Once again I find myself agonizing over the first line of the new novel. I do this with each book, even though I know quite well that the first line will change and change again as I proceed. After 16 novels I know this about my process. Yet here I am again, stalling on the first line. It’s making me cranky. I feel like Alice’s white rabbit (the other Alice), rushed, breathless, tapping my feet beneath my desk, desperate not to be late. Late for what? My novel can’t start without me. I’m the one who begins it.
Two days ago I had great fun sketching out the first few chapters. Yesterday I woke anticipating that by day’s end I’d have a rough draft of the first one.
And then I stalled out.
I tried surfing the web for inspiration. (I know. Makes no sense.) But wait! Joyce Carol Oates recently tweeted 10 writing tips, and what was number 2? “The first sentence can be written only after the last sentence has been written. FIRST DRAFTS ARE HELL. FINAL DRAFTS, PARADISE.” Hah! Saved by an awesome writer. I was so relieved.
It didn’t help. Here’s the problem. It doesn’t matter that the first sentence isn’t going to remain the first sentence, it’s still the…first…sentence. It’s the first step, the first impression, the first…well, you get the idea.
Actually I spent a few months over a year ago writing various beginnings for this book. Several of them were 5-10 pages long. I say this book, but the only thing it had in common with the current plot is that it was meant to be the 11th Owen Archer. Maybe that’s what’s worrying me. Stalling is a sign of a plot that bombs. No, wait, that would only make sense if I didn’t do this with each book. It’s a sign of nothing but that I’m hesitating at the beginning.
I went out to the garden and paced around the white rabbit, trying to empty my mind, calm down.
At last, at 5:30 in the afternoon, I came up with a first line. What would Magda do? It’s a start, I thought, much relieved.
But this morning I knew it was wrong wrong wrong. Alisoun is thinking that, but first the reader needs to see what she sees, what she’s reacting to. Oh. That makes sense. And the reader needs a reason for Alisoun’s discomfort and uncertainty. Now I’m feeling it, I’m inside Alisoun’s head, in her skin. I wasn’t yesterday. That’s what was wrong. Splash. Alisoun sucked in her breath. She’d almost lost control of the sharp blade….
It’s a beginning.