Figuring out the Beginning in Your Novel

Sometimes as a writer, I don’t know the beginning of my novel until I’ve written the entire shebang.

That means that the first words I put down on paper are really only a place holder — a spot to put the thoughts in my head that will help me make my way to the novel’s true beginning.

My debut book is the perfect example of that.

My very first draft of my book, Blessed are the Dead, began with my character, Gabriella Giovanni, shopping at a colorful Bay Area Farmer’s Market, picking out basil and heirloom tomatoes and fresh bread so she could make a birthday dinner for her boyfriend that night.

She’s chatting with the local baker, practicing her Italian, when her cell phone rings. It’s her editor at the newspaper. There’s just been a murder-suicide and she needs to get on it, like, yesterday.

The next chapter shows Gabriella at this lovely Oakland Hills house overlooking a spectacular sunset falling on the San Francisco skyline below.  She’s eager for the story and is jostling with other reporters to get the scoop. Meanwhile, she’s had to call her boyfriend to cancel his birthday day. He’s ticked off.

Third chapter shows her running into the newsroom on deadline and scrambling to get the story when she hears something on the police scanner that changes her whole life.

So, where does my final version of my book (to be published this June by HarperCollins) start?

Chapter three. Right in the heart of the action.

The first chapter was easy to cut. It was a bit of a snore fest. I love to wander the local farmer’s market and pick out my dinner for that night. To me that environment is magical, but let’s face it, unless a car ploughs through the market striking bystanders and knocking out booths, that scene totally lacked any tension. There’s a bit of tension when the editor calls, but not much.

So, goodbye chapter one.

In my next version, I started with Gabriella trying to get the scoop on the murder-suicide. There’s more tension. My character has a goal, a want, a need, and an obstacle in her way. In addition, there is an added layer of tension because boyfriend is ticked off he’ll be eating his birthday dinner alone.

So, starting here was better — but still not right.

For fun, I decided to ditch this chapter completely. I didn’t know this until I was at the end of the novel. It wasn’t that the chapter was bad, it was just that by opening on that scene — the murder suicide — readers automatically expected it to be of importance in my novel. And it’s not.

So, good bye chapter two. Deleting this one was a bit more difficult than getting rid of the first chapter. I mean, I was really attached to that blazing sunset over the San Francisco Bay Area. Also, that meant I had to get rid of this great part where Giovanni’s badass photographer partner, Chris Lopez, climbed a pine tree to get a good shot.

But once I gave them the ax, I never looked back.

The novel starts at the beginning. Where it should start. It just took me a while to figure out where that was.

 

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Author: kristibelcamino

Kristi Belcamino is a crime writer, photographer, and artist who also bakes a tasty biscotti. Her debut mystery, BLESSED ARE THE DEAD, will be published in June 2014. www.kristibelcamino.com

6 thoughts on “Figuring out the Beginning in Your Novel”

  1. Nice post! The recursive nature of the process/imagination always amazes me. One of my favorite things in any writing project is going back and crafting an introduction without the burden of everything-else-to-be-written. (Probably because it also means I’m almost done…ha ha!)

  2. I love knowing I’m not the only one who starts not at the start! Most of my books started with alternate beginnings. I’ve used a few of the false starts as blog posts here and there (I like to recycle). And the first thing I wrote with any regularity was a Batman/Catwoman story that–STILL!–doesn’t have a beginning, and doesn’t have an end.

  3. Having read different versions of this book, I have to say that you just honed it and honed it and honed it and I’m sure now it starts perfectly, Kristi! Can’t wait for BAD to come out this summer! Love it (in all its incarnations).

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