Which is, exactly, where?
For the past weeks of July and August, I have been reading. And writing. And staring at spectacular sunsets and casting my eyes over the valley of a Cretan village. And marveling at mountains, their limestone shifting from pink to grey as the reliable sun rises every morning.
It’s surprising that I managed to read and write as much as I did with such natural distractions.
But I did.
Initially, I read and read for the background of my next novel and made copious notes. Then, eventually, I had to concede that I could not read and make notes forever – I had to start actually writing the planned novel.
But where is the start of a novel?
What is the important thing to address on an opening page?
Suddenly, in spite of this next novel being my fifth, I felt bewildered about those opening important paragraphs intended, as every text book on writing will tell you, to hook the reader.
An inciting incident? A crucial conflict? A key character?
Well, yes. All of those. And more.
Let’s think of novels that we know and love and that have endured.
Not only is there an inciting incident, a key character and a crucial potential conflict established.
But the tone. The tone of the writing.
Think of Austen. It is a truth universally acknowledged …..
Ah, there we have it – Jane Austen’s quintessential irony established in the opening sentence of Pride and Prejudice.
Think of Jane Eyre.
There was no possibility of taking a walk that day.
And the negativity of Jane’s life at Gateshead is immediately implied.
I could go on, but you get the idea.
When I was studying for my M.A. in Creative Writing, I remember reading a book which advised writers to start their novel, write the first 10,000 words then look back and discard the first 3,000 words. They were, probably, redundant.
I took that advice for my dissertation which, eventually, after a decade, evolved into my second novel, The Legacy of Mr Jarvis.
But let’s return to my Cretan writing desk, the background hum of the cicadas and my determination to write the opening pages of novel number 5 – provisionally titled By the Green of the Spring.
A chance meeting, a setting, a context.
That’s what I hope I’ve delivered on the opening page or so.
It’s September 1940. In London, Trafalgar Square.
And Annie, my female protagonist, collides by chance with Ralph, my male protagonist.
And both go on their respective ways.
Until a later chapter.
Of course once I’ve finished the entire novel, this opening may well change.
But at least I’ve got off the starting blocks. And I think I’ve found a way to start, to make inroads into my story.
Ernest Hemingway was supposed to have rewritten the opening paragraphs of Farewell to Arms about a dozen or more times. And you have to give it to him – it was worth the rewrites:
In the late summer of that year we lived in a house in a village that looked across the river and the plain to the mountains. In the bed of the river there were pebbles and boulders, dry and white in the sun, and the water was clear and swiftly moving and blue in the channels.
But we can’t all be Ernest Hemingway.
And for the time being, my opening will serve me, propel me into the next chapter where I can flesh out character, setting, situation.
I did say it starts in London in September 1940 – a date, after all, synonymous with conflict….
I hope I’ve hooked you!