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» Hatrack River Writers Workshop » Forums » Open Discussions About Writing » Writing the first 13

   
Author Topic: Writing the first 13
Lolo
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After reading the threads "just tell me" and "Why the problem with the first 13 isn't that it's too short" (well, reading most of them) what I'm getting is that the first paragraph should actually be written last. Ideally, the first paragraph should introduce the reader to the most important aspects of the story, whether that be a character or characters, setting, idea, or whatever. But does even the writer really know that until they've written the whole thing? I know stories don't spring fully formed from my head.

Do you think I've got the right idea here? From reading so many first 13s here, I have been obsessing over them in my own writing--actually, my story's only in the outlining stage, but I've already rewritten the first paragraph in my mind a hundred times. But, I think it would be much more productive to just forget all about the first paragraph until I've written the rest, and then decide what I most want readers to know about my story and write it into the first paragraph. I'd like more thoughts on this please!!


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NoTimeToThink
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You have to start somewhere, so I wouldn't totally forget about the opening, but I think you are right. I am working on a story now that originally started "at the beginning", but now that I know where I'm going with the story, I've found a better way to open, practically in the middle of everything. I didn't even know about this scene when I started writing. I have no problem with the idea of rewriting the beginning when you're done with everything - I know I will.

Also, as important as the beginning is (for setting expectations, mood, and hooking the reader), it is probably rare for someone to have their first 13 arrive fully formed, unless we are dealing with a writer who has great beginnings pop fully formed into their head (but then they probably spend all their time trying to come up with a plot to lead into).:-)


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Nemonus
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The first thirteen, when one realizes that they are so important to the reader who is potentially going to pay you for this work, do need to be carefully done and made sure to be interesting. I guess if that doesn't come to you at first (it doesn't to me always) you can write it last. In my main novel I really don't like the beginning and will probably change it after I finish. It depends on the story though. My latest short story came to me with a hook attached, perhaps because of this site and the focus on that.
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darklight
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Writing the first paragraph last can help very rarely - for example, because the novel I just finished, ends where it begins, I was able to go back and re-write the first few paragraphs once the story was complete. It fits better with what I had, and reflects the MC's mood much better, once I was fully into his head and knew his thinking.

But the novel I began today that wouldn't work. So much will have changed for the MC, if I went back and completely re-wrote the first thirteen when the novel was finshed, I would have a completely different first thirteen that wouldn't fit.

quote:
the first paragraph should introduce the reader to the most important aspects of the story, whether that be a character or characters, setting, idea, or whatever.

No, I don't believe this is true. The first thirteen should introduce your story. You can't introduce the reader to the important aspetcs of the story immediately because the MC might not know them yet. Same as your characters or whatever. The story doesn't have to start off with the main character/s or setting or idea.

The first thirteen has to start the story, hopefully in a way that will make the reader want to read on... it should be relevent to the story and interesting, but it shouldn't, and can't encompass everything your story is about.

I agree that the first thirteen can be polished after you have written the story/novel, but in most cases, I would say that is as far as it can go.


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Antinomy
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My Creative Writing class professor said to begin as near the end as possible. But I learned it doesn’t work that easy. Should a murder mystery begin by revealing the name of the killer? Should a sex scene begin with an orgasm?
The opening needs to interest the reader but not necessarily grab him by the neck and shake him. Too much of a zinger can dull the rest of the story.
For my beginnings, I listen to my muse, or go along my gut feelings avoiding those run-on descriptions of the weather, the countryside or dear old Uncle Jake’s boozy life story. These can be useful when plugged in later.
If my openings are unsatisfactory, I push on anyway because, most importantly, the story needs to come to life. Then, on rewrite, if I find a better opener, I swap paragraphs trying on a fresh one for size. (It’s a computer advantage, just lifting a paragraph and dropping it down elsewhere.)
Many of my better stories begin with once buried paragraphs. So, I agree with you, Lolo. Rewriting the opener can impede progress and distract from your objective. Get the story done and concern yourself about the opener later.

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Wolfe_boy
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I am actually rewriting my entire first chapter of my novel to accomplish many of the things required in the first 13 - I have a tendancy to flail for about a chapter before I find my feet and get on with the novel. So yes, the first 13 are something that should be looked at with a careful eye after you have completed your stuff, but getting all worked up about it while you are still writing isn't productive. A perfectly crafted opening paragraph is of no use if there isn't a completed story to follow it.

I do take issue with the required limit of 13 lines, however. I understand the importance of starting off quickly, providing the reader with as much information as they need to be fully informed and involved as quickly and with as much economy as possible. I simply feel that as an author, the pace of your work should be able to dictate a slightly slower reveal of information, possibly requiring 30 lines in total. I'm not going to suggest that the extension should be allowed to run on for 40, 50, 100 lines, pages and pages, just that I find that 13 lines to be artifically limiting. It requires a writer to outline the setting, a character or two, some piece of compelling action, and perform this in 150 words - tops.

I do understand the logic behind a 13 line limit. Maybe I just need to work on economy a little more, tighten things up. I don't think I'm quite that loose, but... well, there it is.

Jayson Merryfield


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kings_falcon
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The biggest issue in the first 13 is giving a reader a reason to make it to the next page - line 14. Generally, the first page of most books only have 13 or so lines.

What's a hook? It depends.

It can be (for me):

beautiful writing (not setting - but the writing)
an interesting issue
an intersting character
action
conflict


What isn't a hook?

Anything that's an info dump in disquise.
An ordinary, everyday scene
Any event where the POV tells me, "it was just another day like any other."
13 lines where nothing happens.

See also, The Ideal First 13: http://www.hatrack.com/forums/writers/forum/Forum1/HTML/001737.html

Do you need to write the beginning after you finish? Maybe. But you need a work in progress opening to start regardless of whether you go back and dust it off some.

Everything in the first 13 has to be clear. If your POV knows it and would naturally think of it during the given action, you have to tell the readers or run the risk of alienating them later.

As an example I used in another of these threads: I finished a book by a very well know author. It was a thriller with a killer actively stalking the main POV character. The Author got into the killer's POV. However, the author withheld a critical peice of information that the killer knew (i.e. gender) and would have thought about. To make the story work (while still withholding) the author had a misleading prologue (from a different POV that also didn't divulge the critical information) and a last chapter that amounted to an epilogue. Was I furious when I finished the story? You bet. Will I ever read that author's stuff again? Not on your life.


If you are going to withhold, use a POV that doesn't know the information or be willing to pay the price for breaking the rule.

When you start the novel/short story, make sure you tell me the information that makes that scene clear and compelling.

Will you tweak that beginning when you finish? Probably. Will you tweak the masterful 13 lines after they've been up here? Yes. Just start writing.

[This message has been edited by kings_falcon (edited May 30, 2007).]


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Skribent
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I think a lot of beginning writers tend to start in the wrong place. They think they need to provide all the info about a world or character up front, or they start with a dream, or they start with somebody's morning routine.
quote:
My Creative Writing class professor said to begin as near the end as possible. But I learned it doesn’t work that easy. Should a murder mystery begin by revealing the name of the killer? Should a sex scene begin with an orgasm?

You're right, Antinomy, and so is your professor. What he or she probably meant was, start at the point where things begin to go wrong or where the conflict begins. In a murder mystery, for example, that means a dead body. Then the reader wonders, 'Who wanted this person dead, and why?', and they keep reading to figure out the answer.

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InarticulateBabbler
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quote:
My Creative Writing class professor said to begin as near the end as possible. But I learned it doesn’t work that easy. Should a murder mystery begin by revealing the name of the killer? Should a sex scene begin with an orgasm?

As close to the end as possible is not the end.

quote:

Everything in the first 13 has to be clear. If your POV knows it and would naturally think of it during the given action, you have to tell the readers or run the risk of alienating them later.

If you are going to withhold, use a POV that doesn't know the information or be willing to pay the price for breaking the rule.


Exactly!

Consider this: What if you were able to master the first thirteen?

What if you were able to achieve total immersion in every character you wrote?

What if you were able to express this without weakening adverbs, excessive adjectives, or too-long-sentences-or-hyphenated-clauses?

Hmmmmmmmmmmm.



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wbriggs
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If I wrote the first paragraph last...I'd then have to rewrite everything else, since the effect on the reader of each subsequent line has now been changed.

But before I write paragraph 1, I know where I'm going. (Or else it will all have to be rewritten anyway.) I hear others don't know where they're going -- JRR Tolkien e.g. -- but I don't see how they do it.


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Wolfe_boy
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I don't think that actually not writin gthe first paragraph until you're finished is what everyone is getting at, or even really possible. But going back after you've finished the novel and rewriting that first paragraph to tighten it up and tie it in a little better with the remainder of the story is a good idea.

I suppose that's all just part of the editing process, though..... trimming what doesn't work, tightening up the parts that are a little loose.

Jayson Merryfield


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lehollis
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One thing I love about posting the first thirteen here on Hatrack, is that is my time to sit down with those thirteen rascals and put some work into them. I write them first, but I try to not think too much about them. In the first draft I focus on knowledge, on what the reader needs to know about things. When I go back is when I worry about how to make it perfect.

One trick I've developed is to make a list of things the first thirteen needs for its story. For example: <i>the PoV is Sally; Sally is a female; Sally is angry; Sally is angry because... and so forth. </i>

Then I go through each item on the list and play 5-year old. Why? Why? Why? Just like with a 5-year old, I won't be able to answer all the questions, so I try to make sure the questions that remain are the hooks. And that they are answered by the end.

I haven't had great success with the 13's I've posted here, though. Someday, I'll get through my WiP and be able to post some more 13's here.


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