Wednesday, December 1, 2010

On Beginnings

Interesting question about beginnings in first person novels at the Absolute Write forums here:

Beginnings are hard enough when you write in third person, but when you can't even say the name in line one or hint at gender because you are using "I" instead of "he", it sucks that much more.  It is even harder when you can't just skip the beginning and write it later when you know what your novel is really about.  With my new method of writing, whether I write beginning and ending first or just all key plot points, I can't skip the beginning.  It must be written.  And it must work, because around it and other plot points, I flesh in the novel.  Then let's not forget the problems that occur if this is not the first novel in your series. 

It's tough, writing beginnings. 

How do you do it?  By not trying to stuff a ton of stuff in a paragraph one.  Besides giving a picture of where my characters are, the key thing I seek to explain is gender.  My main characters/pov characters are male.  I'm not.  And I sometimes put them in situations where the default expected gender is not male. 

For example, my Confessions of a Vampire's Courtesan (working title).  Courtesan brings to mind female. So, I have to right away hint at his gender.

When a member of the Society takes interest in you, it is bad form to discourage the relationship.  My schoolmaster, Mr. S-- had believed that so deeply, that when a gentleman in hunter attire interrupted our exercise with water-magic to remark upon my "good aroma", Mr. S-- took it upon himself to act in my mother's stead and arrange a private interlude. 

He hauled me out of my class and into the washroom with a simple explanation that cut through the bull-field as he called it.  "That is a gentleman, Mr. Bek.  The Great Ones know, the hunt rarely takes them past our community.  Correct that, the hunt never has.  You'll improve your lot.  You'll improve the lot of your family.  And of our school.  First though, a bath and then dressing."

Usually I don't try to hint at name right away.  I feel that can come a bit later after you know whether or not the guy you visualizing is indeed a guy or a gal.

For example, from the rough draft of my first novel in the Walker Series

My sometimes-wife had the knack for finding me while I was in the bare.  It was how we met, how she left me when she was done with me, and how she found me now when I was knee deep in Teardrop pool at the first House of Health.  She of course was fully clothed back then; this time she barely was.  A sheer dress.  And stringy golden breast-band and loincloth rivaled in size by the matching kohl around her eyes.  Dressed to impress in other words.  Dressed for trouble. 

It didn't help any that she was carrying my bundle of clothes.  Clothes I had left with the attendant to purify.  Ketesha did not offer them up as she stopped before me. Her gaze raked me up and down, lingering now on the silver, healing waters, then ascending somewhat higher as she tutted.  "Such is a pity."  She stroked my clothing.  "Truly."

"Ketesha-Uret."  I stepped out of the pool and made a grab for the clothes, which she pulled away.  Teasingly. 

"Ketesha is so . . . "  She cradled my clothing like a pet cat.  "Formal, my love, for our relationship."

"Where's the attendant, Ketesha?  What are you doing with my clothes?"

"I sent her away, so we could . . . talk.  But I suppose that can wait until your prescribed time is finished here."  She shook her head at me, narrowing her gilded lips into a pout, but she offered my garments to me.  I took them. 

"Beware of strange women; that is how you got in this mess, my Pheteh."   

Beware the woman you know, in Tesha's case.  Well, let her keep her supposition.  Taking the waters saved me from her from goadings about remissness in fulfilling my matrimonial vows, vows which I have never quite figured out were legal or fictive, or some singular combination of both.  My only regret would be that the word would get back to her sister.

"The name is Walker."  I shook out the first piece of clothing out carefully.  Ketesha-Uret was the pharaohine of suprises. 

Damn, that opening line means I have to change the intro in the vampire harem novella I'm writing about him.  Oh, well.  Anyway, it took a while to get to his name of Walker.

Besides hinting at setup, gender, and name, I reveal information characters and setup an interesting situation.  In Walker Novel 1, the situation is that his sometimes-wife has came back into his life, setting into motion the events of this novel.  Her nature is revealed as seductive and manipulative.  His as being at the disadvantage around her.  Also just for fun, it became a running theme to see how often I could get him in the buff in this novel.

In the unrelated Courtesan novel, the situation is a meeting between one of the Society (aka vampires, though they don't like that word) and my main character.  It is blood the vampire seeks, and Bek is being pimped into a downfall that sets into motion the events of this novel.  This opening hints just a little that Bek is product of his upbringing; he goes by the rules.

Finally, Walker Novel 2:

It was a beautiful day to be exiled.  Our party of eight stood in a schism's clearing, illumed by that giant, restless, iridescent spark.  The air didn't suffocate.  The sun didn't blind nor boil you.  The mid-morning sky was a cheery clear blue between fluffy confections of . . . .  Who was I kidding.  Pretty or not, they were going to throw me through that schism never to return this reality again, for doing the right thing.

"Does the accused have any last words?"

Many, I wanted to answer Maha.  But during my trial and sentencing, no one had said a word on my behalf.  Not one.  Not her.  My former superior officer.  My sometimes sister-in-law.  My one time savior.  The woman I loved.  Had loved.  Was still in love with.  I had done my best to distance her from my current legal entanglement; she did better. I couldn't even look at her, because when I did, I only saw how much more the law, her job--the boarder-guards--meant to her than me.

I realize now that I didn't mention his name until the end of first chapter's scene.  I may have to remedy that.  That is one of the problems with series.  Some things you leave later than you would in first novel.  But anyway, my point is I started the sequel without too much introduction.  It takes a few more paragraphs to find out what exactly he is being exiled for.  Why?  Because, reading about the details right away or even showing a trial is boring to me.  If I'm bored, so is the reader.  Also in this chapter I do not go into much detail, just that he has gotten a raw deal and that he is being exiled primarily for helping to develop a cure for vampiric creatures.  Looking back at it now, I see the need for a little more information early on in the novel about the exiling, so it doesn't seem out of place or an excuse to exile him.  But not much.  But I do have to answer the question I set up better than I did.

Finally, before I end this post, I'll make a note on something I am bad about.  Description in general, but especially of people.  Especially of my main/pov characters.  I have a picture of my character--literally.  He looks like that dark-haired beauty of that Bleu de Chanel ad found here:  When I first saw that picture, I thought he'd make a good vampire.  Then I realized, no, he makes a better Walker. 

But I don't say a lick about what Bek or Walker look like in my novels.  It's because of mainly one thing:  I hate it when you build a picture of the character in the beginning and then chapters later you get a detail from the author that contradicts your mind's image, forcing you to stop reading and rebuild the image.  I hate that in general, not just of people in fiction.  Which is why I have such a hard time with writing description.  Since I have yet to find a reason to point out that Walker is a beaut of dark wavy hair and blue eyes and general hotness, I just don't. Unless it is something I can show right away and matters to the story or situation--like in Walker Novel 1, flexibility--I just don't physically describe my characters.   

After all, sometimes what you think is essential may not be so in the beginning and throughout the novel.  Things like appearance I generally leave to the reader's imagination.  Not all has to be answered right away--just be aware what you don't say speaks as strongly as what you do, and don't let it contradict the unspoken image and impression the reader is building up.  It tends to throw the reader out of the story.

On that note, I think I'll bring this long post on beginnings to an end.


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