I am in quite the predicament. I have been working on a series of novels for about 6.5 years now. None of them are published, but the majority of that is my problem. As I have grown out of my teens, my writing has changed, and therefore what started as a novella turned into a novel, then two, and eventually a planned 6 book series.
Now that my writing has finally stewed for a while and has reached a decent enough level of maturity to really get things rolling, I am having difficulty. I just don't know how to begin. I have a clear vision of how everything works out, and the way the story progresses. But, when it comes to the actual writing of the opening, I am between a rock and a hard place.
Just as a little background info, I have 5 main characters, and a group of about 5-8 secondary characters, all of which are of varying degrees of importance. I have one specific character of whom the whole plot revolves around. In the beginning, I have to convey a lot of information to set the location, and a basic plot contour, but when I actually write out the "introduction" portion of the novel [first 50 pages or so] it feels like the story is being told rather than it actually happening.
Any Ideas? For some reason, I am feeling a major change coming in the form of plot restructuring, and paring down of information that is not 100% essential. After so much work and development, I am not quite sure that I have the willpower to do so...
Any similiar experiances or ideas in general would be greatly appreciated.
quote: In the beginning, I have to convey a lot of information to set the location, and a basic plot contour, but when I actually write out the "introduction" portion of the novel [first 50 pages or so] it feels like the story is being told rather than it actually happening.
No, you don't have to convey a lot of information in the beginning. You don't have to give an overview of the plot. From your description of the problem, it seems perhaps you're trying to make your beginning do too much, overloading it with what your story is about.
Sit down with your story and your characters and figure out where the story starts. If the story revolves around life-altering events, perhaps you should ask yourself these questions: Who are they before the story starts? At what point do their lives veer off-course? What sparks the change that starts the story? Then start the story with a bit of their normal life, with hints toward what causes the great change that propels them into a great exciting peril-filled future.
If your story revolves mostly around this one main character, try these questions to get you going: Why is this character the most important? Do other people know that this character is destined to do something important, or is he or she just an average Joe/Jane to them? At what point does this character first become involved in the plotline of the story? Are they willing or unwilling to become involved - are they itching to get out of their normal life, are they desperately hanging on to it, or is this plotline just an average day in their life (or at least, starts out that way)?
I've rarely had trouble starting stories (although finishing them is tough,) and I've definitely had the "expanding novel" experience. Starting in the right place is what's hard to know, and I'm more often guilty of starting too late in the story, plopping readers down right in the middle of the action. No one can really know where your story starts except you.
And once you do figure out where your story starts, remember to describe as much as you can through action, as seen through the eyes of your PoV character. Show what you can, tell what you can't - but only if it's necessary to understanding what's going on at that moment in the story.
You mentioned spending 6.5 years on this, and that your writing has matured. Over six years have passed, you are not the same writer now that you were then. You have more maturity and experience, and this may be grating against your initial writing - in other words, what you have written may not be, after all these years, be the way you would write it now. As a result you may be blocking. I've had ideas that years later when I realized how bad they were, I'm glad I didn't write out in a story. Same goes for the story itself. I would not write a story that I wrote years ago the same way I would write it now. We all change and grow with experience and our writing reflects that.
Another problem may be that you don't "know" the characters and/or story well enough. I have a hard time when I have this problem. When you do know it well enough, the story can almost write itself.
The reason it probably fells like "telling" is that it's the nature of what you're trying to do there. You could try beginning where the primary story starts and just jump in. Maybe in your story, where the main thread kicks off in earnest for the central character, is the spot. From your description it sounds like you might be forcing your beginning to occur at a nonoptimal place.
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I ran into a similar problem, and really began to isolate the issues with my novel when I followed Miss Snark's advice to summarize my plot in 50 words or less. It was an eye-opening challenge. When I realized I couldn't rope my rambling plot in that tightly, I began to see it was because I'd allowed too many dead-end subplots and characters that didn't matter to creep in.
Reconsider whether you truly HAVE to "tell" your backstory in the first 50 pages. I suggest that you don't. In fact, if the action and character development aren't gripping, the reader (and editors) won't give you that much time. Let bits and pieces of your story show up as you build the plot and backstory through character dialog and actions, and eventually the reader will have a solid sense of your world. It doesn't need to happen in the first 50 pages.
As writers we WILL mature as years pass. Don't be discouraged, but do revisit your earlier writing to see if it's as concise and smooth as your standards now demand.
Wow, your experience sounds a lot like mine! I started my novel eons ago (I won't even go into how long ago). I tinkered with it over the years, it grew, changed as I changed. About 4 years ago I finished it... then reread the beginning. Ugh.
This is the best solution I've come up with. You know the story. Forget about what you've written. Think about the story itself, and how you want to start it.
You say the "introduction" start feels like telling. What happens after the introduction part? Maybe you should just start there. You can worry about changing and adding an "introduction" part later if you need to. From my experience, starting a story is dreadful if you're not starting at the right point. So think about options for where to start the story. Refuse to stick to your old outline, but seek out new possibilities.
I am feeling a major upheaval in the structure of the books as a whole. But, this isn't neccessarily a bad thing. I have a lot of character building to do, and quite possibly I feel that I might be saying goodbye to a character or two whom I have gotten to know very well, and I will dearly miss.
I just think that I need to put all of my eggs in separate baskets rather than putting too many in one single basket.
I think I will gather up all of my favorite books [particularly the first books in a series] and I will read the first 25 pages or so of each. One thing I have learned is to look at the writing of successful authors, then observe how they tell a story effectively without giving too much away.
Much the same thing happened to me with a story that was once a two-page short story and is now a planned novel trilogy.
I had several false starts before I got it right. You may have to accept that as part of the process of continued maturity. Don't forget that you never finish growing as a writer...or if you do, you may as well quit!
Sometimes, you just have to write SOMETHING and come back later to worry about whether it's right or not.
I can sympathize with the feeling that you need to convey a lot of information in a short time. In my particular case, I open with a planet not attached to Earth in any way, shape, or form. Even getting a reference point is hard. Add to that the inter-stellar war that's been raging for centuries, internal planetary struggles (on the verge of civil war), and interpersonal conflicts....oh my, it's dizzying! But it doesn't all have to come out on the first page or even in the first part of the book. I finally picked something -- an event that triggered the specific events of the first novel -- and wrote it from the beginning. I put the above background in only when it came up, and I made sure that some of it didn't come up right away so that the reader didn't have to deal with too much at once. Basically, I started with the interstellar war and let the rest of it come out later.
But if you can't figure out where that point is yet or how to do that, then I still suggest just starting with SOMETHING and getting a rough draft pounded out. You may have an easier time with this after you have a real draft.
So much of the advice given above is great (and helped me get thinking, too - thanks guys.)
quote:In the beginning, I have to convey a lot of information to set the location, and a basic plot contour, but when I actually write out the "introduction" portion of the novel [first 50 pages or so] it feels like the story is being told rather than it actually happening.
This happens to me all the time, too. Most recently, it's been happening this past week.
I realized that it's a conflict between the creative part of my brain and the organizational part of my brain. The organizational part wants to be sure I'm not going to confuse things in an intricate plot, and it also wants to quickly lay out the "needed" information for the reader right off the bat, which usually leads me to write far too much exposition in the beginning. The creative part wants to get right into the thick of writing, with the result that I just "tell" for ages.
The urge to explain what's happening, plainly but in a narrative mode, is an urge I've learned I can't ignore. So now I'm planning to do a very detailed scene-by-scene plot walkthrough, noting what I want each scene to achieve, who's present, what I know as a writer but have to reveal subtly to the reader - and what I don't want to reveal yet - etc. It seems like a lot of work, which is why I avoided it and just jumped in with a skeleton overview and cut straight to the writing initially, but I know that the first draft will be more cohesive, and hopefully doing a second draft will seem less like pulling teeth and more like polishing them.
Embrace the changes your plot tries to make. Follow the story to its logical conclusion, and don't force your old ideas on the new incarnation of your project.
[This message has been edited by Marzo (edited December 28, 2007).]
I had the same problem. I'd written the story over a number of years and found on edit that (for me) the first 80 pages ended up being backstory that the important bits about it came out later in the story. While it hurt, I cut the 80 pages and saved in a separate file. So, the first question I ask when editing is: Do I need this or is the information brought out better later in the story?
The second question I ask for "narrative" areas is: Is there action in the narration that I can show from some POV?
It's probably a very good sign that you can see that the first 50 pages are telling. Now comes the hard work of editing.
i have a simmiler problim i have been working on a series of 7 books eack 200000 words.
i have been working on them sence 01 and most of the nots my friends and i have are gone. i am working from memory and scratch. and being deployed i tend to find it hard to keep a thought going in any of my books.
i bearly find time to sleep any longer than 5 hours. writing has been removed from my magor priorites list. it has become intermediat.
Start with some dynamic scene---action, conflict, sudden thrill, whatever---then keep going with what happens after. If you think you need what comes before, you can write backwards.
I imagine most people---most writers---start at the beginning and finish at the end. But I know plenty, right here and elsewhere, who work back and forth.
(Gone With the Wind was written from the end backwards---Margaret Mitchell decided on how the book will end and wrote that, then worked out how it got to that situation, and came up with the "Scarlett O'Hara was not beautiful" opening scene just before publication when the editors objected to the opening info dump.)