really bad! Yeah… beginnings = hard. And strangely, I rarely remember the lines from a book’s beginning or end. I just remember the main plot points. Hmm… lesson to be learned?

  7. Farmers.Wife a/k/a Glass Half Full Gal says:

    Okay,

    I’m going to be the fence rider. I like them both but for different reasons. I have to say that typically, the first beginning would intrigue me. The second gives me facts but isn’t quite as mysterious. What would really capture me is if the two could be intertwined.

    She’s on a plane. In introspect she ponders intuition (which I personally find to be very strong and powerful). In this introspect the beginning can share that she somehow knew something bad was going to happen like a premonition. We find out Doug was shot, this is her premonition like intuition.

    My vote? Mix them together. (I have to be the complicated one.)

    I’m the type of Beta that catches a missing word or comma on occasion but I don’t really read looking for them. I’m the type who will share when the story is interrupted in my mind; I totally hear a needle scratching across a record. I notice things that inhibit the flow of the story or interrupt my fantasy escape. 😉 I’m a content reader.

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