1. E. C. Scrubb
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    E. C. Scrubb Active Member

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    Can't Seem to Write the Openings of Stories Anymore!

    Discussion in 'General Writing' started by E. C. Scrubb, Feb 4, 2013.

    So I don't know what's happened to me, but I just can't seem to write the openings of stories anymore. I have three fanfics and 2 originals bouncing around in my head, but every time I sit down to get one of them out on the computer, I get about a page or page and a half done, and absolutely hate it. Either it's all info dumping, or it's straight into storytelling(showing) and no presentation of plot, or it's a vomit-fest of words and not much else.

    Anyone else have this problem? What do you do about it?
     
  2. tionA
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    tionA Active Member

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    you take consolation in the fact that maybe you are not a natural-born writer.

    or maybe you just need to gather your thoughts.

    I like your ''vomit-fest'' phrase, though...lol.
     
  3. BitPoet
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    BitPoet Member

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    You'll probably need to do a bit of 'homework', in the sense of shaping out conflict and character traits to aid your writing. It's something that happens to most writers as they develop their skills and become more critical towards their own writing. The first few times just getting a few thousand words on paper is enough of an achievement to satisfy your own pride, but with experience comes the need for those words to be well-written.

    I guess those stories bouncing in your head do have distinct plot lines, and plot lines mean some kind of conflict that carries the story. They will also have characters with distinctive personalities. One approach to writing a good opening is to find a smaller-scale reflection of the main conflict and use that as the opening scene, to give the reader a promise about how the story is going to progress - if, e.g., your main plot revolves around a person that lacks self control in important moments, you could have them kick their school locker in frustration after an argument with a friend. To make it work, you need the characters to be consistent, so toy around with their actions and reactions until you feel their behaviour leads inevitably to that opening conflict you have picked. That's the hardest part, but once you have done that, you can begin to write. A good tool to balance exposition and action is to imagine watching the scene from afar with a camera that slowly zooms in and first picks up stray details before getting a clear image. Ask yourself how you would, as an outsider, start to notice people and events through the camera. Stay with the "camera view" and, just like the camera has a limited view angle, let the bigger things get out of focus while your impressions become more personal. Once you're focused on the main characters, you don't see the whole castle in your viewfinder anymore, so stop with world description and tell more about action. Once your characters move, you can zoom out a bit and describe more of the bigger picture again.
     
  4. minstrel
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    minstrel Leader of the Insquirrelgency Staff Supporter Contributor

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    So what's the problem? Spew your BS all over the page like all writers do. Fix it when it comes time to revise.

    As I've said here before, I revise constantly, so I fix things almost immediately, but that doesn't mean I don't revisit them months or even years after I think they're finished.

    Just write. It sounds like you're looking for an excuse not to, and there's no such thing.
     
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  5. seije
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    seije Member

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    start where you want to start. if that's in the middle of an action, or even in the middle of a sentence, then go for it. as long as it catches the reader and makes sense, you should be able to work things into an actual plot once things calm down.
     
  6. evelon
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    evelon Active Member

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    I agree with sije.
    You're not supposed to love your first draft - more usual to hate it. And there's no rule that says you have to start at the beginning. Write from whatever point you want to - the beginning will happen when you stop worrying about it.
     
  7. Trilby
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    Trilby Contributing Member Contributor

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    Just write anything that comes into your head - later you can delete whatever your not happy with. It can take a couple of paragraphs to get into the flow for writing and you just scrap whatever you don't need.
     
  8. Matt Z
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    Matt Z New Member

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    You don't have to start with the opening. Sometimes I like it when a story starts off half way through an event and the writer intentionally makes it sound chaotic and confusing, it encourages the reader to try and make sense of it and captures their imagination immediately.
     
  9. Traviud
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    Traviud New Member

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    Always good advice.

    As BitPoet mention, consider your characters. What do they do? Where do they go? If you have that information, you can quite easily sketch out a natural setting or anecdote for them.

    Also, consider what information is vital to the plot as a whole and make it available (either explicitly or subtly) early on. In my novel, the setting is a major influence on the characters' actions, so I went out of my way to dedicate my first chapter to describing where they live and what makes it particularly menacing. Character development would have to succeed this, because you can't fully understand why they go about things without first knowing what motivates them.
     
  10. The Tourist
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    The Tourist Banned

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    Let me offer something that might make you feel better.

    I run into lots of guys who see a "lifestyle" and decide that's the thing that's missing from their lives. They buy all of the toys, they learn the jargon, they plant their keesters in the breakroom with the old guys but find out they hate the whole mess.

    It looked like fun to them, but the reality did not meet their expectations. Within a few months they sell off the toys.

    Maybe this is a sign. Perhaps it's being a tortured artist that appealed to you. Maybe you liked going to the coffee bar and pronouncing, "I have a book in the works." It's not the first time this happened.

    I cannot find the exact quote, but someone stated, "I'm not a parachute jumper, but I like to hang out with guys who are." Maybe this is you, maybe writing is just not your thing.

    Take a break. Wake up in the morning and think, "I'd really like to ______ today." Then go do it. Perhaps you're a world class glass-blower, or a champion dog breeder, or a mixed martial arts phenom, and you're wasting your time here. Give yourself permission to fail.
     
  11. Roxie
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    Roxie Active Member

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    I would suggest you read The Artist's Way by Julia Cameron - she makes pretty good suggestions about getting the "junk" out your head to really get down to your writing. I know for me, the morning pages really helped.
     
  12. The Tourist
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    The Tourist Banned

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    Roxie, I'd agree with you, but the use of the language troubles me.

    The OP did not use the word, "pour" or "expunge" or even "regurgitate."

    He used the word "vomit."

    I believe that a writer let's his opinions bleed through his prose. Look at how many people break up their marriages with the phrase, "I've moved on." What they mean is that they found a cutie and they're ashamed of their conduct. That did not happen here. I think the right word was used, if only as a Freudian slip.

    We often telling struggling writers to take a break. The OP sounds like he needs and entire change of pace.
     
  13. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    take any dozen novels off your bookshelf and see how they start... that should give you some ideas...

    otherwise, just go ahead and write the thing and don't angst-out over the opening... by the time you get to the end, a good opening should have raised its lovely head...
     
  14. spartan928
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    spartan928 Member

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    This is great advice. Check out the first 5 pages of a bunch good books and take notes. The best openings always draw you into the story right away. No putzing around. Also, google "Self Editing for fiction writers pdf". You can get a free copy to download off the web. It's a classic and excellent for sorting out the vomit.
     
  15. peachalulu
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    peachalulu Contributing Member Reviewer Contributor

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    It took me six months to write six pages of the opening scene of my novel. Actually the six pages poured
    out in one night. The six months were filled with starts and failures. My breakthrough came when I read
    a passage in a writing manual - it said figure out the mood of your character it will help direct you
    scene. I sat down, let that advice absorb and looked over what I had written and realised where I went
    wrong. I kept making my character feel what I'd feel in similar circumstances - depressed. When I realized he
    needed to be happy in spite of his circumstances the scene came to life. I also discovered the scene
    needed to hinge on an event that would bring about a change that would kick off the story.
    Maybe you go over your characters- what's their mood their motive. What's the change that's going
    to start your character forward into the plot?
     
  16. E. C. Scrubb
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    E. C. Scrubb Active Member

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    Thanks everyone.

    I think a few of you hit the issue - I've moved on from just dumping things on a page and calling it a "chapter" to being very critical of how I write.

    Maybe the problem lies in what I'm attempting to do, so let me ask this question: how important is it to introduce your plot within the first few paragraphs? Or, is it more important to introduce the conflict, and then let the overarching plot play out from that conflict throughout the first paragraph?

    Mamma - that's some great advice. I even thought about doing it before, then just kind of ignored it. Thanks for giving me the smack up side the head that you didn't even know you were giving me! :)
     
  17. Xatron
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    Xatron Contributing Member

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    Depends on how long your story will be. If you are going to write a few tens of thousands of words then you don't need to introduce either the plot or the conflict. If it is going to be a short story though you should at least introduce the main point of your plot in the first few paragraphs.
     
  18. BitPoet
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    BitPoet Member

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    I'd like to disagree here. A story thrives on conflict and needs to live from the first page. Even if you don't open with the main conflict, you need to give the reader at least a mirror image. Otherwise you'll create wrong expectations. The first few pages of a novel are a promise to the reader about the direction in which the story will progress.
     
  19. peachalulu
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    peachalulu Contributing Member Reviewer Contributor

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    I like to use conflict first but have it not necessarily seem to relate to the plot.
    It's like Charlie and the Chocolate factory we're told he's starving before the golden
    tickets come out. His initial conflict is getting enough food to eat. Then his
    interest switches to getting a chocolate bar with a golden ticket. Everything
    relates but the reader doesn't know it till later.
     
  20. Xatron
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    Xatron Contributing Member

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    I didn't tell him to write about the weather in his first pages. If you introduce both the main plot and the main conflict from the first paragraphs you will have to write the story on a very fast pace to keep the reader interested.
     
  21. minstrel
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    minstrel Leader of the Insquirrelgency Staff Supporter Contributor

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    It's not important to introduce your plot in the first few paragraphs, but it is important to have something interesting happen that early. Modern readers have short attention spans, I guess, and you have to give them a reason to keep reading. If they're not interested on page 1, they'll likely read no further.

    Don't bore the reader!
     
  22. ThreeLeggdedRaven
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    ThreeLeggdedRaven New Member

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    I feel that I'm damn near a professional at starting the story (it's the finishing that eludes me), and the way that really works for me is that I have to have someone to talk to about it. Luckily, I've got a good friend with similar interest, and I can "vomit" my ideas through the phone. It's a less lonely experience than trying to hammer out an opening word by word to try and forge a cohesive thought. I get many ideas out in those conversations, and although they tend to change (sometimes radically) it does give me great idea as to where I'm going. I say give that a shot if you can.
     
  23. swifteye12
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    swifteye12 New Member

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    My favorite piece of advice is "Start as close to the end as possible."

    The best way for me to kickstart a sagging project is to jump into the action where I feel the story would start if it were an action movie. Write to draw the reader in and it might just draw you in as well. Good luck!
     
  24. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    i'm agin violence, ec, so let's consider it a 'tickle' instead, okay? ;)
     

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