Guest blog post by Jill Edmondson
Quite often when I chat with aspiring writers they say the same thing: I know what my book is about, I know what the climax is, I know how it ends, but I don’t know how to start it. They wonder aloud: What would be a catchy opening? How far back should I begin? How much background should I give? I can’t think of an opening line. Should I start with a prologue? I can’t think of a way to get it going.
This is such an easy problem to fix! Don’t start at the beginning. Easy as that.
There is no law saying you must write sequentially: page one, page two, page three and so on, or that you must write chapter five after you have completed chapter four, etc.
I write whatever occurs to me in the order it occurs to me. I write mysteries and I always decide before I even begin on the key questions: who, how, and why. For example, I’ll know that it was Colonel Mustard, in the Library, with the Knife. But that’s usually all I know at the outset (well, that plus city and time, i.e. Toronto 2009).
But that’s as rigid as I’ll be. I may get a great idea for a red herring, something that should happen about halfway through the book. Fine. Then that’s what I’ll write that day. I can insert blank pages before it when the time comes for that.
I may come up with a great snippet of dialogue that should happen as the murder investigation is just getting underway, maybe around page 60 or so. Okey dokey – since I’ve thought of something I’ll run with it and subsequently turn that bit of chatter into a few pages.
As it happened with each of my novels, I have the big blowout climax scene in my mind right from the get-go. I always write that section of the book—basically the conclusion—right away, since it usually comes to me quickly and I’m always enthusiastic about it. In many ways, writing something like that builds my confidence and confirms to me that yeah, I’m writing a good story. Doing things in this sort of bass-ackward, haphazard way also gets me over those annoying bouts of writer’s block.
The point is: write what occurs to you, write whatever you’re feeling enthusiastic about that day, write down whichever ideas are coming to you quickly and clearly. You can always go back and change/add/delete things. You can insert a few extra pages as needed or add bridging paragraphs where necessary.
But don’t feel you have to write in sequence, and definitely don’t fall into the trap of thinking you can only begin at the beginning. Go with your gut, and the rest will (eventually) fall together as it’s meant to.
Jill Edmondson is the author of the four mystery novels. Frisky Business is the latest novel featuring PI Sasha Jackson.
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(Nate Hendley is the Toronto-based author of Motivate to Create: A Guide for Writers, available in paperback and on Kindle. He has also written several other works, primarily in the true-crime genre.)